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Oye — Turistas
by Mike Fornatale

This short tour was oddly-scheduled in that we had two “off-nights” (nights with no show) but they were the FIRST two. Not spaced with rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation in mind. That said, I’m glad we had that first night off in Philadelphia (so we could all sit in the bar at the hotel and watch the first World Series game together) and the second night off in Alexandria, VA. And here’s why:

I had been in Washington DC exactly twice before — once with my parents, when I was ten years old, and once with my entire 7th grade class. The world wasn’t in color yet and LBJ was in the White House. 18-year-olds weren’t able to vote yet, and wouldn’t be, for another five years. I really was overdue to see Washington again. Especially since I had just spent the entire morning, two days earlier, walking across Philadelphia, standing outside Independence Hall, screaming silently “Yes!! I still believe!!” — which is a ritual I perform without fail every time I’m in that city. So now, I felt I owed all these OTHER monuments the same courtesy.

We zipped through Maryland, as discussed earlier, stopping only twice. Blaring through the van, via my iPod, was a random mix of 60s garage and psych which seemed to go over fairly well with the trapped musicians. Halfway down the highway something fairly familiar started drifting out of the speakers — “A House Is Not A Motel.” Well, I had forgotten it was on there, of course — but seriously, how do you make a random-mix-of-60s-garage-and-psych without any Love in it? You don’t, yes, and thank you for answering so quickly.

Anyway, as soon as the singing started, I clicked it off and onto the next track, whatever it was. (After all, they had just heard the song twice the previous evening — sung once by the Actual Arthur and once by the Pretend Arthur, or Ghost Arthur, or La Faux Lee.) They all laughed when I clicked it off, but no one applauded of course.

Our route into town took us past the Pentagon. The entire white vanload of turistas gaped in awe at the recently-rebuilt section, easily identifiable by its “New Military-Industrial Complex” color, not yet faded and yellowed by the passage of time and the evil stench of warmongering. Oh, sorry, that one got away from me. I won’t do that again.

Switched the iPod over again — this time, to “Welcome Black” by The Negro Problem. Carrie was sitting right behind me. A song and a half went by before she said “Now that sounds familiar.” Probyn was sitting further back, and it took another whole song before he said “Hey! That’s us!”

I’ve performed that particular experiment several other times, always with the same result. When you unexpectedly play someone’s own music for them, it seems to take them quite a while to recognize it. I can’t fathom this, but it happens every time.

It was midafternoon and traffic was pretty nasty, but we got to the Econo-Dump or whatever it was called without further incident. Still plenty of daylight left and an off-night. Rusty immediately suggested that we all take the hotel’s shuttle-bus to the first stop on the “Metro”, which is what they call their subway system. Ah, good. Good idea. I had been afraid I was gonna have to just take the van and drive into the city, where there would of course be noplace to park the van — hence I’d have to content myself with just driving by the various monuments and not actually seeing any of them. This was way better, plus company. I’ve begun to enjoy having these folks around at this point.

So, after making sure that Gene actually made it to the hotel, the rest of us (excluding Randle) elected to head subway-ward. Someone (I forget who) asked why Mike wasn’t with us, and someone else answered “Randle doesn’t do ‘tourist.’ By the time we get back he’ll have gone for a long walk and made fifty new friends.”

Very cool subway system DC has. Easy to understand, relatively clean, and no claustrophobic feeling in the stations, which are huge and arch-shaped. The station walls are oddly matrixed and do give you the feeling that you’re inside a squid’s intestines…..but it’s a really BIG squid, and made of concrete so it smells better than an actual squid would smell. Are you writing all this down?

The historic part of DC is much like the historic part of Philadelphia, in that it’s all crammed into one sector. The proportions are bigger, of course, but you can pretty much walk to the four main things you need to see. Not like Boston, where the remaining historic buildings and sites are splayed all over the city, but there’s an actual sidewalk-marked walking tour you can take and not miss anything. And in my own New York, of course, there’s Fraunces Tavern and the courthouse steps and that’s about it. We have History Envy in NYC because our forebears have seen fit to tear down everything of historical significance and replace it with Huge Vertical Shit. It’s a guy thing, I imagine.

Then again, these people are all from Los Angeles. Where are THEY gonna take you, Tail Of The Pup??

Anyway — we had no actual plan when we emerged from the “Smithsonian” Metro station, but you don’t really need one. Just look around. You’ll see the Big Pointy Thing and the Big Domey Thing and the Big Rectangular Thing With The Guy In The Big Chair Inside without too much difficulty, and then you just head off in whichever direction suits you. We skipped the White House, of course. It is a lovely old theatre, but none of us particularly cares for the show that’s playing there right now. I’ll go back when they write a new show and change the actors. I didn’t take a poll, but I do believe most of us prefer Paula’s version of the White House, which you can find on your TV set Wednesday nights — for now, anyway.

We headed off towards the Big Pointy Thing, and just viewed the Big Domey Thing from a distance. I don’t think most of us are big fans of the show that’s playing in THERE right now either.

Well, the Big Pointy Thing sure is awe-inspiring, especially this time of day — sunset was approaching shortly and you really almost can’t take a bad picture of this imposing Thrustoid object. We walked up to the pad. Some of us probably would have been up for making the ascent to the top — but no go. Like our own lovely local “monument”, the former site of the World Trade Center, you have to go get tickets offsite and then come back. We weren’t going to have time for that. So we just stood on the pad and stared upward in awe. Clowning around was kept to a minimum. I think when Chapple laid down on the marble pad he was praying rather than clowning around.

On the other hand, when you’re with a bunch of people standing around the base of this particular monument, you’re pretty much assured of getting at least one picture that inadvertently looks like outtakes from the cover of Who’s Next, and Daddy-o supplied the proper visual here.

In the huge quad that defines the historic section of town, the Big Pointy Thing is in the middle. Behind you is the Big Domey Thing, and then in front of you is the Big Rectangular Thing With The Guy In The Big Chair Inside. Right now, though, there’s some sort of serious landscaping thing going on, with those lovely stick-and-produce-wrap fences that add sooooooo much to the view, and you can’t walk straight through. So we needed to circumnavigate that, along a lovely tree-lined street, till we got to the huge and imposing reflector pool that sets off the view of the two monuments so effectively.

EXCEPT, the pool is empty. I imagine they drain it before the leaves start falling, or maybe they needed to get all the water out so they could look for Bin Laden underneath, heck, I dunno. I’m not in charge of national security anymore.

The dry pool was initially disappointing, but it was kind of neat in an odd way as well — we were able to walk towards Marble Abe IN the pool, instead of along the walkway. There’s more of a feeling of space this way, and more immediacy as well. That might not make much sense, but it will when you look at this picture.

This stuff is all truly awe-inspiring. You can’t be unaffected. Me, I was vacillating between dumbstruck reverence and boiling anger/resentment at the way the whole dream has been garrotted, raped, and dumped in a ravine, mocking the very existence of these monuments……oh, sorry, that one got away from me too. I did promise I wouldn’t do that again.

We spent quite a bit of time with Marble Abe, before heading off to one side to see something that didn’t yet exist the last time I was here, nor was it yet necessary — the Vietnam Memorial. It was dark by now, and that only added to the profound soul-crushing sense of the whole thing. I tried to take an arty sort of picture of one segment of the wall but it doesn’t capture it, of course. There are a couple of names from my hometown on that wall somewhere, but I didn’t waste everyone’s time stopping to look for them. (Or maybe I wasn’t so sure they’d wait!)

Someone — Carrie, I believe it was — knew that places to eat were concentrated vaguely over that-a-way, so we started walking over that-a-way. Shortly we were in the George Washington University environs, and the sidewalks were full of GWU Student Types. I think it was Paula who buttonhooked one of them and asked where the food all was. Turns out she had asked the self-appointed Guide To All Things DC, which was great. This girl, and her friend, actually walked us to the intersection she wanted us to end up at, and kept mentioning an Ethiopian restaurant.

When we got there, it transpired that most of the assemblage did not want to go Ethiopian. They, led by Rusty, said they were going up the road to a pub they had noticed, where they would have a drink and decide where to eat. Heather and Julie were dead set on eating NOW NOW NOW, and Ethiopia sounded good to them. Well, what the heck, said I, I’m hungry now. So I went with them. Probyn tagged along as well, but at the last minute he was seduced by falafel and he went in there instead.

So that left Heather and Julie and I, and we went into the Ethiopian place, “Zev’s.” Immediately I was painfully aware of the fact that I was wearing a T-shirt and a Members Only jacket. I elected to leave the jacket on, though it was a bit over-warm. As we were seated, one of the girls opined that the place was slightly too classy for the way we were dressed. “We??”

No matter. The food came, along with the delightful Spongy Bread-Like Stuff that you use to pick it up and steer it into your mouth with. Looking at the bread, I suddenly realized that THIS is what the DC subway stations are made of. How interesting a coincidence that we should run across this. How interesting, also, the way you eat until you’re satisfied and then — only then — does this fiendish bread start burgeoning in your stomach until it’s about twelve times the size it was when you ate it. Well, no matter, it was good food and good company.

Cell phone contact was made with the rest of the assemblage and we headed off to where they were. Turns out the pub was, of course, a restaurant as well, and they were eating when we arrived. There was no room at their table for us and so we went off to another table further towards the back. This is our punishment for Eating All Highbrow on them. Well, not really. If there’s no chairs there’s no chairs — besides, as I said earlier, I was in good company qualitatively.

We stopped at some little hybrid convenience store/liquor store hybrid and the various boys and girls loaded up with whatever would fill whatever perceived need, and walked back to the Metro — knowing full well that we had stayed at the ball too long and our chances for the return shuttle to the motel had turned into a pumpkin long ago. Well, whatever. We had fun and now we’ll just have to find our way back there. As it turns out, the last Metro stop has a taxi stand right outside, presumably for dopes like us who don’t understand the value of a free ride. Hmm, twelve people. Well, that’s gonna be three cabs, right? Nope! We made us a couple of Clown Cars and all fit into two. I was the last one in, in the second car, and I think it was Heather that I was squished up against. Can’t remember. Anyway, that was the least expensive cab ride I can ever recall being involved in, due to the sheer quantity of passengers. Nicely played.

So here we are back at the Econo-Tundra. Tomorrow’s plans involve checking out in the morning and tossing all our gear in one or two rooms till it’s time to go to the venue. We’ll be leaving straight from the venue after the show and heading North to Newark. Less than perfect situationally, yeah, but it makes the most sense in terms of the bookings. But never mind that — tonight isn’t over yet. Various contingents of revelers piled in and out of the Paula Ana room, and the Randle Chapple room (wow, is that a Misspelled Soap Opera Actor’s Dream Name, or what??) and sat around using up what-all had been purchased on our walk back to the Metro. Eventually Dan volunteered to head out to the 7-11 Randle had discovered on his walk earlier, to refill.

Randle had a CD-R with him which a friend of his had compiled — it consisted of songs which had been submitted by hopeful no-talents to some publishing company or such. His friend had saved all the most screechingly awful ones and compiled them, instead of just throwing them away. Chapple connected Mike’s portable CD player to the audio inputs on the room’s TV set so we could all listen. That he knew how to do this seemed to absolutely amaze the gathered ensemble. Pffft. After 25 years in consumer electronics retail, I could probably have shown them how to make toast with the TV set and wired their telephone straight into the red button at the White House. I waited to see if Chapple was gonna pull out a disposable lighter and amaze the natives with his ability to harness fire as well, but I didn’t say anything.

Anyway, such thoughts were quickly dispersed by the music on Randle’s CD. This disc is a treasure, truly. I wish I had it here now. There was one song in particular that is (partially) stuck in my brainpan forever, guaranteed. I wish I could remember all of it. But it was a very earnest gentleman singing about someone’s falling in love with a prostitute or something like that. “You want to plaaaaay, but you got to paaaay, you got to paaaay to plaaaaaay, heeyyyyyyy….” Wow.

Suddenly there’s a piercing whistle outside. Wha? A few blasts and then it stops. Sounds like it’s coming from the far end of the U-shaped building, on the street side. We shrug and ignore it. Fifteen or twenty minutes later (this may seem significant in a moment) we hear it again. Well, time to find out what this is about.

Turns out that this is a Highly Sophisticated Signalling System devised by an enterprising local lady-of-the-evening, who is using our Econo-Sinkhole as her base of operations. As each L’Affair D’Amour (English translation: “Porkfest”) concludes, instead of “Thank you, drive through” you instead get “FWEEEEEET!!! FWEEEET!! FWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!” Oh, how cold and callous is this modern world of ours. What’s happened to romance, anyway?

The sheer volume of this whistle made me wonder just where the velvet ropes were that the suitors, as it were, were waiting. Plainly it was important to the Proprietress Of Impropriety that her Imminent Drain Snakes NOT congregate right outside her room, which only makes sense for security reasons. I never did see where they were coming from. Sorry, arriving from. Must have been on the premises somewhere, but we never found out — at least I never did. “You got to paaaay to plaaaaay, please waiiiiit over by the bale of hayyyyy, for your layyyyyy…..”

Randle eventually took off the CD and replaced it with Tenacious D, which seemed to be a big favorite among the gathered folks. As for me, I needed sleep. I actually just about nodded off sitting on the floor, and Rusty yelled “Mike F! Go to bed!” Either he was concerned about my well-being or they just wanted to get rid of me before the REAL party started. It was gonna be me driving from DC to Newark the next night, and from Newark to Boston the following morning. And the Jizz Whistle had finally packed it for the evening, so it was safe to try and sleep.

So what did I miss? Apparently some sort of back-massage orgy, according to a diary entry I have recently read (written by Paula’s stuffed Skinned-Rat-Dipped-In-Hummus.) Well, somebody’s gotta drive, right?

NEXT TIME: The Birchmere show (yes, the actual show.)