This trip to our nation's capital wasn't my first. Previously I had been in the spring of 1996 during my junior year of high school as part of a program called Close-Up. The goal of that trip was to witness government in action. We were able to meet with our senators, sit in on congressional meetings and generally wander the hallways of the capital building, plus the senate and congressional office buildings to just take it all in - something that after 9/11 I'm certain doesn't happen anymore, or at least not in the way we were able to experience it.
No, this trip had quite a different agenda. Along with my college roommate Aaron, we were in town to take in the memorials and museums as much as we could, but our main goal was sports. To celebrate both of our 40th birthdays which had just occurred, our wives planned this trip for us so that we could take in both a NFL game and a NHL game in the same long weekend. And for good measure, once we arrived and realized that we could also catch a NBA game too, we did.
We called it #EpicSportsWeekend as we celebrated #ThisIs40.
Four days and three nights we spent in DC and we managed to cram in three professional sporting events. Simply crazy. Credit to our wives though for piecing together that it could be done. They had a whole spreadsheet of cities where this would be possible during the Fall/Winter, and luckily they decided on DC...because the other choices where not exactly what I would call fun destinations.
The other notable highlight of the trip (aside from hanging out with a good friend who lives far too far away) was the food. We had some great meals throughout the trip. Even the hotel breakfast was outstanding. (Side note: I not only miss traveling, but I also miss the "free" breakfast bars at hotels. I know they're not free, but I still miss them). The best meal might have been the most unlikely combination of food I've ever had though - fried chicken and donuts.
Astro Fried Chicken and Donuts on G Street NW in DC was a gem of a find. And it wasn't one we went looking for either. We were searching on Google Maps for something else and that's when we saw it. It is one of the smallest places I've ever been (enough room for maybe four guests to stand and order). The chicken was cooked in the basement and sent up to the counter via a dumbwaiter. And the wait for our food was incredibly long. But was it worth it?
Without a doubt, yes. The chicken was amazing, and the donut was glorious.
And as a bonus, even though there as no place to sit inside, it didn't matter. It was January 1, 2019, and it should have been cold, or at least colder than it was. Instead it was mostly sunny and in the mid 50s, which made eating fried chicken and donuts on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery that much more of an enjoyable experience.
Prior to August 1995 I had never been on an airplane. I rode in a helicopter once at a fair, but never a plane. So when my grandfather and mom asked if I wanted to accompany my grandfather to England and Scotland, I was slightly uneasy about the idea - not because I didn't want to go, but because it would be my first plane ride. And a heck of a ride it would be at 7+ hours across the Atlantic. All I could think about was, if I don't like this, I've got to fly back.
Luckily flying didn't bother me one bit and I was able to enjoy about two weeks in the UK without the constant worry of flying home weighing on me.
I have a ton of photos from this trip, but two of my favorite memories from the trip have no photos attached with them what-so-ever.
The first one occurred at a traditional British pub. We were somewhere outside of Birmingham, which if you are unfamiliar with the lay of the land, is located in the middle of England, about two hours north of London. I had gone to the pub with my grandfather and his brother-in-law Geoff after dinner one night as they wanted to grab a couple of pints. As I walked up to the bar, the bartender asked me what I would have. Before I could say anything, he suggested a pint of Bass Ale.
"But I'm only 16," I said.
"I didn't ask," he replied.
"Just a Coke for me, thanks." I was a good kid. Maybe too good, because a cold pint in a pub with some strangers sounds really good right now. But truth be told, I just didn't like beer back then. When I got back to the table, I think both my grandfather and Geoff expected I would have a beer in my hand. That may have been my first opportunity to have a beer with my grandfather, but it luckily wasn't my last. We would talk over many pints between then and when he passed away at the age of 92.
A week or so later we were in now in Glasgow, Scotland. We had just spent the day visiting my grandfather's home town of Coat Bridge when we got off of the bus and popped into another pub for dinner. They brought us some water and menus and a few minutes later our server arrived to take our order, and this was the first time I experienced a language barrier while traveling.
Yes, we were in an English speaking country. Yes, she was speaking English. But I could not understand a word she was saying. Her Scottish accent was so thick she might as well have been speaking French.
My grandfather ordered and then she looked at me. I still didn't know what she was saying, but I figured it was my turn to order since she was starring at me. I placed my order and then it happened - she asked me a question. I was completely lost. I politely asked her to repeat herself, and she did. But we got no where. This went on a couple more times before finally my grandfather shouted, "she wants to know if you want chips with it."
"Oh, sorry, yes please," I sheepishly said as I handed her my menu.
Since my first trip overseas in 1995 I have traveled to places where they speak Chinese, French, Korean, Norwegian, Malaysian and more...and to this date I have never had a harder time understanding someone as I did that poor server in Glasgow who was technically speaking the same language as me.
With us going seemingly no where for quite some time, I thought I would use our stay-at-home orders as a great excuse to start writing again. But the big question of course is, what should I write about? I thought about a creative endeavor like a screenplay or something, but most days after teaching remotely via Zoom for hours on end I am drained. Then I thought, what is the thing that the pandemic has taken from me that I miss the most?
It's traveling. Hands down. Traveling to see friends, to see family, or to just explore something new.
Honestly I don't mind being at home, especially when staying here will help save lives and keep everyone safe, but I do miss getting to the airport early to enjoy an overpriced drink and sandwich while watching folks go to and from. I miss jumping in the car with the family to head to my in-laws for a weekend. I even miss all of the researching and planning that takes place before the adventure.
So while we are all being safe at home during the next 30 days (or longer should the Covid-19 numbers necessitate it), I will look back here at some of the travels I've taken before. I will share some stories and photos, and hopefully together we can all escape away to somewhere new...even if only mentally for now.
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