Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Maryland Travelogue

We're back from Maryland, Everett and Meghan and I. We had a good, if giggly, time.

Teenage girls are funny. Especially "happenin'" teenage girls like Everett and Meghan. You know, the girls that sashay down the halls at school and are just too cool. When you get them alone, or with someone like me (who doesn't matter) they are silly and goofy like kids five years their junior. When Everett and her friend Annika were eleven, they would secretly play Barbies together. They needed that occasional little "retreat" to their younger days. "Don't tell anyone," they'd beg. Hey, far be it for me to give up anyone's secret. I've got enough of my own.

They played this little game on the ride down in the car on Tuesday morning, and through much of the day later as we walked the streets of Washington DC. It was cute, if wearing on the nerves after a while. Whenever one of them saw a Mini Cooper car, that one could slap the other on the arm. If one saw a "smart car" then that one could punch the other in the arm. If we passed a PT Cruiser, then it was a pinch on the arm. All of this hilarity was accompanied by shrieks, protestations, and calls for clarification. We could have used slo-mo replay. I was the soul of patience, just glad to have a change of scenery for a couple of days, even if a couple of those shouts almost startled me off the side of the Jersey Turnpike.

They did give me a few minutes of relative peace as we neared our desination in the early afternoon after I implored, "Dear God, please just let me concentrate here for a few minutes so I can find the Hyatt!!"

"Maybe that giant, lighted "Hyatt" sign right in front of you is a hint!" Everett pointed out. Thanks.

The hotel was quite the hit with the girls. They loved the overly solicitious porters and the overly inquisitive lady at the check-in counter ("And where are you from? And how was your drive? And why are you here?") OK sister, mind your business already. The glass elevators, the fancy toiletries and the marble countertops in the bathroom. "Don't touch the mini-bar!" The view of the city (Bethesda, but still....)

They were impressed with how frequent, smooth, and smell-free the DC Metro was in comparison to the New York City subway. Once those Metro doors close, however, they CLOSE! No banging them back open like you do in New York. Well, actually, you can kind of hold them open for a second or two, in Superman fashion, if you really, really have to. I had to when we switched trains at Metro Center because we were in danger of leaving Meghan on the platform, and I paid for it the rest of the day.

We didn't have a whole lot of time in DC proper, arrving around 3:00 as we did. We breezed thorugh a couple of the Smithsonian museums, which didn't thrill the girls, and through the Haupt gardens outside, which actually DID, go figure. We walked across the Mall, and I photographed the girls in front of the Washington Monument and the Capitol building, which Everett insisted was the White House.

To help convince her she was wrong, (you can't just tell Everett she is wrong, you have to convince her) we headed over to the actual White House, tailing along behind a group of elderly Japanese tourists, who, inexplicably, began slapping themselves on the back of their left shoulder with their right hand. Repeatedly, almost in unison. "Whassup widdat??" the girls and I asked each other. Never found that out, and as we neared the sidewalk in front of the White House, we saw that it was blocked off, as many streets in DC inevitably are. The policeman on duty was taking pains to explain to the befuddled Japanese tourists why they could not continue. The girls and I did not care why. The Homeland Security alert must have been bumped up from yellow to orange, or orange to purple, or some such. "Whatever....Let's go eat!"

We paused crossing the street as twenty young men, all dressed exactly alike in dark suits and ties and all in a row, sped by on segue scooters.

Off to Dupont Circle, my favorite neighborhood. It tries to be cool and trendy and to emit a West Village sort of vibe, but doesn't really pull it off. Yet it is vibrant and fun on its own smallish scale, and a welcome departure from the fartiness of the rest of the city. I like the juxtiposition.

We went to my favorite place on Connecticut Avenue, "Bistro du Coin." (This, after being hopelessly turned around after coming out of the Metro; happens every trip, every time I emerge for the first time from the Dupont Circle station.) Great steak frites, and a great selection of other things. Everett was going to order beef tripe stew, until she asked the waiter what tripe was. A hopping place on a warm evening, without being overly hip. Decent prices, unless you want to do some drinkin', which of course was not the case tonight. Everett and Meghan mused over whether our waiter had a real French accent, or if he was putting it on. It was real. ("How do you know?" "I just know!")

I ordered the escargots appetizer not so much because I love escargots (they're OK,) but because I wanted to see if I could get a rise out of the girls. I was disappointed they weren't served in their shells (the snails, not the girls) because I was planning to do the "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy's in the cafe in Paris, unwittingly orders the dish which is brought out with the little pinchers to hold the shell, and she puts the pinchers on her nose. The girls would have died, it would have been fabulous! I had to settle with trying to convince them to try one....Meghan declined, but Everett took the plunge...my girl!

After dinner, it was time to head back to the hotel. It was not particularly late, but it had been a long drive and a long day of walking around and getting hit by subway doors, and we had a big college tour the next day. We got back to the hotel and settled into the room just in time to see a "special report" on TV. A big thunderstorm front would soon be crossing over the DC area, with accompanying "tornado watch." This was enough to send the girls into an adolescent tizzy ("It's headed this way!!") My plans for a shower were off. They didn't even want to let me go to the bathroom. Shades were closed. The TV reception went off (for all of three minutes) and the drama increased exponentially.

Of course, if either one of them were at home and not with one another, this whole episode would have been a non-event.

Then it was over. The girls found their teenage soap opera program on TV, Everett called her boyfriend Josh to give him a weather update and engage in a little sweet talk. They actually did some homework. And I, somehow, as poor a sleeper as I am, managed to drop off in the middle of all of this...which, after this day (a good day, but a long day) was an absolute gift.

Because we had a college tour the next morning!


I called a temporary moratorium on the slapping/punching/pinching shenanigans as we left the Hyatt to drive to College Park. We were running a little late, and I was a little vague on the directions. I needed to concentrate. "I hope you aren't going to be this pissy all day," said Everett. "No, I'm only going to be this pissy until we get to the school," said I.

We got there, and in time, with only minor hitches. I got off at an earlier exit than the hotel concierege had instructed, because the exit sign said "U of Maryland." Well, what would you have done? "Listen to the concierge," you say?? Well, try as I might, I never seem to be able to not second-guess directions. One of my few faults. And the exit did take us to the University of Maryland, just to the opposite side of the campus from where we needed to be. Which was a slightly bigger deal here than it might have been at another college, since the University of Maryland is the size of a small city. But get to the visitor's center we did, and they were only just starting.

The information session was rather dull. I wouldn't blame it entirely on the young man from the admissions department who was speaking, though I do have two words for whoever is in charge of staffing these things: "stage presence." No, rather it was dull because somehow all these presentations start to sound alike after a while. I don't care if you're at a huge public institution, or a tiny private college. Somehow all the talks are the same. All the tours, too.

We walked three or four miles on this particular tour, easy. And the tour guide did it backwards, so kudos to her. What was it someone once said about Ginger Rogers? She did everything Fred Astaire did, plus backwards and in high heels. I wondered if when they trained these student guides, they made them practice that. I thought it would be amusing if you happened to see this girl on campus one day going to class, and she was still walking backwards. I laughed out loud and shared the thought with Everett. She didn't find it funny. I don't know what's the matter with her sometimes.

We saw dozens of red brick buildings, colonnades, fountains, stadiums (I know it's "stadia," but who can say that, seriously??) and all the rest. Apparently the university president is the guy who once upon a time invented the quick-release mechanism for skis (I'm assuming he wasn't hired based solely on that achievement...) Fun fact. I thought my husband Peter, an avid skier, would enjoy knowing that, but when I shared that nugget upon our return, I was greeted with little more than a "hunh."

I gotta find a better audience.

At the conclusion of the tour, the guide said that nearby Silver Spring ("Four miles, tops!") was a great town, and that everyone should stop by there after the tour if they had the time. The girls and I took her at her word, and drove over there for lunch. Well first of all, it wasn't four miles, like the girl said; it was about twelve or fifteen. This doesn't sound like a lot, unless you have a two hundred mile drive ahead of you after that. And secondly, I really don't know what the fuss was about. If Silver Spring is such an "awesome" town, I'd like to know where this poor girl hails from. But there we found ourselves, so we had lunch.

Well, I have to tell you, lunch made the whole Silver Spring detour entirely worthwhile. The "Urban BBQ Company." Meghan and I shared an artichoke dip that almost certainly had more calories than one body is supposed to consume in an entire day, never mind in a starter course for lunch. Then we devoured baked potato soup (with bacon and cheese!!) cornbread, crabcakes, rotisserie chicken and chicken pot pie....seventy five dollars, five thousand calories, one roll of Tums, and one stop in the neighboring cosmetics store later, we were on the road.

I officially lifted the moratorium on the slapping, pinching and punching, but it didn't matter, because Everett and Meghan slept the whole way home.

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