Kansas City, Missouri. I’m in the midst of a travel day that will take me from Los Angeles to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area. It’s an absolute waste of a day, really. With the layover and time zone changes, I’m traveling from 11:00 am (PST) to 11:00 pm (EST) with nothing to show for it but an arrival. Time Zones 1, Wilfred 0. My lunch and dinner are one and the same – three items off the dollar menu at Jack in the Box. Thanks, Southwest. And as I prepare for this second takeoff, to depart from the nothingness that is Middle America, the passenger on my left nervously starts to ramble. “Jesus, God Almighty, just land this plane. I won’t ever fly again.” I kid you not. It wasn’t exactly comforting for me, but looking back, the crazy woman had a point. There really is no place like home.
Thursday night marked my arrival at BWI. By the next Tuesday, I was touring the monuments in the District. See, I was on the East Coast to visit my friends Todd and Maany at their respective schools, hang out, and make the drive up to the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows. With nothing set in stone, the trip was basically a nice way to kill off some of the time I had before school started. That might explain why I found myself woefully short on clothes in Philadelphia between those aforementioned dates. Let me backtrack. Our tickets for the Open were for Saturday, September 4th. Thus, 12 hours removed from my flight, Maany, Todd, and I headed up the Jersey turnpike and made the 200 mile drive to the Big Apple. By 11:00 pm, we had already had a taste of New York. There was the pizza, complete with a scolding from the foreign store owners for not immediately ordering after they yelled “next!” – despite the absence of other customers and the fact that we were still clearly looking at the menu. There was the guy who offered us weed in Washington Square Park. The atmosphere of Times Square. And as we made our way towards Penn Station, the repulsive stink of the streets. I looked around to find a huge billboard for The Daily Show. “Welcome to New York. That smell? Freedom.”
Henson from the San Francisco chapter of Greenwich Capital had provided Todd’s dad with boxed seats in the third round of the Open. I remember this because Todd forced us to in case we had to converse with our suitemates. Luckily, we didn’t. We were actually situated next to Donald Trump’s box… but there would be no sign of the Donald that day. Still, I did meet and get an autograph from Mats Wilander. Who is Mats Wilander, you ask? Well, by eventually winning the Open, Roger Federer became “the first player since Sweden’s Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three Grand Slams in the same year.” Duh. And no, I don’t know why Mats has nothing better to do than hang out in the Greenwich Capital suite signing things for douchebags like me who had never heard of him. Good times. With eleven hours of tennis to watch, we took a break to explore the grounds, joining a small male contingent in staring at a scantily-clad girl on a side court. Todd amused himself with upwards of thirty pictures and three short movies of her every movement. Later on, he would take another ten of this guy in the stadium who looked like his dad. “This is awesome,” he cried. Indeed.
It was a welcome end to the fun but tiring day as we awaited with our suite hostess for the towncars that would bring us home. We boarded a school bus that doubled as a parking lot shuttle, heading for the designated meeting place described simply as parking lot F. After a little bit, the driver announced the stop, we got out, and found ourselves directly under the freeway. Yes, that’s correct. There were maybe five cars in the makeshift lot – all involved in some sort of stolen vehicle insurance fraud, I’m sure – which was barely (and ominously) lit by a little generator and light post on wheels. I resisted the urge to wave goodbye as the shuttle left us to our fates. After a couple of minutes, a car finally came by. It was a patrol car. “What are you guys doing here?” We informed the female officer. “Oh… well… there are some cops over there.” Here, she gestures into the darkness. “You guys should be fine. Just stay in the light.” Comforting.
By Sunday, we were out of Gotham, back towards the friendly confines of Maryland. It was on the turnpike that we contacted our buddy – and UPenn attendee – Roger. It was perfect, kind of. He was in town, didn’t start school for three days, and graciously agreed to show me around. I add “kind of” because he had literally just landed at the airport, and was returning to his bare dorm with only his luggage in tow. Oh well. An hour later, I was dropped off in Philly (Todd & Maany had to get back for school). And that is how I found myself on Roger’s couch, sleeping covered with only my flimsy windbreaker, with two sets of unwashed clothes. Ghetto indeed. But by Monday, we were at the Liberty Bell, Penn’s Landing, and running down the famous Rocky steps at the Museum of Art (which I totally would have neglected if we weren’t in a K-Mart that day when they started playing – no joke – ‘Eye of the tiger.’ There must not be that many tourist attractions though, because we spotted these two guys twice in the day, at the Bell and then the Landing… which are about 10 train stops apart, and took place three hours apart). Sure, the city smelled awful, but how cool is that? By Tuesday morning, I was on an Amtrak. The destination: D.C.
Nine months ago, I was riding in a van in Costa Rica when we had to stop for a cow in the road. The deer that crossed the train tracks on the way to D.C. had no such luck. There’s nothing like having a train come to a dead stop while crossing a bridge, all the lights in the cabin turning off, and the driver explaining that they’re doing inspections because “we’ve had an unfortunate incident involving a deer.” But the day had just begun. From Union Station, I walked a couple of blocks to the U.S. Capitol. They disallowed any bottles, cans, or liquids on the short tour, so I ended up chucking my lone water bottle. This is foreshadowing… but first, back to the story. When the guide asked our group where we were all from, I expected to hear a few states. Instead, the answers went: Australia, Canada, Germany, and Italy. How awesome is that? I got chills, I swear.
It was past 3:00 pm when I headed over to the National Air & Space Museum. I was planning to have lunch there (seeing as how I did not have a bite to eat since waking up at 9:00 am in Philly), but all their food court had was an inexplicably closed Boston Market and a severely overpriced McDonalds. Eight dollar combos? Fuck that. I had already been had earlier when I ran out of film in the Capitol and had to buy a roll for $6.75. A couple of hours later, I would buy four more from a street vendor for eleven bucks. One roll, $6.75. Four rolls, $11.00. Sweet, sweet capitalism. Side note: The guy didn’t think I spoke English. He told me it was $11, but there was an $11.50 price tag on the film. When I handed him $12 to be safe, he gave me my dollar back, while counting up the bills for me as if they were foreign to my eyes. Thanks, pal. But back to McDonalds. I was drawing the line.
Starving, thirsty, and sweating profusely, I trudged on. The Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument (I meant to go to the Lincoln first but took a wrong turn and curved back with the Basin, which cost me another thirty minutes), Lincoln Memorial, White House (Pennsylvania Avenue was closed so I had to see it from Lafayette Square, which was pretty weak), and Ford’s Theatre. With my stupid backpack filled with weekend supplies, and no liquids except from public fountains. I’m not sure how many miles it was, but I basically walked for five hours straight. I cannot overstate how exhausted I was. Towards the end, I stopped at every bench, even homelessly sitting on the curb at red lights. I meant to buy a drink, but couldn’t muster up the strength. I crossed a street, only to see a McDonald’s back on the other side. It was too far… I couldn’t go back. When I saw a street vendor on the opposite side, I told myself to wait until there was one on this side. Of course, it never came. But I simply couldn’t afford the energy. Soon, I boarded a metro for the twenty minute trip back to College Park. Back to my luggage and fresh clothes at Todd’s place. And with that, perhaps the most hectic six days in my life were over.
I started in L.A. on Thursday, landing in K.C. and Baltimore, was in New York on Friday eating pizza, the Open all of Saturday, a McDonald’s in Jersey Sunday, enjoyed cheesesteaks in Philly Monday, and skipped lunch altogether Tuesday in D.C. Luckily for me (and the word count), the pace for the rest of the trip slowed considerably. My feet, shoulders, and everything else sore, I did absolutely nothing on Wednesday. I left the dorm exactly twice – for meals – and spent the day watching television and playing video games. I took a train over to Baltimore Thursday to visit Maany at Johns Hopkins, attending a speech by General Wesley Clark that aired on C-Span. I’m sure you all saw it. A football game back at College Park between Maryland and Temple filled up Saturday, while a walk through the harbor and an Orioles-Yankees game at Camden finished off the weekend. By Monday morning, I was back at BWI, handing over my boarding pass and identification to a humorless security guard. He asked, “How old are you?” I told him. 21. “You look younger than 18,” he said matter-of-factly. I searched his face for a sign of friendliness, anything that betrayed his rough exterior. There was none. Maybe he expected me to apologize. I shrugged, took my stuff back, and went through the checkpoint. You gotta love the people out East. The lesser coast had shown me a good time for ten days, but it was good riddance. Los Angeles – home – awaited.