D.C. is irresistible. Cabbing in from Reagan/National, my first glimpse of the Washington obelisk and stately columns of the Lincoln Memorial set me to scheming. I’ve hardly arrived but know I can’t leave without a long walk. I just need to figure out how to fit it in.

I love that history is so touchable here and often free of charge. In a modest way, suitable for a country barely 200 years old, our nation’s capitol city is reminiscent of Rome. Wandering the historic center, I can almost connect the dots to those ancient ideals.

I love how the Washington obelisk seems to follow me around, always present. I’ve delighted in revisiting familiar icons and exploring some unfamiliar. Best of all has been discovering how comfortable I am in reacquainting with this place. It feels great to be an American here. As an ambitious traveler, I know you can’t say that everywhere.

On one trip, finally, the Hubs came along. How excited I was to show him D.C.! Wouldn’t you know they were dredging the pool on Mall just then? No matter. We made the rounds of memorials. Took in American history at the Smithsonian. (As our concierge noted, it’s the only place in the world to gain this perspective!) Stopped by Union Station. Snagged last minute tickets for a Capitol tour. And — bonus! — explored the Library of Congress. Who knew exquisite architecture and art lay captive there — and again, for free?

On this last trip, my walking partner was a friend and colleague who grew up and then worked in D.C. through her early career. She covered many points of interest with an insider’s perspective in an hour and a half long trek. Nearing the end of our loop, I was especially intrigued by her recount of Susie Ford’s sixteenth birthday party. “We all ate cake and ice cream, right there on the White House lawn.” Amazing innocence.

Now there are pillars and gates, fences and guardhouses to prevent general public access to the property. Often, the street is entirely closed off. A White House tour requires months of advance planning and proper security clearance to obtain tickets. Almost on cue with my musings, our approach to Pennsylvania Avenue was abruptly halted. An armed guard restricted pedestrians and cyclists from reaching the curb. Adjacent side streets were cordoned off by police cars, blue and red lights flashing, as we waited. For what? We did not know.

Suddenly, a caravan of four or five large sleek vehicles careened around the corner, across the intersection and past the crowd gathering on either side. The rear hatch window of one vehicle was wide open; from inside, a sharpshooter peered back at us. They squealed past security and onto the White House property with some aplomb. So that’s what.

Maybe it was the President’s wife or daughters, returning from an event or outing? Maybe it was an important dignitary? Maybe it was a decoy? Whatever it was, it was disconcerting. The twenty-first century security landscape is harsh, abrupt, and in your face. It is what it is. And it is also a reminder of what is not.

In a few days we’ll celebrate Independence Day. We must never forget that others have paid it forward. We must remain thankful to those who serve in the line of duty. But let us also remain diligent to preserve the best of what we know of the good ol’ U.S.A.

~René Morley

Read also Washington, part 2

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