D.C. at Night

If a city is like a book, a bus tour of a city is like its table of contents. Despite how our younger selves used to deride tours, we’ve learned to take a tour at the beginning of our stay in any city, to get the lay of the land, hear some history, ask some questions, and figure out what we’ll want to do in the time we have.

Friday night, we took a 3 hr. night-time tour of Washington DC., expecting to see the post-thanksgiving Christmas lights, and all the classical marble and granite architecture glowing brightly along our way.

The Capitol and Washington Monument

We found Washington to be surprisingly dim. Most buildings were under-lit, and streetlights were all down-lit, so there is no longer light-pollution of the sky and one can actually see the stars. We had front seats in the tour bus, which was a great advantage, because the side windows were darker glass, obscuring all but the brightest features. The true illumination of the tour was our driver/guide, an ex-Marine with an obvious passion for history and detail. With one hand, he held a mike and spoke into it about the passing landmarks, their architects, curiosities of their creation and use, providing fascinating back-ground (like the stories of the five actual soldiers of the Iwo Jima sculpture) With the other hand, he’d whip the bus in and out of traffic, around irritatingly confused tourist motorists.

MLK and Korean War Monuments

He’d let us climb off, (with time-limit and helpful directions), to such places as the Jefferson, MLK, FDR, Vietnam,  Korean, and Lincoln Memorials. Our forays from the bus felt reminiscent of the muted, dimly-lit grounds of the Candle-light Christmas evening at the Farmer’s Museum. We carefully picked our way through the shadowy landscapes, sometimes stumbling for curbs or steps, like children on Halloween, then quietly reading the moving writings of Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lincoln incised in the softly-lit marble and granite. We saw the 19 eerie figures of the young soldiers patrolling a stretch of Korean swamp (created by strips of polished wet marble overgrown with ground-cover), their faces wary, no, terrified, above their tent-like rain ponchos. Our guide said that the day of dedication was quite foggy: so enhancing the realism of the scene that many of the attending vets had to withdraw to their cars, shaken by the return of their own personal moments in combat.

Breadline Scupture at FDR Monument

Lincoln Memorial


The evening was one of great and moving words, about tyranny, human rights, love prevailing over hate, and the memories of those who had served and sacrificed for them. So many, many lives lost, so many words as yet unfulfilled. This tour should be required, monthly, of all elected officials, or at least as much of their time should be spent here as with lobbyists.

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