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Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Time Event
Day 2 in D.C.
Today I was on my own the entire time; Melinda's conference started today. I started the day off at the crack of 1p with a visit to the Air and Space museum. I've been to Boeing's Museum of Flight in Tukwila [sic] many times so I stuck only to the Space parts. Pretty neat. I've seen exhibits elsewhere but here I could see the *actual* Apollo 11 capsule, etc. Probably the most interesting things were being able to walk through a replica of Skylab, and the timeline of Soviet vs. American space development in the 50s and 60s. They have a wall-long display of each years' milestones by each country, and it's clear that the U.S. was playing catchup for a decade. I also learned about LAGEOS, a passive satellite covered in retroreflectors. I wonder if it's possible for an amateur to hit it with a laser and receive a reflection.

The day was crazy warm but a storm was clearly brewing. I left the Air and Space museum by around 2p to try to visit the White house while it was still not raining. (The museums being free absolve all guilt in visiting only a fraction of what it has to offer in one sitting.) Just as I crossed the road I heard chanting and saw the head of a Prop 8 protest march. Led by two Capitol police cars the group stretched way beyond where I could see them. So I ran across the street: I wanted to be on the other side of the group! I continued my walk toward the White house, now with thousands of supporters for gay rights behind me, and made it to the Washington Monument before I turned and they didn't (dunno where they ended up: past the monument, Ellipse, and on into downtown somewhere). But reaching the Washington monument is also about when the storm that was brewing in fact did hit. I literally saw it coming: the winds suddenly became very gusty, I looked up and saw a squall line a quarter mile away. I scrambled to don my jacket and was covered in the nick of time. And then I and dozens of nearby tourists darted for a tent covering a refreshment stand, to stay out of the now torrential downpour. It reminded me very much of Burning Man, except here the storm is rain, not dust, and it was over in 8 minutes, not two hours. But there was definitely some doubt whether the tent providing our shelter would withstand the weather (it did).

When the storm turned to light rain I headed toward the White house further, but turned around when I learned there aren't open tours (you need to arrange something with your congressional representative first -- wacky). Also, unsurprisingly I guess, all the tickets to tour the inside of the Washington monument were already given out for the day. *shrug* okay, on to the next destination on my list: the Archives.

The National Archives exhibit mainstay are the Declaration, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. They're big, yellowed pieces of paper (why so big?) covered in fading ink. They're actually not that exciting to see. Worth the 10 minute wait I had but not much more. What was far more interesting, document-wise, was at one end of the Rotunda, with no line to see it: one of only four known copies of the Magna Carta. This paper (parchment, in fact) lays out the rules that Kings and people of England have governed/been governed by for 700 years. That's half a millenia longer than the Declaration has been written. Nice. The rest of the archives are sorta interesting, but mostly not. I'll bet they're really interesting if you want to research something, but the exhibits are little more than interesting excerpts of boring documents (eg, the Archive has naval ship logs, generally boring, but had on display one from the Nevada from Dec. 7th, 1941, which was an interesting minute-by-minute account of the attack).

I left the Archives around 5, which coincidentally is about when all the museums in D.C. close (some are open until 5:30p). So that's about it for my museuming for the day. I walk along Constitution Ave. toward the Capitol, then around the Capitol to see the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court building (the LoC is a far more interesting building). I head toward Chinatown by 6p to meet up with Melinda and pass dozens of people wearing AC/DC shirts. I learn later that there's an AC/DC concert at the Verizon center, which is one block from Chinatown. Add to that 30,000 attendees of the Society for Neuroscience and that's one very crowded downtown area. I manage to find Melinda and a friend and we head to dinner at the only restaurant that's not already overflowing. Hurray.

So, some things about D.C. police. First, there seems to be a lot of them. I've never seen this many cars with red and blue lights at one time before, not in Seattle, not in San Francisco, not in parades. Second, they seem to always be in a rush, urgently escorting someone or moving some group of dignitaries somewhere. It's like in the movies where they have to evacuate the president and you see a convoy of police cars zooming along the sidewalk or going down the wrong side of the street. But it's like that 6 times a day in D.C., that someone is being moved from A to B. I can't imagine what it must be like when there's an actual emergency that would require moving a dozen or more people separately from points A to B.

Okay, this has been sort of disconnected rambling, in between me looking for new places to go tomorrow. Enough for now; gotta get to bed. It's nearly 11p.

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