Our 2003 Road Trip, Part 7 of 7: This Americana Life

children's television!

Oscar the Grouch! Mr. Rogers! Howdy Doody! The Flintstones! Rocky and Bullwinkle! Bugs Bunny! Face it, true believer — this museum’s got ’em all!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: our fifth annual road trip became our first family road trip as we jettisoned our convention plans and took my son to scenic Washington DC to learn history and significance and architecture and so forth. We took a handful of photos using ye olde 35mm film when we weren’t busy corralling and entertaining the boy.

After three straight days and several aggregate miles of walking our nation’s capital and one amusement park of questionable safety, we three were wrecked. If you use a DC map to retrace the itinerary of our Tuesday and Thursday excursions, it would look like one of those old Family Circus cartoons where Billy has to walk from the front gate to the front door, and his dotted trail shows you the twenty-seven stops he made along the way first. At the end of it all, our feet were just about in need of sole transplants, and the sunburn around my neck and shoulders was blistering. Anne was slightly better off but carrying her own battle damage. My son, the most resilient of us three, was just pretty tired.

After the subway dropped us off at the Smithsonian station for the last time, we wanted to brave just one more stop that sounded right up our alley: the National Museum of American History. Just one more museum. That’s all we asked.

Charlie McCarthy!

Charlie McCarthy hangs out with the Fonz’s jacket and a Toledo Mud Hens pennant that I think belonged to Klinger from M*A*S*H.

Whereas the Natural History Museum covered fossils, animals, and other non-artificial aspects sprung forth from God’s creation, the American History Museum covered the history of the United States as it pertained to man-made actions, politics, and objects. Anyone who’s followed this blog for more than ten minutes can probably deduce what interested us most, in case you wrote off all the photos as unreliable circumstantial evidence. And if you did, what’s wrong with you.

Ruby Slippers!

Dorothy’s ruby slippers are of course one of the must-sees, too good to share a case with other, lesser props.

I recall there were other exhibits of varying relevance to three beaten-down, starving tourists pushed beyond what they thought were their physical limits. I recall one hall filled with decades’ worth of typewriters or sewing machines or some other appliance that didn’t interest me in my weakened state. Anne would normally love the portions pertaining to World War II history, but I don’t recall anything enthralling her enough to merit exclamations.

Indiana Jones + phaser!

Technically you could count Indiana Jones’ jacket as WWII memorabilia by our standards. The Star Trek phaser doesn’t quite fit the motif unless it was used in the episode “Patterns of Force”.

We visited barely half the museum. We felt compelled to take a few photos, but didn’t really go wild with our cameras. We might’ve appreciated more of their exhibits if we’d stopped there earlier in the week. Or maybe not. Sometimes hindsight needs glasses with a better prescription.

Ali, Jordan, Hamill!

We’re not sports fans, but even we bow to the accomplishments of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Dorothy Hamill.

Past a certain point, we surrendered. My shoes felt like tatters beneath my agonizing feet. Anne noticed I was limping like Igor. Once the place ran out of TV collectibles to show off, the boy got bored apart from the occasional oddity, such as this 1840 statue mash-up of George Washington and Zeus.

George Washington!

Thus did George, King of the Gods, smite the cherry tree with a magic thunderbolt right before crossing the Delaware on a flaming chariot.

We had no choice but to surrender to our wounds and retreat to the hotel for one last night, and for one last supper at the Subway that was getting really old to me. It didn’t help that every time we ate there, they kept giving us coupons to lure us back, in case the lack of adjacent affordable competition wasn’t enough to clinch the repetitive deal.

On our early road trips, the last day was usually spent as a straight drive home with as few stops as possible. In later years we’ve liked the idea of planning an additional stop or two on the way back, partly to break up the monotony of relentless car-sitting, and partly because we felt sheepish ending every narrative with “And then we drove home. The End.” That’s less fun to write than a Columbo-esque “just one more thing” epilogue.

In our defense, we tried to stop at one site we’d missed all week long: the Jefferson Memorial. It was blocks away from the other places we visited and never seemed to fit into our paths.

Jefferson Memorial!

This was our dissatisfying view of it from across the Potomac on the way to Arlington National Cemetery.

I thought I had the route mapped out. We checked out of our hotel, overtipped one last time for the expensive valet parking, and headed out on wheels instead of on foot. I aimed us in the direction of the Jefferson Memorial, but somehow couldn’t finagle my way onto an actual road that would take me directly to it. Next thing I knew, I accidentally boarded I-395 or I-695 and got us so firmly meshed into Friday morning rush-hour traffic that turning around was impossible. We were annoyed, but it would’ve taken at least another hour to sort out my maps and give it another try. Navigation was challenging in the decades before smartphones, when my sole copilots were Rand McNally and whatever MapQuest printouts I brought with us.

Thus was the Jefferson Memorial the last thing we saw in Washington DC for the year. Anne and I agree a return visit is in order someday, with Jefferson at the top of the to-do list, along with “keep our phones charged and Google Maps handy” and “bring suntan lotion”.

Jefferson Memorial and Bullseye!

With one last cameo by our pal Bullseye the Target Dog and Security Sidekick.

Despite the pain and the recovery time after, we considered our first family vacation a success. We took note of the lessons learned and sought inspiration from it that we’d carry with us in our future trips. Trying to strike that balance between pushing our limits and tending to our weaknesses. Searching for great moments in American history as well as bizarre ideas from American crackpots. Looking for those hidden bright spots, the surprise joys, the famously awe-striking, and any places to eat besides Subway.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading.

Coming soon: our 2004 road trip to Niagara Falls…]

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