Travelogues

Travelogue #12 – Washington

CAUTION: POLITICS AHEAD

Before we begin, know that I live in California and I am a liberal. Big surprise. However, I do like to hear the other side as much as possible, as long as it’s productive and civil. Nasty, angry comments will not be tolerated so if you don’t want to hear what I have to say regarding politics and the state of the country, skip to the next blog. I do promise to keep this civil myself, which may be difficult, but I will do the best I can.

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While I was so grateful to my friends for letting me crash for almost three weeks, I was ready to get back on the road. So we waved good-bye and I headed off to Washington.

Well, Pennsylvania then Washington. I try not to drive more than five or six hours a day due to neck and shoulder issues I have from radiation treatment for breast cancer. That means something that would be a long day’s drive becomes two days for me. And that’s fine. Forces me to take my time.

The RV park in Pennsylvania was nothing special, just a place to stop for the night. It was right on a river, which was nice, but otherwise, the place was a little rundown. I arrived just in time to participate in my regular writer’s group, which I can’t always do, so that was a pleasure. Spent most of the time working on the “Buddha Cat” book with a brief break to teach my fine art class.

The woman who runs the park came by and asked me to speak to her granddaughter, a young woman around 19. She felt her granddaughter needed some guidance in life and apparently an unemployed, unhoused woman traveling around the country seemed to be someone who could give that advice.

This happens to me all the time, for some reason. Out of nowhere, people come up and start talking to me and end up asking for life advice. Most of the time, I’m happy to share. I’m a teacher for a reason.

But that night, I really didn’t feel like having a deep conversation about life and the world. Sometimes, I just want to be in my own bubble and do my own thing. But I never can say no to someone, so she brought her granddaughter over and we talked for about 90 minutes. I was glad when it started drizzling as it gave me an excuse to end the conversation. The young woman was lovely and smart, so the conversation was easy and comfortable, especially when Grandma left us alone for a while.

I put up the canopy to hopefully stave off some of the rain. The problem became quickly apparent – the canopy is not made to deflect rain. Instead, it gathers and pools, dragging the canopy itself down. So I have to get out and push the water off so that the canopy won’t collapse. Not exactly a big help. Thankfully, it didn’t rain too hard or too long, so it helped. But not by much.

Packed up in the morning and headed to Washington.

I stayed at Pohlick Regional Park, which was quite nice and secluded. However, lots of rain while I was there, which never makes me happy, having to leave the trailer wrapped up in tarp. Tried the canopy again but didn’t sleep much as I fought to keep it from collapsing. Ugh.

Anyway, took a day to go into the capital and just check things out.

My view of American politics is always skewed by the fact that I was raised in Canada after the age of two. However, because I am an American by birth, I couldn’t vote in anything more important than the school board while I lived there. Therefore, I am ignorant about how the government works in both countries. All I know is how I feel about the way things are being run.

Here’s where you can stop reading and skip to the next blog if you don’t want to hear my liberal opinions.

I never was excited about going to Washington, probably because – as I said – I don’t have a deep understanding of how the government works. I was, however, obnoxious about being an American when I was a kid. I remember running around with an American flag in my back pocket and refusing to stand for the Canadian national anthem because I was not Canadian.

When I moved to the states, I was around 25 and not really interested in politics. I was excited to vote for Bill Clinton because he was the first president I really connected with and felt could represent what I wanted for my life.

However, I also believe that politics have always been so incredibly corrupt that I don’t truly believe either party can absolutely represent anybody. I’d like to think that at some point, the government did meet in the middle somewhere. It does make me crazy that the parties have grown so far apart that anybody who wants to meet in the middle is considered a “centralist” and that’s a bad thing. I don’t think we can come together until our government on both sides is willing to meet in the middle.

I am not a fan of this current administration. I’m going to try to leave it at that. This blog isn’t the place for me to raise my anarchist fist and scream about injustice, though maybe I will raise my voice a bit.

Enough of my mis-informed civics lesson.

I found myself weirdly excited as I turned down the street and saw the Capitol Building rising up at the end of the street. I parked and ended up walking up to Union Station to start with.

What an incredibly beautiful building Union Station is. I walked around the sculptures outside, appreciating the artistry of them. They reminded me of the amazing sculptures I had seen in China at Tiananmen Square. As with any outdoor space, there was a preacher of some ilk preaching to anyone who would listen. I have a strange respect for those people. They believe in their religion so much that they’re willing to be harassed and ridiculed simply to bring the word of their god to the public. That to me is religion in its purest form.

From there, I ended up at the Supreme Court. A line of people stood at the bottom of the steps, tape covering their mouths with the word “live” on it. It turned out to be a group of pro-life demonstrators. I had a long conversation with their leader to find out what their stance was.

I am personally pro-choice but I also think abortion shouldn’t be used as birth control. If we had better sex education and better access to birth control, there would be fewer pregnancies and, therefore, fewer abortions. The woman I spoke with was very interesting. She carefully separated her personal views from the views of the church she represented. I really respected that.

I asked her about what kind of support her church gave to those who were counseled to keep their baby. She said they stayed in touch with the mothers to ensure that they had access to whatever they would need, whether it’s government help or even help from their own food banks. They assist in adoption, if the mother chooes to go that way. They help the mothers find resources for work and child care, among other things.

This made me very happy to hear. Pro-life often means don’t have an abortion but I’d like to see more groups be clear on what they’re doing to support the women who choose to have their babies.

One of the best films on this subject is “Citizen Ruth” by Alexander Payne, of “Sideways” fame. He argued both sides of the subject eloquently, pointing out the problems with both sides. Laura Dern is amazing in it as Ruth, a drug addict who is pregnant again, despite losing her other children into the system. The film shows what both sides do to the women in the middle – they’re so busy screaming about who’s right and who’s wrong that they forget there is a woman in the middle, just trying to do the right thing. Watch it right now.

The woman also talked to me about how she felt about birth control and sex education. She made me laugh really hard when she said kids should be taught about how difficult it is to be parent, and that they should be forced to understand that having kids is not fun. She stopped short of saying that birth control is an important facet to this discussion but did give in to the idea that we need more education than simply abstinence-only education.

It was a pleasure to talk with this young woman because she was open to having a discussion. I wanted to be sure to listen to her just as much as she was listening to me, because I think that’s what we’re missing currently. We’re so quick to dismiss another person’s view out-of-hand or resort to name-calling that we miss the opportunity for true discussion.

I walked up the steps of the Supreme Court to take pictures of the amazing doors.

But as I climbed the steps, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. Ruth Bader Ginsberg had just died and I felt her legacy as I climbed the stairs. We are at an historic time currently and to be mounting the steps of that building at that moment was staggering. Our nation is at a tipping point, no matter which side you’re on. And so many of the decisions that will affect our lives will be made in that building.

That emotion carried on as I walked over to the Capitol Building finally. But as I got closer, the barricades became apparent. That made me angry.

This is where I will preach so skip it if you don’t want to read it.

Actual protesters are not violent. I have attended numerous protests in the past four years and none of them ended up in violence. In fact, the organizers practically beg those attending to be peaceful and non-violent. This administration has decided to paint protesters as the ones who are looting and rioting, when it ends up it’s white supremacists or others who want to undermine the point of the protests.

So putting barricades up in front of the Capitol Building because of protesters is bullshit, in my opinion. If you look at historical images of the Capitol Building even during Vietnam protests, barricades such as those we see today were not erected.

From there, I walked around to the Reflecting Pool, trying to mitigate my anger. Seeing the little platform for the ducks to walk up helped a lot.

 

   

But then I noticed two older (older than me) women walking towards me, covered in Trump clothing. Now, I totally support your right to support the administration, as I expect you to support my right to not like them. Oh, and did I mention I was wearing my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt which I purchased in Portland from the protesters?

These two women walked up to me and I prepared myself to engage in what was sure to be a difficult exchange. Much to my surprise, after they looked sort of sideways at my shirt – as I’m sure I did to theirs – they came up and asked if I knew where the Eisenhower monument was. It took me a minute to shift gears. I was ready for an argument. And all they wanted was directions. I told them I had no idea but I hoped that they would find it. They thanked me and went on their way.

This, to me, is how we should handle our differences. Either have a discussion about it, as I did with the pro-life woman, or let people have their opinion, even though it differs from your own.

I walked around the pool for a bit and the ladies came back in a while to let me know they had found the monument. We smiled at each other and wished each other a good day.

From there, I walked around to the other buildings in the area, including the Washington Monument.

However, the big thing I wanted to see was the Edgar Degas exhibit at the National Gallery of Art.

Due to COVID, you have to make an appointment and go at your scheduled time. I had some time to kill but not quite enough to get to the White House and back. And by this time, my shoulder was killing me.

So I did the very trendy thing – I hopped on a Lyft scooter. Now I understand why people zoom around on these things. It got me to the White House with plenty of time to get back to the museum.

However, you can’t get anywhere near the White House. The administration has barricaded it in a way I’ve only seen in communist China. Keep in mind – there haven’t been any active protests there in weeks. WEEKS. Armed guards, armored vehicles. Police everywhere. Again – not a protesters in sight for weeks. I have an opinion as to why the White House is barricaded, but I’m trying to stay in the middle here.

I just know it made me very angry. This is OUR HOUSE. We pay for the people inside of it to do a job. And most of the time, they don’t do a very good job of it, no matter which side of the fence you’re on. But to block access to the White House in a way that makes no sense infuriated me.

I jumped on the scooter and ran back to the museum as fast as I could, trying to leave my anger behind. I wanted to enjoy the Degas exhibit so I didn’t want to carry all that anger with me.

And enjoy the Degas exhibit, I did.

First, you have walk through an exhibit of furniture, something I’m really not interested in. Then there was another area that had paintings of pets by famous artists, which tickled me so much.

Then a painting across the area caught my eye, taking my breath away.

I was a teacher with Mission Renaissance Fine Art Studios in Los Angeles. This is the company which taught me to paint and is really responsible for my art career. I don’t agree with their business policies but I loved every minute I taught there.

When we taught oil painting to our teenage students, one of the first real master duplications they did was based on a series of flowers Monet painted toward the end of his life. They are beautiful and delicate and quintessentially Impressionist.

Hanging on the wall was one of the paintings I had taught over and over again, and one that I had painted myself, once upon a time.

I walked over to it, overcome with emotion at seeing it in real life. I never imagined I would actually see this painting ever. To get a chance to really study the brushstrokes and the colors and the composition was invaluable.

I walked into the next section and was greeted by Edgar Degas. I have seen a few of his paintings and sculptures at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. But this was wall after wall after wall of paintings. All of them based on his experiences at the opera.

I could describe every painting but I’m not going to. Just know that I spent almost two hours just wandering through these paintings, examining each one of them as closely as I could, savoring every brushstroke and every color.

Then I came across the “Four Dancers” painting, which is one of my favorites.

Larger than I expected, I burst into tears when I saw it. This painting is so alive and so vibrant, it almost jumps off the canvas.

I walked back through the exhibit a bit, just to get one last look at everything, then headed back out into the world.

I spent the rest of the evening hanging out with Indiana Jones, trying to protect the trailer from the rain. But even that continuing battle couldn’t diminish the beauty of what I had seen at the museum that day.

From there, we went on to a couple of quick nights spent at various campsites aiming for Nashville. Stay tuned …

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