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The View out our Window

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

[Photo from Washington Monument website

After our short visit to New York last week, parts of which I wrote about here and here, we took Amtrak’s Acela down to Washington on Wednesday afternoon (nine days ago), arriving around 5:00 PM. We haven’t been to Washington all that many times. Our last family visit was in August 1996, as part of our train trip across the country, when we made stops in Chicago, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, then flying home after a visit to my family. Our time in DC on that trip was limited, as we had to get up to Baltimore to see the Orioles at Camden Yards and the Cézanne exhibit at the Philadephia Museum of Art.

This time, I had business on Thursday and Friday at the National Science Foundation, so I wasn’t expecting to see much of anything. Gail, in contrast, would be free to see some sights. Thus, I had to enjoy what limited sense of place I could get. It was thus a piece of good fortune that when we checked into our hotel, we were brought up to a room facing directly out on the Washington Monument. That would give me plenty sense of place. The Willard is where we stay when we’re in DC. We stumbled on it in 1988, near the end of my sabbatical year in Princeton, when we were planning a three-day trip down to DC. Established in 1816, it has had a rich history, but it closed in 1968. As part of the re-development of Pennsylvania Avenue, it was renovated, with the addition of an office building, and re-opened in 1986. We happily stayed there two years later, and again in 1996. We didn’t have to think too hard to decide to stay there again.

The Willard sits right where Pennsylvania Avenue, as it runs northwest from the Capitol to the White House, converges with and switches places with E Street, at their intersection with 14th. Another block west, on the far side of 15th Street, is the Treasury Building, and just west of that is the White House. The front of the building faces south-southwest, looking right out at the Washington Monument, maybe a quarter mile away. Most of the building runs to the north, towards F Street, with just a narrow facade facing south, and that’s the facade that our room was on, nine floors up. As a result, we could look straight at the monument, and the Potomac and Arlington beyond. To the right was a good view of the Lincoln Memorial. We could catch the barest of glimpses of the Treasury Building way to the right, with the White House hidden beyond, and the view of the Capitol straight to the left hidden as well.

I had work to do the night we arrived, so I suggested we take a walk around the neighborhood first before settling in for room service dinner and my work. We headed out the back door onto F Street, west to the Treasury, north and west around the Treasury, and over to the north side of the White House, from which Gail took the photo below. (The time on the photo, of course, is PST, not EST.) I haven’t mentioned yet that this was the evening of the State of the Union Address, leading us to imagine President Obama inside making his final preparations.

Between our hotel on 14th and Treasury on the far side of 15th is the W Hotel between 14th and 15th. On our way back, we stopped in there, entering on the west side from 15th, so we could be sure we knew where J&G Steakhouse was, as we were to eat dinner there the next night with my old friend Sim and his wife Martha. (More on that in a separate post.) Then, back to our hotel room, where we ordered dinner, I got to work, and while eating, we enjoyed our wonderful view of the Washington Monument.

Around 8:24 PM, just after we finished eating, things got a bit wild out there. Sirens and sirens and more sirens. Gail looked out, called me over, and I saw motorcycles, police cars, vans, limos, vans, police cars, motorcycles, maybe 25 or 30 vehicles in all. It took just a moment to realize that this was the presidential motorcade, making its way from the White House to the Capitol for the State of the Union address. I realize residents get used to this sort of thing, but we couldn’t help being excited by the spectacle, and the realization that the address wasn’t just some distant event we would watch on TV. Rather, it was all but taking place in front of our eyes. Of course, it seems a little crazy that traffic has to stop every time the president wants to wander over to the Capitol to have a chat. One might wish for a simpler time, when the president could simply stroll over, ride a horse, take a bike, take the Metro. Still, it was fun to see. Shortly thereafter, Gail watched the SOTU address while I did my homework for NSF. And then we got to watch the motorcade return.

Now we’re spoiled. Next time we will need to insist on a room in the front.

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