October 13, 2006
Our main goal today was to walk around the National Mall and maybe go up the Washington Monument. We were warned not to attempt driving in DC during the day because of the horrendous traffic, so we started out by taking our hotel's shuttle to the nearest metro station. The metro was a bit confusing because there were only vending machines to buy tickets from instead of people, and the fares were different depending on where you wanted to go. I thought I figured out how much it would cost and put enough money into the machine for the three of us, figuring it would give me the option to get three tickets. Instead, it only spat out one ticket with credit for all the money I put in the machine. I figured it wouldn't be a problem, so I went through the gate and handed my ticket back to my mom to use.
"Excuse me, where is your ticket sir?" a metro employee asked me.
"She's using it now," I replied, pointing back to my mom.
"You can't do that. Everyone needs their own ticket."
I don't know what difference it makes if everyone has their own ticket or if all three are together in one, but the fact that I was only given one ticket to begin with is what angered me. Every other subway I've been on has an actual person selling tickets, and you just request the number you need. The DC Metro's method is efficient if you know what you're doing, but it's extremely confusing for tourists, who seem to make up 90% of the metro's passengers. In fact, the city probably wastes more money employing people to help the tourists figure out the system than they would if they'd just hire actual people to sell tickets.
The first place we went to was the visitor's center. They were searching everyone's backpacks at the entrance, and since I had my laptop with me to search for a wireless hotspot, I had to turn it on to prove it worked. It was a pain in the ass, but I guess it's just something I'll have to get used to as long as I'm here. The visitor's center didn't give us much info about things to do, but it did have some interesting exhibits about the construction of the White House and the various presidents who have lived there.
The National Mall is huge, and there are literally hundreds of attractions on it, so we just decided to walk around for awhile and go to whatever looked interesting. We saw a large crowd of tourists were gathered at what turned out to be the White House. You couldn't get very close to it, though, so about the only interesting thing I saw was a guy mowing the lawn. I could see that particular activity at just about every middle-class house on any given Saturday, so I quickly decided to move on.
The Washington Monument was nearby, so we walked to it and attempted to get a ticket to the top. We discovered that the tickets were free, but we couldn't get in anymore today, so we'll have to try again another day.
The next stop was the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The place was absolutely huge. It had replicas of the first US space station, the Hubble Space Telescope, the lunar landing site, lots of old airplanes, and just about everything else imaginable having to do with flying. I walked around for about four hours until it closed, but I didn't even see one quarter of the exhibits. Later, I found out that there are over twenty Smithsonian's in Washington DC, so it would probably take months to see it all.
After the museum, we walked to the Capitol and watched people play football and soccer on the Mall for awhile. It was a beautiful sunny day, so lots of people were out and about all over the place. Getting back to the hotel took a long time, so we basically just relaxed with the small amount of time that remained in the day. I was pretty annoyed with the city at first because of the metro system and getting searched everywhere I went, but seeing the Smithsonian changed my mind. The only strange thing is that there's a huge, amazing museum dedicated to learning right next to dozens of government buildings dedicated to...well...I could say a lot of things, but certainly not learning.