After plentiful false starts and failures, “We’ll do it next year” years and “Screw it, let’s go to the beach” years and years when the financial situation around The Observatory conspired against Yours Truly and our inky wretch’s salary, The Observer and Co. are finally going to make it to Washington, D.C. The plane tickets are bought, the videos on how to use the Metro have been viewed, the luggage has been weighed, and our hotel, a little place close enough to the Folger Shakespeare Library to dang near throw a copy of “King Lear” and hit it, has been booked.
It’s Junior’s trip, really, the only thing he wanted as a graduation present upon matriculation from mighty Central High: to walk the halls of the Smithsonian and the grass of the National Mall, to stand in the shade of the Washington Memorial and the long shadow of Lincoln, to stroll the streets and sidewalks where his heroes once worked for a better tomorrow and villains conspired after baser alloys. That said, it’s also quite a thrill for Junior’s Old Man, who has dreamed of making it to D.C. since we were but a lad growing up in the darkest heart of Arkansas. It’s kind of a dumb dream, come to think of it, given that there’s direct flights to D.C. outta Little Rock every day, and the money has — for all our poor shouting — sometimes been there over the years. But it is and has been our dream unrealized. That’s strange to say, come to think of it, given that The Observer has actually been to D.C. before, back in January 2013, when we attended and reported on the inauguration of the last American president we could bring ourselves to call “president,” a kind and thoughtful and earnest man who was clearly much, much better than this nation ever deserved, given his pitiful successor. From Top Fiver to Absolute Worst in just four years! It’s a twist we hope doesn’t flower into a twist ending, friends. Keep your fingers crossed.
On that trip way back in 2013, we got to see history, of course, but not much more than that; just the inside of a sweltering bus for hour upon hour, and the inside of a beige hotel room way out in the boonies where we ate chain pizza and showered off the road, and the gift shop of the Museum of Natural History, where we bought our lone souvenir of the trip. This time, we’re going to treat ourselves to the Grand Tour.
And so, we return. What will we find there, besides the Hope Diamond and Dorothy’s slippers, Archie Bunker’s chair and a half smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl? What we hope to find was something we picked up a hint of on our last trip through D.C., though we had no sense of how important it was at the time.
The Observer, like many who read this column, has been beyond dismayed over the past nearly two years, shocked by the daily assault on decency and integrity. There are times when the icy pressure of it all has seemed to crush our heart into a lifeless lump in our chest. As we write this, the hashtag #TreasonSummit is trending on Twitter, the product of Current Occupant staging a performance in Helsinki that couldn’t have been any more humiliating before the world for America if Putin had literally been holding Trump’s leash.
Still, we need to go to D.C. because we need to see the things that stay: the White House and the memorials and the great libraries, all the things that will endure long after Yours Truly and Current Occupant are long gone, as they have endured beyond the mortal lives of heroes and villains alike in the past. It gives The Observer quite a bit of hope to think that the Statue of Freedom will still be atop the Capitol dome long after this country has shaken off our dalliance with Idiocracy like a case of the fleas.
So we return, to walk the streets with the tourists and gawk at the national treasure house. Mostly, though, we return in hopes of having our reservoir of faith in this country refilled by the great edifices and the ideas for which they will long stand, in one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for some. We’re working on fixing that last part with all deliberate speed.