Saturday, June 28, 2008

Travels With Marla

“A trip…is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality and uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.”
-- John Steinbeck from "Travels With Charley"

Since I appropriated his title for my blog today, it’s probably not a bad idea to quote from Mr. Steinbeck’s book. While my trip didn’t cover the width of his journey and I didn’t have a companion like Charley - I think any trip Washington DC tends to make you reflect on the abundances living in this country affords and the historic sacrifices made by thousands to protect the lifestyle we too often take for granted. Plus watching the Rangers play “the American Game” was a bonus that only made the trip that much better

All this week I kept finding excuses not to write this blog entry: I apparently picked up "summer cold" on the last day of my trip that wore me out (I blame it on the beer at the “Hawk and Dove”) or I had to do laundry, or I had to watch Max Ramirez’s first HR and Chris Davis’s major league debut, or the dog ate my homework (which is not true since I only have a ornery cat - Miss Stella – who did not appreciate me leaving her for five days in the care of Baseball Mom). But the real reason is: that I had such good time on this vacation that putting it into words is almost impossible and somehow by writing it down I’d have to let go of it. I just wasn’t ready to do that – and I’m probably still not, but what is that Latin phrase? Insanabile cacoethes scribendi.

If you want to skip the philosophical musings and over wrought prose, here is the link to my pictures from the sightseeing portion of the trip with commentary at the bottom of each picture.

Marla Meanders Around Washington DC

I have a little blue notebook that I use when I go to baseball games to write down players, pitch counts and other things I don’t want to forget when I actually do write a game report (which I admit have been lacking lately). Fortunately, I decided to put my little blue book in my purse for this trip, writing notes while riding on the metro, sitting on steps of the Jefferson Memorial or waiting for Kason Gabbard to figure out how to get a bunt down. Here are a few notes from a journey to the nation's capitol I would hope everyone who lives in these United States has the opportunity to make.

(By the way - if you click on the pictures I've added to this entry - you'll see the full size version.)

--- The best vignette from the National Zoo: as you can imagine the Giant Pandas are incredibly popular. They were all outside the day I was there with the female Mei Xiang being the most obliging – seemingly posing for photos. There is a refreshment stand called the Panda Café that over looks their enclosure. I stopped there for a lemonade and found a picnic table in the shade. As I was deleting blurry pictures of my fingers off my camera I looked over and there was Tai Shan the “baby” panda wandering out and literally flopping down on a log near where I was sitting. That part of the café was virtually empty except for the family at the picnic table next to mine – we had Tai Shan all to ourselves. Everyone once in a while he’d raise up one of his paws, it looked like he was waving at us. I think he was just batting away insects but the kids at the table next , who were maybe 4 and 5 years old, were beside themselves – “Tai-Shan waived at us!” It was a neat little moment.

--- My new favorite art museum is the Museum of American Art /National Portrait Gallery. Another Smithsonian affiliated institution it’s located in what used to be the Patent Office. In an unusual arrangement the floors of the museum are “shared” by each museum – one side is the American Art Gallery the other is the Portrait Gallery. I loved seeing Thomas Hart Benton’s vivid “Achelous and Hecules” as well as the “American Presidents” - a complete collection of portraits of the Presidents – many paintings by the same artist who painted the official portraits that hang in the White House . There were also three excellent special exhibits: legendary cartoonist Herblock’s send up of Presidents “Puncturing Pomposity” (and if you are old enough to remember Herblock please raise your hand) – Ballyhoo! Posters as Portraiture and Edward Steichen’s portraits for Vanity Fair from the 1920’s and 1930’s. I have to mention the third floor of the building which has been restored to look as it did during the late 1800’s with inlaid floors, tiffany windows, and vaulted ceilings – it’s a work of art in itself.

-- The weather was beautiful – well, at least by Texas standards - for the first four days of my visit, sunny but in the 70’s with a cool breeze. Yes, it’s a little more humid – but it’ also not exactly Miami. Enjoying the fact that I could walk around outside, I decided one day to visit the monuments, all of them. The walking map I carried around like a bible gave me the impression that they were all “close” together – so why not?

I started at the Washington Monument. No, I didn’t go inside and up to the top, did that in high school don’t plan on doing it again.

Directly in front of the Washington Monument is the World War II Memorial. It is majestic, as it should be. I especially liked the bas- relief murals on each side of the monument. According to the Park Ranger there are twelve on each side (Pacific and Atlantic) depicting not just battles but the efforts of all Americans during WWII.

I walked along the reflecting pool to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This memorial is stunning – but what bothered me was the large group of teenagers who were at the memorial that morning. They obviously had no sense of the solemnity of this place and unfortunately the adults who were with them did absolutely nothing to quiet these kids down and talk to them about those names engraved on “the wall” – it made me sad and a little angry.

The atmosphere at the Korean War Memorial was more appropriate. The weary soldiers climbing the hill are all beautifully sculpted, it’s a moving memorial.

The view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking towards the Washington Monument over the reflecting pool is one that reminded me of significant moments at that spot: Marian Anderson singing, Martin Luther King Jr. speaking, and Bobby Kennedy’s funeral cortège passing in front on its way to Arlington.

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t aware there was memorial for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I remember reading his quote saying all he wanted was a marble slab with his name near the national archives building. I’m not sure how FDR would feel about the memorial that now honors him – I think it is well done.

The final memorial on my walk was the Jefferson Memorial. Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president, his monument is beautiful – but it has the worst restrooms of any national park I’ve ever visited. My entire monument sojourn took about four and half hours, so I was more than ready for a long lunch at a German deli called Café Mozart.

-- One of the two high points of my trip was lunch with MiLB / MLB writer Lisa Winston. If you aren’t reading her MLBlog “Got MiLB?” – I have to ask why not? The link is on the left side of my blog – and her articles on MiLB should not be missed. She’s a terrific writer, and an absolute joy in to meet in person. We had long lunch, talked baseball, music and everything else under the sun – seriously – you need to check out her blog and especially the music links (you were right Lisa – Mike Viola is terrific!) watch for Lisa at the futures game in NY – you go girl!

-- The other highlight of my trip: The National Air and Space Museum. I can’t begin describe what it is like for a someone who grew a up as a bit of space geek to walk in the door to find John Glenn’s capsule on your right then the Apollo 11 command module on the left. Looking up there was Chuck Yeager’s Glamorous Glennis and the Spirit of St. Louis hanging overhead. I loved the display with the dashboard of the LEM from Apollo 17. As you stood there looking through the window you saw the surface of the moon approaching with the voices of Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt describing the descent. There were artifacts of every kind, almost too many to see. The ultimate artifact of flight being the Wright Brothers original flyer – now housed in its own room and on the ground so you can see it close up. Which brought up the question – if the Wright Bothers were in Dayton – why did the first flight take place at Kitty Hawk NC? The answer courtesy of a fellow space geek and blogger extraordinaire – it was chosen because it was “a sandy coastal area for regular breezes and a soft landing surface. They selected Kitty Hawk after scrutinizing Weather Bureau data and writing to the government meteorologist stationed there. The location, although remote, was closer to Dayton. The spot also gave them privacy from reporters”

--There were so many wonderful things that I haven’t even written about: Kramer’s Books, DuPont Circle, the Phillips Collection, the National Archives, the National Gallery of Art, dinner with Alice, dinner with John (aka “Birdy”) strolling in front of the White House, post game libations (and the company) at the “Hawk and Dove”, how cool it was to open the sports page each morning and not only get to read Tom Boswell but also see the Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley’s and Ian Kinsler’s pictures above the “leaders” category on the AL page of the Washington Post.

Oh Yeah - Baseball

I did watch a little baseball – the link to the pictures from the games are in the photo gallery on the left or by clicking here.

The Nationals new stadium has two things going for it: a metro stop literally in front of the Centerfield Gate and potential. Both nights I rode the Metro to the game, I was impressed with how the DC transit system handled large crowds – everyone and I do mean everyone - rides the train to the game. When you exit the metro walking down Half street towards the ballpark gates, you turn around there is a clear view of the Capitol Dome – at night when the dome is lit, it’s awe inspiring.

The white stone exterior of the ballpark was criticized by some fans – but the designers want it to fit in with the white facades of all the monuments and structures in DC, and the corner with the Nationals offices was designed as a compliment to IM Pei’s East Wing of the National Gallery. The stadium interior is all red, white and blue (what else?) – there is the “red porch” restaraunt (see picture on right) out in LF, and right field is designed as a tribute the original Washington DC ballpark (Griffiths Stadium). The other notable architectural point is the press box and broadcast booths that are located above the third level of seats. I was told that can you see the entire field, and the entire city of Washington and even parts of Maryland and Virginia from that vantage point. The National like most teams (except the Rangers) have a number of refreshment stands run by local eateries My friend John ("Birdy") Sweet recommded the uniquely DC "half smoke" sausage from Ben's Chili Bowl- it was delicious - I had one both nights.

I really hope that all of the Ranger officials who were along for the trip took note of the Nats great video board and really good sound system. My suggestion to Mr. Hicks is: since you are not spending money on “Glory Park” why not use those funds to put in a new video board inside the Ballpark (instead of outside) and please put in a new sound system. The "Presidents Race" is probably the best take off on the "dot race" of all the imitiations that I've watched in other ballparks.

The potential for the Nationals is the area surrounding the ballpark. I took a walk around the entire outside of the park and have to say – there’s not much going on. The new ballpark will be the catalyst for the redevelopment of the Navy Yard area – but right now there isn’t anything around the park except empty buildings waiting for demolition or refurbishment, and lots of dirt being moved for new structures. I’d like to go back in a few years and see the finished product. Unlike the Ballpark in Arlington, the Nationals park is a downtown park that does warrant that kind of development of retail and living space - people in DC actually live and work in the city (unlike the suburban setting in Arlington).

As for the games: had a great time sitting with fellow Ranger fans Mike and Grant Schiller – the best baseball companions you can have. Friday night we sat along the first base line by the right fielder – for all 14 innings. Baseball Mom TIVO’d the brief shot of us that appeared at the top of one of the later innings. Noted from the game: Tim Redding – are you kidding me? Elijah Dukes put on quite a show, that is the best I’ve seen Kevin Milwood pitch in a while, we were nervous when Joaquin Benoit was on the mound – turns out it we should have been more worried about Jamey Wright.

Saturday night the baseball gods smiled on me – I wound up with a seat about 20 rows up behind the Rangers dugout and two empty seats next to me. Of course, I called Grant and Mike who were sitting up on the third level to come on down and we enjoyed the view and the game. Memorable moments: Kason Gabbard’s feeble attempts at bunting, PH German Duran getting two AB’s in the same inning, and Luis Mendoza’s statue like AB – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a relief pitcher actually go to the plate with a bat in his hand.

I am glad I chose this as my Rangers road trip this season. I was reminded of the history and beauty of this country, I got to spend time with old and new friends who I absolutely adore and yes, there was baseball too. It was the best vacation I’ve had in fifteen years.

I’ll close with another quote from "Travels With Charley":

“If I were to prepare one immaculately inspected generality it would be this: For all of our enormous geographic range, for all of our sectionalism, for all of our interwoven breeds drawn from every part of the ethnic world, we are a nation, a new breed. Americans are much more American than they are Northerners, Southerners, Westerners, or Easterners.... It is astonishing that this has happened in less than two hundred years and most of it in the last fifty. The American identity is an exact and provable thing.”

Next Week: Back to Ranger baseball and the mid-season report card --- Marla Hooch


Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey - I Got To Go To The White House Too!

I was at the While House the same weekend the Rangers players were there - well, actually a couple of days before - and I didn't exactly go in the White House - but I did get my picture taken at the White House. More on DC, monuments, museums, the Hawk and Dove and - oh yeah - baseball too later this week.

Watch this space -- Marla Hooch