A D.C. trip in search of Christmas spirit
Story and photos by Charles Chandler
Pack it up, it is time for a road trip. After living in huge cities and working for the Airlines for a combined fifty plus years my designated travel companion and I must frequently return to the hive. We like big cities and busy airports and the hustle and bustle in small bites. I have found that it is often gratifying to disregard the world that is portrayed in the popular and social media and on the Hallmark channel and go somewhere and have a look around.
This weekend trip was to Washington DC to find that elusive Christmas spirit. The thought was with the current political proceedings it could be an interesting time to visit the “Hill.” Also, seeing the National Christmas Tree and attending some kind of event in the National Cathedral would surely bring on a little holiday merriment.
After a short flight from our beautiful and recently renovated Gerald R Ford Airport in Grand Rapids we made an acceptable short field landing, just skimming the Potomac before screeching to a halt. We deplaned into the drizzle at the old, yellow, cluttered Reagan National Airport, got into waiting buses and after a long ride we were offloaded into what appeared to be the boiler room and left to find our way through an underground labyrinth to baggage claim. A short ride to our hotel to check-in and dump the bags and we were off to see the Wizard.
Our plan was to visit the Library of Congress Christmas Tree on Saturday, then go across the street to Capital, stop in at the visitor center and make reservations for a tour on Monday. From there we would venture out into the Mall to visit the Capitol Christmas tree. This year it is a 60-foot Blue Spruce harvested in the Carson National Forest in New Mexico. The decorations were designed and made by school children and being from New Mexico there was an abundance of lovely dream catchers, effigy figures, sun symbols, and flying saucers. With “a few look, isn’t that one cute” and the obligatory photos it was off to see the National Christmas Tree.
The hike from the Capitol to the White House feels like it gets longer every time I make it. On the way down Pennsylvania Ave, we were passed by fleets of fire trucks, police cars, and emergency vehicles. When we finally reached the Ellipse the entrance to the National Christmas Tree was closed. Frustration and disappointment, there had been some sort of event at the tree and the Police had it blocked off and offered no explanation as to when it would be open. According to one UBER driver last year some guy tried to climb the tree in the nude and pulled a bunch of the wires down, so who knows what just happened. My traveling partner is goal-oriented and no explanation for the closure of the National Christmas Tree was sufficient. Take it from me full disclosure is often not sufficient.
By this time, it was dark and we were tired and hungry so it was off to Legal Sea Food for an incredible dinner. Fresh east coast seafood is incomparable. We did return the next day and were able to see the National Tree and the 50 smaller State trees. Sorry to say but I was a bit underwhelmed, the National tree, and our smaller Michigan state tree, and associated decorations were kind of cheesy. It could have been the bright sunlight or maybe the mood of the City?
On Sunday it was on to the Church Houses. The first was The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We are not of the faith but wanted to visit this awesome Shrine, between Masses and see the art, architecture, and decorations. It is a great place of worship and cannot be described, only visited. “It is truly the embodiment of the people who are the fabric of the Catholic faith and a mosaic of our great nation.”
Saint John Paul II, the first pope to visit the National Shrine, perhaps best expressed its essence:
“This Shrine speaks to us with the voice of all America, with the voice of all the sons and daughters of America, who have come here from various countries…. When they came, they brought with them in their hearts the same love for the Mother of God that was characteristic of their ancestors and of themselves in their native lands. These people, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds of history and traditions in their own countries, came together around the heart of a Mother they all had in common.” https://www.nationalshrine.org/
In the evening it was the National Cathedral for an event filled with light, storytelling, dance, great music and the magic of Christmas. This Cathedral is a “house of prayer for all people, conceived by our founders to serve as a great church for national purposes. Washington National Cathedral holds a unique place at the intersection of sacred and civic life. As the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, we strive to serve God and our neighbors as agents of reconciliation, a trusted voice of moral leadership and sacred space where the country gathers during moments of national significance.”
The Church leaders are advocates for Veteran's rights and support, LGBTQ rights and support, Race in America, advocates against gun violence and interfaith dialog. https://cathedral.org/
On Monday it was off to visit the big house. I am happy to report that the Temple of Freedom still stands. The money changers haven’t sold it. The Statue of Freedom still stands atop the dome and faces east. She is impressive indeed and the massive block of granite and beautiful columns of marble are still stacked and holding her up. They will certainly still be standing long after this current little fracas is over with. Our Capital and our government building are resplendent and I strongly recommend that every American make several pilgrimages to Washington DC. It is after all the seats of OUR government. We own the place; we are the landlords and the people that work there are our tenants and employees and should be looking out for our best interest. Lest we forget, we must give them directions, performance reviews and if they do not perform to the required standards set out in the Constitution then they must be frequently evicted.
The tour of our Capitol is a history lesson presented in stone and art. The rotunda and Capitol Dome are incomparable. As we enjoyed the art and architecture, we also enjoyed another favorite big city pastime. People Watching. Our tour group was a typical composition of international tourists, mostly rich Asian with a smattering of young Americans. We were the only couple of that certain age in our group.
I would like to quietly mention that our government and Washington DC are inhabited and managed by “minorities” and or very young adults. Often both. The staff whizzing around us doing our government's business looked like teen agers. So do all the airline pilots and police. All the service folks, guides, guards, security agents, UBER drivers, wait staff in the restaurants, and hotels, ticket agents and so on are minorities and or young adults. For many English is not their first language. I found it interesting that our Capitol tour guide was a cheeky young Britt. He at one point unapologetically reminded us that the reason the British burned down our first Capitol during the War of 1812 was that we had foolishly invaded Canada. And that young Nations and teenagers often make bad choices.”
While we are on this subject of demographics and choices. I was very courteous to these young Washingtonians. Maybe a little self-serving, because according to the Brookings Institute and Census data “racial minorities are projected to account for all of the nation’s youthful population growth over the next 42 years.” Minorities will be the source of all of the growth in the nation’s youth and working-age population, most of the growth in its voters, and much of the growth in its consumers and tax base as far into the future as we can see. Hence, the more rapidly growing, the largely white senior population will be increasingly dependent on their contributions to the economy and to government programs such as Medicare and Social Security. This suggests the necessity for continued investments in the nation’s diverse youth and young adults as the population continues to age.”
Ok, Boomers we probably need to rethink our immigration policy and really, really support STEM and vocational education funding. I would like to further suggest that these minorities will be populating our military and other service organization like the police and fire departments.
This is not new news. We are a Nation of Immigrants after all. I noticed that the statues in the Capitol visitors center honoring our great Americans were mostly women, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants. As you look around the Capitol and at our other great buildings you will notice that they too were designed, engineered and built by “others.” So, what is all this divisive fuss about? Our Social scientists report that we are trending toward tribalism- a code word for partisanship. We have begun to look at our politics like our sporting events. Our side wins or loses and we feel good or bad. Probably not a good approach to running a great and complex country like ours.
I walked out to the backyard of the Capitol and there wasn’t a football field marked off with 10-yard lines and goalposts on either end. No bleachers on the left side for the Democrats or on the right side for the Republicans. I also looked down that Mall toward all the moments and war memorials honoring our founders and fallen heroes. I don’t recall seeing their party affiliation carved in stone. Just their name and the day they gave their lives for our country.
While being a little preachy, if we Michiganders recall when we had that little divisive impeachment dust-up with President Richard Nixon it was our own Gerald Ford that was chosen to calm the waters and right the ship of state. To restate a little history about this remarkable man of that important moment in our history, he had been the first Vice President chosen under the terms of the Twenty-fifth Amendment and, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, and was succeeding the first President ever to resign. Ford was confronted with almost insuperable tasks. There were the challenges of mastering inflation, reviving a depressed economy, solving chronic energy shortages, and trying to ensure world peace.
Ford’s reputation for integrity and openness had made him popular during his 25 years in Congress. From 1965 to 1973, he was House Minority Leader. Ford described his philosophy as "a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy. Ford was known to his colleagues in the House as a "Congressman's Congressman.” When I looked at his Statue in the Rotunda, I wished he was here now to handle the mess that was going on down the halls in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Wishful thinking perhaps because as our young British guide stated to our tour group, “your America is a country of many nationalities and various ethnic groups, all with different cultural practices and spiritual and philosophical beliefs. You are governed by laws that change frequently and you argue and reargue about everything. These Congressmen and Women and the Supreme Court Judges that are around here today are all arguing over some rule of law.”
Thanks for the lecture young Mr Brit.
All trips must come to an end. It was with mixed feelings as we headed back to the dingy old maze that is Regan Airport. We really didn’t have that great moment where you get that warm, light, gleeful holiday spirit. We finally found the chaotic departure lounge for our flight down to Grand Rapids. We settled in for a few minutes of people watching, coffee drinking and me asking my travel partner “could you understand that last PA announcement.” In a few minutes the folks going to Michigan started to show up. You could tell them by their heavy long coats worn over sweaters and hoodies. Young men in sensible shoes, wearing watch hats and Carhart jackets. As Johnny Cash said, “These Are My People.”
After a bit this lovely little Mom, blond, blue eyes, probably about five feet, two inches tall, maybe 100 pounds arrived. She was followed by two little girls who were perfect images of Mom, maybe five and seven years old. The third about a year old was in one of those chest carriers. All were loaded with little packs, carry-on bags and baby gear. To round out the entourage was what appeared to be an Asian Au Pair. All were well dressed and well behaved. What a brave little Mom to be wrangling three small children and an Au Pair through this Christmas traffic. Soon in broken English someone announced our flight and we were headed outside into the drizzle, loaded on these huge buses and taken to our airplane. You know the drill, find your seat, stow your bags, buckle up and go through the departure briefing. Then we waited and waited a bit more. Next, we received the dreaded announcement from the Captain, we were on a maintenance delay. Wait some more then, more bad news, deplane. Repeat the process in reverse.
On the bus trip back to old grimy, I was standing and hanging on the strap and facing toward the back of the bus. In a moment I heard some noise and someone touched my shoulder and there was a small tug on my jacket. I turned and looked straight into the face of a little Christmas Angel. Huge Michigan sky blue eyes, tousled blond hair, our eyes locked for a moment while she held onto my jacket with a tiny hand. Then her face lit up like we were long lost pals and she smiled this huge smile exposing not one but two perfect little white baby teeth. She was hanging over the shoulder of her little five-foot-two Mom working the crowd. O my goodness, what now?
I summoned my traveling partner, and she joined in. Miss blue eyes talked to us in her delightful one-year-old language for a few minutes, and then her Mom turned to see who she had captured. We were scanned and found to be harmless doting grandparent types. After offloading, a brief wait and a gate change we were on a functioning airplane on our way to Grand Rapids. Miss blue eyes was two rows in front of us and soon she popped up looking for her adoring fans. A game of peek a boo began. We would hear her call and then we would take turns shamelessly playing this endless game all the way down to Grand Rapids. She and her lovely little family disappeared into the night, hopefully on their way to a peaceful Christmas Holiday.
On the way up to Newaygo County with the Celtic Woman CD playing a rendition of Silent Night I was thinking wasn’t it a baby born on a cold starlight night like this one that began this Christmas whatever you think it is. I guess that Christmas spirit is where you find it or when it tugs on your shoulder looking for a little game of peek a boo.
You know if Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell would play a game of Peek a Boo with an adorable one year old maybe they wouldn’t be so grumpy.
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