Washington DC19 Jul 2017 | US work
The US has always been lower down on my mental ‘want to check this place out’ destination list. With so much US cultural creep into Australia, the mindsest around guns and violence, and to be frank the frightful appearance of a broadly insular and uneducated population - it just never had the same attraction it does to some. The one thing that has for a long time drawn me to the US is the national parks - but that will have to wait for another time..
I was fortunate enough to be asked to undertake a visit to our peer statistcal agencies in the US, Canada, and the UK. So a 4 day stay in Washington DC was locked in! The trip over was pretty pain free with a 14 hour business class long haul to Dallas on a Qantas A380 (not as nice as nice as our go-to Emirates, but not bad). I had a perfectly timed transit, which was expected to be 115 minutes, but by the time we landed and exited the plan was more like 90. The immigration queue had a few familar faces from Canberra, and after striking up a conversation found they were DFAT folks heading onwards on the same connection to DC. After clearing customs and immigration, receiving my bags, and sending them onwards, then taking the airport rail to my terminal - I had just enough time to grab some US dollar bills and use the toilet before we were boarding again. Perfect.
Landing into DC Nancy Raegan airport - I was able to get a pretty good view of the city. A quick cab ride and I was checked into my hotel in the Navy Yard (South East) region and keen to get walking in the fresh air and heat. I was staying within spiting distince of the Nationals Baseball stadium - the very same one that recently had a Bernie Sanders fanboy take a rifle pot shot at a Republican senator ‘playing ball’. Welcome to the US of A where the NRA mindset holds a gun to the head of the more rational folks.
I made a beeline straight down to a hipster open-air craft microbrewery right by the Anacosia river, called Bardo Brewery. Such a pleasant summmer environment, on a Saturday night, a few small groups, some music piped from speakers under he freeway bridge, and a few tasty ales went down a treat.
In a jetlagged state - and without eating for what felt like half a day - I briefly went in search for a quick bite. With nothing doing - I decided to wander over to the 7/11 I’d seen coming in. What an experience, on a hot Saturday night. There was an African American dude out front with a magazine round of bullets slung over his shoulder, and a swarm of people, some friendly, others a bit whacked out. I slowly grabbed some nuts and juice - and cautiously wandered back to the hotel.
As expected, I used the ‘waking up at silly o’clock due to jetlag’ as a good reason to haul my ass out and go for a good run. This was to double as a tourist mission to see the sights before it got too hot.
The run was hot even before the sun had risen - and I was pleased to stumble across some North American wildlife with deers seen along the Anacosia river trail and squirrels scurrying around in a few places. I managed to see the Supreme Court, the US Capitol building, the White house (Trump wasn’t in until later that night apparantly), the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. All very impressive. The rest of the day I hid from the heat and tried to keep myself awake, ironed my shirts and organised my stuff.
I had a very warm reception at the US Census Bureau. Their security is tight, with metal detectors and bags scanned on entry. On the first day I was able to enter with just my drivers licence photo ID, but on day two - the security lady advised I must have my passport - and her seniors denied me entry - forcing a metro roundtrip back to the hotel. My head is spining a bit from the size and complexity of what they are doing - but they are spending a phenomenal amount to run their decenial Census. A lot of useful learnings and ideas to share on my return.
On my last night I felt finally in the right timezone - so went for a nice evening walk, folllowed by a quick Uber out to a bar with the most awesome beer menu I’ve ever seen. Over 100 tap beers, and over 500 bottled beers. I had a cask ale to begin with, followed by a few lambic/sour beers to help build my confidence and appreciation of this style.
So what were my general impressions of DC?
- pot coffee percvasive, coffee shops exist without an expresso machine, but a couple of decent true coffee shops were starting to pop up
- despite being opressively hot - the countryside was very green
- the place felt safe and there was generally very little obvious poverty to be seen where I was
- all the people I came across seemed very friendly - must be that ‘go-get-em’ American attitude or something
- the tiping culture wasn’t too hard to adjust to; but I did have to remember that taxes
- the metro was easy to use and pretty efficient way to get around.
- DC had a pretty good cycling culture, with pervasive share bikes that unfortunately didn’t get a chance to use
- jobsworthy security staff
- hardworking civil servants - but I didn’t query them on politics, and the car-crash dysfunctional state of American politics and society.
- police were everywhere; but I didn’t see any obvious signs of them being jobsworthy or oppressive.
- uber driver says he’s noticed tourosm is down as I pass a trump hotel
- smart fire hydrants? Well, at least some had aerials.
- disposable society, even when drinking/dining in which was a little frustrating.
So long DC - it was warm and fun.