A visit to D.C. with my two grandsons was planned weeks in advance, after my wife and daughter took a 10-day trip to Colorado and other points west.
This time it was the boys’ turn.
The plan was to drive to Richmond, Va., then board a train at Richmond’s historic Main Street Station for the three-hour ride to Alexandria, Va.
I had one special goal on this trip: to return to the top of the Washington Monument.
I had been there two years ago while still recovering from back surgery, and spent most of the time leaning against walls, barely able to stand.
This time I wanted to see the full expanse of the nation’s capitol and knew the boys would enjoy it, too.
Well, guess what. When I went online to reserve tickets, I learned that the Washington Monument was closed to visitors until at least 2018. Elevator repairs were taking place.
So, OK. No Washington Monument. There’s plenty of other things to see, including, of course, the various Smithsonian museums.
The new No. 1 goal, however, was the Lincoln Memorial. Jacob, 13, and I had both been there before, but it was new to Rylan, 7.
Well, guess what. A week before our trip I read that the Reflecting Pool linking the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial was being drained. It had developed parasites that had recently killed 80 ducks and needed to be completely cleaned. It would be refilled the day after we left D.C.
So, OK. The blue water was gone, replaced now by the ghastly smell of sewage as we walked alongside the empty pool.
We took the 87 steps up to the Lincoln Memorial (87 steps, you will note, equals “fourscore and seven years” from the Gettysburg Address) and joined the noisy, picture-taking crowd.
After Lincoln, we walked the length of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, noting how quiet everything had become.
It was the day before Father’s Day and the flowers placed at various spots along the wall took on a special meaning.
Jacob wanted to show Rylan the White House; I tried to dissuade him because it was a long walk. But I agreed to walk toward it and as we approached the Ellipse, the grassy 52-acre public park in front of the White House, we noticed an extraordinary police and Secret Service presence.
Just three days earlier, a gunman had shot up a baseball practice by congressional Republicans. Could this be another incident?
As we approached a crowd of people near a closed gate to the Ellipse, we suddenly heard helicopters – three of them, passing overhead from the White House. Obviously, it was Donald Trump and some of his staff en route to Camp David.
For Jacob, seeing a presidential helicopter was a real treat, but there was more.
While we waited at the locked gate to the Ellipse, a Secret Service agent on a bicycle rode up and asked a surprised Jacob if he wanted to go in.
Jacob said yes and the agent said, “Then get out of the way so I can open it.”
He opened it and as we followed a swarm of people in, Jacob remarked, “He was kind of mean.”
“I guess they don’t pay them to be nice,” I said.
In the end, I wasn’t happy with what we couldn’t see, but between the helicopters and the Secret Service, we actually got more than we planned. Not a bad little weekend.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.