Adventure on a whim

So anyway, I’m attending a conference that took me to just outside of Washington DC.  I’ve never been to the Capitol before.  Not even in Grade 6, when it seems like everyone goes on the obligatory-but-fun week-long class trip.  (Apparently, the year that I was in Grade 6, there was heavy weather during the time of our trip and it had to be canceled, never to be made up for later.)

So I had a lot of neat “firsts” today.  First time doing this, first time doing that.

My first “first” was seeing the Pentagon from the air, while banking on final approach, fixing to land at Reagan International.  That was pretty cool.

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One thing you need to know about Reagan International: make dang sure you don’t leave anything on the plane!  Check all your bags; ensure they’re closed tightly.  Check your pockets; make sure nothing fell out.  Check around your seat, down in between the seats, under your seat, under the seat in front of you.  Hell, check a surrounding radius of 6 seats in all directions; you want to make damn sure you have everything you need, because once you step off the plane (not just pass the security checkpoint-of-no-return), but the plane itself, it’s over.  If you forgot something, you can’t go back for it.  It doesn’t matter what it is or how important it is to you or how lost you might be without it.  And on every flight, they always find something someone left behind.  Don’t let that “someone” be You.

OK, end PSA; now moving on.  I looked for the mythical exit (always promised by the signage, but after huffing with all your luggage down hallway after hallway, sometimes one can have cause to begin to wonder if there’s actually a real way to leave the airport or if the signs are just stringing you along).  Finally found the exit.  No, I don’t want car rental.  No, nobody’s picking me up curbside.  Ummm, taxi?

Someone with a reflective vest caught the blank, confused look on my face and asked me what I was looking for.  I told him.  He complimented my hair (the ultimate irony, since I hadn’t had the color updated since April, I use zero products on it, and I hadn’t even straightened it that day, so let’s just say the humidity had its way with it.  Most people know this as a “bad hair day”).

We shot the shit for a few minutes.  Sure, it was 97 degrees out, I was sweating like a pig, and I was pretty thirsty by then (a couple dixie cups of ginger ale over the course of 5 hours probably isn’t enough).  But hey, the guy was nice, and I would find water and air conditioning soon enough.

He asked me where I was going.  I told him.  (That might not have been the wisest thing to do, being a single lady traveling alone and all, and usually I’m a bit street-smarter than that, but, well, something in my gut told me he was probably harmless–although, I know that that’s what all the victims say…after something has happened to them.)  And then, he proceeded to tell me about this alternate route I could take.

A cab might only take 15-30 minutes, but if I had a little more time (which I did), I could walk past the flagpole in the middle of the parking lot, go up this walkway to the Metro train station (at which point I gulped and meekly said, “train?”  You want me to take a train?  I’m autistic/Aspie, so this was already getting complicated and risky, and I was starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into, whether or not I had already stepped too far out of my closely-guarded comfort zone).

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He said I could take the yellow or the blue line (either one; they’d go to the same places) for like two bucks, and get off at the second stop, King Street, and see Old Town (which town was that?  I assumed Washington DC).

Then, from there, I could snag a Trolley bus at the transfer station (m’oh yeah?) and take that all the way down King Street, until the very end, when I start to see the river beyond the trees.

Behold, King Street: (yes, the whole thing looks like this; tons of cool eclectic little locally-owned, one-of-a-kind shops, with narrow-but-paved streets, and lined with trees.  Very pretty.)

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There’ll be a docking station there, and I can pay $8 to catch the boat over to the dock across the river, which, incidentally, is the very dock that just so happens to reside outside my hotel’s back door.

Well hell.  It was 3.30pm.  I didn’t have an obligation until 7.30pm.  That gave me 4 hours (I’m such a math wiz).

At first, I was leaning toward not doing it, pretending I did, and taking a cab anyway.  But I’m an awful liar and given that this didn’t turn out to be some wild goose chase (well-intentioned or not), he was trying to help me show myself a really good time and do a little sightseeing on my way to where I needed to go.

Then I thought, what the hell, what do I have to lose?  If things stop making sense or start getting scary or confusing, I can always backtrack, refer to my cell phone’s GPS, use my phone’s data plan to Google cab services, and call them to get me out of the jam.

So I figured I’d give it an earnest effort.  If for no other reason than to prove I to myself that I could do something like this.

After some initial confusion that seemed to cement my doubt, I found the access to the Metro train at the last minute, just when I was considering giving up.  But, I found it.  That blank, confused, lost look came in handy again, as did my South Texan dialect; thankfully, people fell all over themselves to help me.  I felt some serious gratitude.

I was also extremely grateful for the strong and functional air conditioning in the Metro and the Trolley bus and…the boat.

The docking station looked like this: (only not nearly as crowded; in fact, it was pretty empty).

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I caught a boat that looks like this:

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On the boat, I finally remembered to check the weather; I was curious to see what the temperature was.  It was 95.  So basically, a lateral temperature transfer from Texas to…wait….it dawned on me that I should probably figure out where the hell I was.  My phone’s weather app pegged me for “Alexandria, Virginia”.

Mmmmm’alrighty then.  Looks like I hopped into Virginia from Washington DC so seamlessly that I missed it.  But then I remembered that we did cross over a few small rivers on the train.  Maybe one of them was a boundary between WDC and VA.  It was my theory, and I stuck to it.

Back to the boat…  The engines rumbled and grumbled to life.  (And we all know how I feel about engines.  Pure love!  Yes, for real.)  And just like that, we started moving.  They had complimentary filtered water and plastic cups, too.  More gratitude.

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It was very cool.  Completely enclosed, windows on both sides and the back, and there were small decks on the front and back, and yes, they do let you get up and walk around once the boat starts moving.  It’s only during departure and arrival that they ask you to stay seated.  That’s a good thing, because there was some pretty hard-core A/C here, too.  I cooled down so much that I actually had to step back outside for a few minutes to warm up.

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And because I think it’s fun to GPS myself while crossing water bodies because it’s funny to see the little blue dot-me in the middle of the water…

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And then I suddenly realized, wait–which body of water?

Oh, right, it’s just the Potomac.

Wait, what?  The Potomac?  That really famous one in all the history books, where all that stuff happened?  Cool.

So yep, a big-hearted thank-you to the friendly airport employee who went out on a limb to add a vivid streak of color and adventure to a weary Texan traveler.

And a similar-hearted thank-you to my nervous system for taking a stranger’s advice on a whim and go on said adventure without freaking out. 🙂

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