Sunday, May 26, 2013

How to have a Frantic Vacation (part 4)

Thursday: Heavy rain is forecast for all day. (It would not begin until late afternoon.) I decide to head for Jamestown Settlement, of which at least a part is under cover, but wind up saying what the heck and taking the first shuttle stop to Jamestowne, which will be a quickie.

Jamestowne (or James-towne) is the actual site of the first lasting English colony in the New World. They have a column set up that, if you look past it into the water, marks the site the first foot was placed on what was then land. The fort's foundations have been found (again, one side of it extends into the water, as the bay has grown on that side) and there are archaeological excavations going on.

I arrived too late to catch the name of our guide, but she'd been 14 or so when she'd arrived on the third ship to come to Jamestowne, and she'd been one of the few survivors of the famine. Eventually she married a man who'd been on the first ship. They'd gone back to England, the man had been promoted and given a good position and pay (she gloated how she'd chosen the right guy), and eventually they'd returned to America.
She gave us a great intro to the site and told us about the research people were doing in these Modern Tymes to discover what life had been like. She made sure we knew about "Jane," the 16 YO (? might have been 14) girl whose remains had been found very recently, who was the first real evidence of cannibalism that had been made necessary by that famine, when the settlers had been too terrified to leave the fort to gather food.

There's this twiggy version of one of their buildings, and there's also a brick church—but that church was a later one, done towards the end of the 17th Century. The chimney's an original one, though.

One of the excavations concerns a bakery. They've just taken it down to the level where people of the day would have actually been walking. The clay has been baked hard by the ovens, and work there was considered punishment duty because of the heat.

You can see the battlements in the background. The fort was triangular. Though the Indians were semi-friendly at first, after Powhatan died things got nasty.

Powhatan had a famous daughter, Pocahontas, aka Matoaka, aka Rebecca Rolfe. Somewhere at the site I remember seeing that her marriage to John Rolfe was her second, with the first husband having an Indian name, but I don't see that in her Wiki entry.

I do recall thinking that this would have been an interracial marriage. Wiki confirms that it is the first recorded one in American (I assume they mean USofA) history.

Too bad that Pocahontas had to catch some disease and die in England, before she could return home.

There's a museum at Jamestowne that has a lot of bits and pieces of Jamestowne life, as well as a reconstructed face for Jane that makes one feel more than a little queasy, as she's depicted so bright and healthy.

Now I'm off to Jamestown (no extra "e") Settlement, just down the road. It's got a huge building with all kinds of info and mini-movies realating to various aspects of Jamestown life. There's a really nice juxtaposition of exhibits on life in Elizabethan England, Powhatan Virginia, and Western Africa. They really are trying to showcase Jamestown as the confluence of three different cultures from three different continents.

They have stunning life-size statues of Powhatan and African leaders who have direct ties to Jamestown.

Luckily I explored the outside first, while the sun was out. They have a Powhatan village set up with costumed inhabitants patiently explaining crafts like fletching to little girls.

Here you'll also find a reproduction of how the fort at Jamestowne might have looked, reconstructed. There's a blacksmith shop and other things to learn from. The living quarters have clay —not dirt—floors. Cool. The guide there gave me the names of two books about historical cleanliness and such, since I was asking questions about it. How nice that the guides—all of 'em, it seems—know so much about so many aspects of life back then!

Down at the docks you'll find four ships, equipped with crew who are delighted to explain things.

The "big movie" inside the main center was interesting enough, as again, they were focused on three cultures. Their historical African "star" (the person they focused on) was a woman who had originally been a prisoner of war, given to the Portuguese as a slave, and then had her slave ship hijacked in the Caribbean by the English—using the same ship that had carried Pocahontas to England, as a matter of fact. The slaves were brought to Jamestowne to be the first 20 Africans brought to the British New World. The woman was listed as having survived many years later, though records weren't clear as to whether she'd been freed at some point or not.

Coming out of the movie I noticed they'd added a noisy waterfall soundtrack to the Powhatan exhibit. Then I saw some windows. The sky had opened up. Williamsburg and vicinity got more than 4 inches of rain that afternoon. (Plus Yorktown got a tornado, I think.) It was bad enough that I got myself to run when I saw the bus pulling up to the stop, so far from the center's entrance.

Though it said it was the Colonial Williamsburg shuttle, it wasn't the real Colonial Williamsburg shuttle, but another one. Even so, the driver took pity on the eight or so of us and sat there waiting for the real shuttle to show. Thank you!!!

So the real shuttle arrives and we take off down the Colonial Parkway through the storm. The driver paused at the edge of the Jamestown property to talk on the radio. He kept talking as we made the journey back. I heard "One foot deep," and so we all tried listening in. The bus was spewing great fountains of water to either side as we sped through the lush swamps.

At one point he stopped again, but opposite traffic also stopped. A large flock of ducks (babies included) had decided they wanted to cross the road. So cute! And there were so many ducks! A few decided they liked the side they were on.

Then we approached a tunnel and the driver stopped. We watched a gray car stopped in the road, just coming out of the tunnel in the opposite direction. Then a pickup drove out, swooshing through the water around the car. A tiny red car followed, with us taking bets as to whether it would make it. It did. But Gray Car sat there, its blinkers on.

Our driver was having many conversations on his radio. We learned that the cops had stopped traffic on the other end of the tunnel. Traffic inside was turning around.

Then our end of the tunnel lit up with red and blue flashing lights. The police! But it was both police and park rangers (the Parkway is part of the Federal Parks system) who pushed the gray car out. The cop was a pretty hefty guy, so I was impressed. As you can see, the water was darned deep. The cop said that that was actually the shallow side; the other side was waist deep.

A drain did away with the worst part of it fairly quickly, but someone had not put the drain at the road's lowest point, and so knee-deep was where things stayed as long as we were there.

The gray car now out of the water, the driver's side door opened and—waterfall! Water POURED out of the car. I'm ashamed to say that we were greatly entertained. One guy on the bus began to go on and on about how much it would take to fix that car, which switches needed to be replaced, etc.

"That car's toast," I countered.

A guy from the back hollered, "Nobody buy a used gray Lexus from a Williamsburg dealer!"

We got more chuckles as one of the cops leaned over and began scooping more water out of the car's interior. Bad us.

Big Cop came to the bus and helped us back down the Parkway. Turns out we weren't that far from Coll. Williamsburg. Figured I was already as drenched as I could get, and so caught the local shuttle to the Dog Street Pub, where I'd been told I could get the area's best hamburger. It was indeed, and would have been a very nice experience if the waiter hadn't been so condescending.

On the shuttle back to the Visitors' Center, we tried to convince the driver that he wanted to deliver us to our cars. He didn't buy it, darn it. So with lightning crackling right above, I duck-ran to my car, sitting so lonely at the very farthest reaches of the lot.

Friday: On the way out of town, I stopped at the Visitors' Center to take some quick shots of the landscaping that I want to copy. The camera's battery was dead. I reached into my purse for the replacement batteries, discovered that they were rechargables that hadn't been charged before packaging, and delivered a deadly curse to a certain clerk at Radio Shack. Bad, bad me. Luckily, I have a backup camera in my purse.

Farewell, Colonial Williamsburg. I have seen as much of you as I wanted to. I do want to go back for three days to finish Washington, DC, though. Next time I'll take the train and maybe stay at the Alexandria Hilton, which is right across the street from the Metro. One day for one side of the Mall, one day for the other, and one for Mt. Vernon. That sounds easy enough on the footsies.

I'm taking real, prescribed medications now, but recovery seems to be slow. All Williamsburg/Jamestown seemed to be coughing on Thursday. Thank goodness it happened on vacay, right? Not on a work day when it would have interfered with something important.

So: Have you visited any of these places? What stuff did you like best? Not like? What did you miss that you feel you need to go back for?

How to have a Frantic Vacation (part 3)

sick   sick   sick   sick

Decided to skip Mt. Vernon and tried to give my tickets away. The doorman snatched them out of my hand; I don't think they found a new owner.

I'd had a sleepless night, and had whiled away some of the hours by looking over all those Wyndham catalogs and their points. Turns out that the vast majority of these spots are only affiliates, and require points-plus in order to use.

A lot of those places say "VERY limited number of units available." There's a long list of places that have ZERO units available. So why are they even in the book?

We'd been shown a "typical" vacation unit: plush bedrooms, dining room, full kitchenette, living room, multiple bathrooms, at a resort with pools, spas, etc etc. Now I noticed all the listings that noted that only a microwave and dorm-sized fridge came with the place. Most spots had "high" and "low" vacation times mapped out, with varying points required. I checked the ONE place they had in San Francisco: every week was a "high" week, and every week required 300,000 points.

And I'd signed up for 74,000.

Waitaminnit. I checked the spots I wanted to go, the ones where the salespeople (including Ms. Germy) had encouraged me to dream about. VERY limited units. 300,000 points. 100,000 points. 90,000 points/night. Some places were fairly far from where I actually wanted to go, like the one Montreal-area spot that was actually 40 miles from Montreal. For overseas travel you had to commit to an entire week at that spot, whereas for places 100% within the Wyndham system (within the US) you could take one day here, two days there, etc. If and when I go to Europe, I'll want to stretch out the ends of a tour, not stay at one spot for a long time. (Unless I'm painting with a group in an area, but that would likely be an exception.)

Checked the paperwork, which told me that I not only had 3 days to cancel, but 7. Wobbled down to the sales office. They sent a germ-free guy (not for long! HA HA HA!) to talk with me. A woman accompanied him but stayed a distance from me and my germs. They told me that no no, I was misunderstanding and that there were variations to the system that most people used instead of the points in the catalog. I asked why, if this were the case, I hadn't received a mountain of info about that instead of the 40 pounds of catalogs detailing points.

"Points don't really mean anything," Mr. Germless assured me.

"Then tell me that in writing." They didn't. I wrote out a note saying I was canceling everything, they photocopied it, I handed over the bag, and went back to the hotel. Managed to grab a to-go bowl of soup on the way back.

Napped on an off the rest of the day. Managed to read a fairly good SEP book (she was in her Psychoanalyst Mode) and a Big Name Author's novella. I'd read her first book, hated it with a passion, and watched her star rise over the years since. Thought it was time to try her again, as she must have improved. She hadn't.

Later that night I ordered from Monaco room service. I don't approve of room service (except maybe once a year, for breakfast) because of the prices, but I was slightly hungry and was not ready for auto-cannibalism yet. So I got a grilled cheese sandwich. Actually, it was quite good. But not $19 good.

Tomorrow's agenda: Survive.

Wednesday: Watched My Three Sons, an episode taking place in Hong Kong. George Takei had a minor part. I think he was supposed to be Chinese. Even so: an omen of a good day to come!

Throat felt better (it would return with a vengeance on Saturday!), but the stomach bug was still with me. A half-bottle of Pepto pills kept it at bay. The fever seemed to break around noon, as I was traveling to Williamsburg.

This time the traffic wasn't so bad. It was merely bumper to bumper for about 20 miles instead of 50. After a couple of false turns I found the hotel, the Hampton Inn. It was okay. You know, all hotels should be required by law to have at least one comfortable reading chair, with accompanying reading light. Why is it so difficult to find such?

Still hours of good light left in the day.  Went to Colonial Williamsburg Visitors' Center and bought an all-encompassing 3-day pass for about $45. Only thing was: it wasn't all-encompassing. It was only Colonial Williamsburg. Jamestowne and Jamestown (no extra e) Settlement were an extra $16 or so apiece. Or there was a 3-day truly all-encompassing pass for about $85, which nobody at the info desk mentioned to me.

Shuttles run all over the Colonial town. You can rent costumes for your kids to wear as they wander the city. I noticed that none of the tee shirts available throughout Colonial Williamsburg came above XL size, and the ones at the Visitors' Center were all ridiculously priced—well over $20 each. I went to K-Mart and got some (still couldn't find XXL) for $12/ea.
Just to get into the mood of the place, start off at The Story of a Patriot, the longest-running movie in history. Ever since it was made in 1957, the Visitors' Center has been playing it. A young Jack Lord (Hawaii 5-0) plays a newly-elected member of the VA colony legislature, a Tory, who eventually becomes... oh, you guessed it. The movie was shot in Colonial Williamsburg and various surrounding plantations.

But the most amazing thing for me was that, except for the heavy eyebrows (maybe even WITH them), the light brown-haired Lord came off as a dead ringer for Mark Hamill, circa Empire Strikes Back!

Started strolling, only to be confronted with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who advised the assembled crowd that Williamsburg had been captured by the British. All would be required to take loyalty oaths to the Crown.

He reminded us that taxes were a hundredfold worse than they had been before the revolt had begun. He magnanimously informed us that in return for our loyalty, Britain would no longer tax A or B. (I forget what the items were.)

Murmurs came from the oddly-dressed members of the crowd: "But they haven't taxed those things for years!" General Arnold did not seem to care about the increasing tension as more and more onlookers began to boo him. He rode off.

A Black woman and her husband confronted each other about which side they'd take now. When the husband ran off, the woman found her best friend and they discussed the matter in the view of what was best for their families. The British were offering freedom to all slaves; the Americans were not.

Then a Black preacher gave a rousing sermon and had us all shouting, "Amen!" when he pointed out the hope America stood for. Together with a white preacher, the two came to the conclusion that America must remain a place of religious freedom, and that religion and the state needed to be kept separate. Surprisingly, none in the crowd objected. [Note: all religions referred to were of the Christian variety.]

These tableaux are set along a two-block area of the main street of Colonial Williamsburg and performed so the crowd can flow from scene to scene as they're presented. Like Old Salem, Williamsburg "switches" from day to day, only where Salem alternates 17th and 18th Centuries, Williamsburg alternates before the Revolution and during the Revolution.

I ate at Shields Tavern, where the portions are all too enormous. One of the specials was an 18-ounce steak. Most tourists are not going to be able to store leftovers. Do they truly want people to chow down on 18 ounces of beef? Still, the pork tasted very good, and the tea was excellent.

A wandering minstrel played terrific guitar and fife tunes, but the personal attention was uncomfortable. Were we supposed to let our meals get cold while we listened, or were we supposed to ignore him and eat? And what about tipping?

My hotel had a laundry room, and I took advantage of it.

Tomorrow's agenda: More Williamsburg. I'll hit Jamestown on my way out on Friday.

How to have a Frantic Vacation (part 2)

Sunday: I was determined to make this vacation a relaxing one, so I dawdled during the morning. The best thing about the Hotel Monaco? It's located next to "La Madeleine," a little French cafe/bakery that serves bits of heaven on a plate. Breakfast there was bliss!

Then it was off to the Wyndham to get their sales presentation. Apparently the Wyndham people don't know where they work, because their directions were awful. It took me asking twice at the Wyndham resort to get to the proper area. If you started out in the pits of their parking basement, the route was well-marked. The trick was in getting that far.

Well, the joint was packed, and lots of people had brought their hordes of young kids. The adults were ushered into a room where a salesman who obviously had had Southern Minister training provoked the crowd into a froth. His boss was gone today, he told us, and this was his final working day this week, so the 2-hour presentation would be condensed into 20 minutes, and didn't we appreciate that? This way he could hit the road when we were done.

Ho boy, and this is just the beginning, I told myself. After 20 minutes, halleluiah, we were ushered out to speak one-to-one with salespeople. Mr. Southern Minister had to stick around because they had an entire new group coming in. (I mentioned the 20-minute special days later, and the Wyndham rep then nodded as if this were SOP, which I had suspected at the time. Never believe a salesperson in these circumstances.) My Personal Saleslady kept coughing as she sat beside me. "Just an allergy, sorry," she said.

Liar! Liar, LIAR, LIAR!

Anyway, she and her supervisor (always a bad thing when sales people double-team you) told me how Club Wyndham works: You pay X-many dollars and get Y-many points. You then use the catalogs to find where in the world you want to vacation (and Wyndham has sharing plans with other chains throughout the world), and use your points to have a great time.

I quickly got them to show me the lowest tier on their plan. I would get 74,000 (why not 75,000?) points, which Mr. Supervisor told me that, depending on where I wanted to go, I would get 7-10 vacation day stays per year.

The cost was about that of a used Honda Civic, financed over 10 years. I had to tell the guy to shut up a minute, while I figured costs per year (my math brain center had completely turned off—not a good thing during a sales presentation) and how that compared with my usual vacation spending habits.

In the end I decided that it seemed a good deal. Okay, I'd give it a try. Good grief—I was buying in essence, a vacation home! As Ms. JustAnAllergy sneezed on me, I signed a small mountain of papers, everyone shook germ-filled hands, and I staggered out... Four hours after I'd gone in.

I'd planned on leaving for DC immediately (especially since Wyndham was right across the street from the Metro), but now had to lug the huge attache of paperwork and catalogs back to the hotel room. After that, it'd be too late to go anywhere. Oh well, I'd just walk around King Street instead.

Went to Lancini Brothers for dinner and wound up with a show as well. My first mistake came when I didn't stop the waiter when he was reciting specials. Instead I got which ones sounded interesting mixed up, and when I said, "tell me about the crabs again," I should have said, "tell me about the clams again." So I didn't get to sample stuffed zucchini blossoms, which I've never had.

I sat in the middle of three tables, all of which had one diner. The woman to my right had come in with me, so we were ordering at the same time. The bar was in front of us, filled with older, paunchy people, mostly guys, watching the baseball game. Then a balding guy with carefully-groomed five o'clock shadow and a linen suit that at one time long ago had been wrinkle-free, walks up to the bar to stand and wait. On his arm is a tall, lanky woman with long blonde hair (except for the top, which was dark). I can only see her back, and it looks like she's wearing a black, shapeless vest with glass beads sewn around the arm holes. Below the vest: lace panties.

Okay, they were beige shorts, but they were layered in strip upon strip of wide lace, and the shorts were VERY short, so at first and even fifth glance it seemed like they were panties. Below that, she wore day-glo orange, 4"-heel sandals.

I REALLY wanted to take a picture of this chick. Suddenly a flash went off. The guy to my left had done just that. The chick didn't turn to look; obviously she was out to get all the attention she could. Later, the woman to my right exited the same time I did. She confided that she'd taken a picture as well, of "the pertinent part." She also offered her opinion that the chick in question was a Lady of the Evening. I agreed that she certainly was portraying herself as one.

Lancini's chicken dish was fine, but the triple chocolate mousse for dessert (white, milk & dark) was FABULOUS, and the three raspberries that came as garnish were exquisite.

Tomorrow's agenda: Into Washington at last! About time.

Monday: ARGGGHH, my feet, my feet!

That tree down there is just... wrong.
I took a taxi to the Metro, which cost $6 (it's $3 just to sit in a taxi), but the driver said he could drive me to the Smithsonian for around $21. I begged off, wanting to become familiar with the Metro. But the DC Metro is confusing. You have to figure where you're going that day, compute the distance, then compute how much $$ to put on your Metro card to pay for that distance. Why not just issue a Metro Day Pass?

It was drizzling as I got out at the National Mall, just below the Smithsonian castle. Figured I'd best lumber to the Lincoln Memorial et al before the rain really got going. I'd forgotten that the earthquake a year and a half (or so) ago had damaged the Washington Memorial, so it's closed for repairs. It's a bit of a walk down there from the Smithsonian, but once you're there, if you squint into the faaaar distance, you can see the Lincoln Memorial.

School buses alternated with tour buses in the parking lots. Lots of 'em. Lots and lots of 'em. A mass of grade schoolers were dipping their arms into the Reflecting Pool, and I felt sorry for their teacher. After a while they started shrieking, "Baby ducks!" Sure enough, there were two family groups out there, one with tee-tiny ducklings who had just the mother, and another with both sets of parents who kept taking off and coming back to their entourage of much-larger kids.

A child screamed, "Look at the whore! Look at the whore!" I had to turn to see this. Sure enough, a rider on a horse was trotting up the landscape.

I decided to Plan Ahead and save my feet by avoiding going into the Lincoln Memorial. To the side was the Vietnam Memorial, where signs are posted for quiet and to be respectful. Everyone observed this except for three teenaged girls who giggled and gossiped until they finally realized they were the only ones making noise.

One woman knelt and was doing a rubbing of one of the names. Very moving. One passing idiot turned to his buddy and asked what the heck she was doing.

The WWII memorial was surprisingly amazing. I thought the plan to interrupt the Mall layout was stupid, but once you're there, it's darned magnificent.

I missed the Vietnam Women's memorial. My map said it was right there, but I didn't find it, even when I doubled back.

Someone in the crowd was stinky. I sniffed closer. It might be me. Either my deodorant had worn off early (it's a new brand for me) or the changed morning routine had forgotten it. I reeked. Sorry, DC.

By now it was sunny, so I set off vaguely in the direction of the Smithsonian with an eye out for a public restroom. Targeted the one on the map and wound up on the Ellipse in front of the White House. There at the side was the restroom facilities, and a sorrier restroom would be difficult to find. You had to descend into a dank dungeon, and the floors were wet and almost nothing worked. This is a major tourist spot; things should be immaculate!

I was disappointed that I couldn't see the snipers on the roof.
According to my lying map, I was on course for the National Portrait Gallery. I walked. And walked. And walked. Turns out it's literally just above the Chinatown Metro stop. By now my dogs were barking, so I took in only the essentials.

I noticed that there are a lot of skinny people in DC. Must be all the walking.

I only concentrated on the portraits at the Portrait Gallery, which sounds stupid but the gallery is allied with another one that I can't recall right now. And I only did the first floor. Or the second. Whichever one it was I entered on.

I think portraits and I think paintings, but they had lots of photos and some statues. The best statue I saw was a bust of George Washington Carver, who was portrayed as one heckuva hunkasaurus. Woof! Imposing and sexy as all heck. They had a "feminists" corner with Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al, and a few portraits of some famous Native Americans. I wish someone had done Sacajawea's portrait.

Anyway, I felt guilty for taking the gallery at a run, even at hobble pace. It's a place that deserves a much lengthier perusal.

Now I needed to hit Union Station. I've been there before, but now it was an important scene in a book I'm writing, and I wanted to make sure I'd gotten it right. I hadn't; changes will be made. I then took the Metro back to the Smithsonian. Whew.

Sat a long time on the Mall working up the energy I imagined the Smithsonian Castle would take. Saw a small army of Segue beginners receiving final instructions before starting out on their tour. A cop on horseback watched them, which I thought was some kind of technological irony.

Finally went into the Smithsonian, where the creme de la creme of all the museums are displayed. What? They aren't? The Smithsonian castle is merely an information kiosk these days? Everything is kept in separate museums?

What's the point?

Arf! Arf! my feet howled. I went out back and sat for a while in the garden. I could hit the Hirshhorn at least, right? Wrong, my feet replied. I tried a few steps in the Hirshhorn's direction just to spite them, but they turned me around and headed toward the Metro. Traitors.

Sitting in my Metro seat, I thought the back of my throat felt a little scratchy. The vibration of the car was making me feel a little peculiar. How odd.

On the way out of the Metro, you have to insert your ticket into the box and if you haven't paid enough, you have to go back and pay until it will let you out. My ticket went in and popped out as usual, I stepped through—and the gate wouldn't let me. I checked the message window. It didn't say anything about "Pay up, deadbeat." I tried again. And again. Finally half the gate let me through. I flagged down the station person and asked her what the heck was going on. She shrugged. "You got out; no big deal." Well all right then.


Throughout the day people had been extremely friendly and helpful in directing me through the various puzzles of Washington, and I had seen that others had also been helped. Thank you, all!

Tomorrow's agenda: a cruise to Mt. Vernon!

How to have a Frantic Vacation (part 1)

Friday afternoon: I turned my timesheet in to my supervisor. "What, you're not planning on being here Monday?" he asked.

"I'm on vacation next week." To Washington and Williamsburg.

"You are?" He'd forgotten that we'd discussed this quite thoroughly, etc etc. It's not easy to realize that you're so low on the totem pole at work, is it? Well, what can you do.

I left work, went shopping. Bought an entire underwear wardrobe. I'd been putting off buying new clothes, thinking, "I'll be a size smaller soon," at which point it would be time to gloriously go off in search of new clothes. But now it had reached the point of either wearing stuff that was practically in threads, or going commando. So shopping it was.

Along the way I stopped at Radio Shack. I hadn't been able to find the proper camera battery at Walmart. (The teenaged clerk looked at me blankly and asked, "a battery for a camera?" Well, excuuuse me.) After much searching, the RS clerk found the right battery. I asked him for two and explained that not only was I about to embark on vacation, but that my camera had a tendency to eat batteries. I wondered why he hesitated, but he sold the batteries to me.

He didn't bother to point out that these were rechargables. (Which are a good thing, if one has purchased the proper recharger, which I hadn't.) Or that these had not been charged yet.

On the way home, a semi tried to run me off the road. As I came upon it from behind, my guides warned me about the Impending Doom. "Pshaw," I told them, but sped up to pass him, just in case. And sure enough, about the time I got halfway up the side of the truck, he starts easing into my lane.

My car doesn't go "HONK!" It doesn't even go "MEEP!" It goes "meeeeh" with a sigh, which apparently finally caught the driver's attention. Either that, or it was me veering onto the rumble strip at the side of the road, which makes an awful racket. RAWR RAWR RAWR! The truck veered back into his proper lane.

That was getting the bad luck for the vacay out of the way ahead of time! Well worth it.

Saturday: I-85 through Virginia was a pretty drive, if kind of monotonous. Lovely woods overhung the road, with extremely rare breaks to show a lake or field. I came upon Mt. Vernon without any warning. Wait—that wasn't Mt. Vernon. That was the Virginia Welcome Center. They were ALL like this, apparently, with the usual bathrooms and vending machines, but with huge libraries of tourist booklets, and a large staff who guided you through the mysteries that are Virginia.

A few miles above Richmond was where the traffic jam for Washington began. Fifty miles of 30 mph bumper-to-bumper traffic in a 65 zone...Saturday at mid-day, in the middle of nowhere. As we approached the DC area, we did run into a couple of short tracks where traffic sped up to 65, but by now the speed limit was 55.

With the Mapquest printout in one hand, I searched for the signage I needed. Overpasses piled upon overpasses upon overpasses. At one point I was on the second overpass up, and at least 200 feet above me was another overpass. Why did it have to be that high? Were they leaving room for two more levels?

In the distance I saw concrete curlicues in the sky, some kind of large waterpark slide ahead? Close-up, these turned out to be exit ramps from those heavenly overpasses. Gaah—Glad I didn't have to drive that!

Mapquest turned out to be mostly right, and delivered me to the Hotel Monaco in Alexandria in late afternoon. A couple turns around the block revealed no parking spaces (besides, they were all parallel parking. Gahh!), but I'd been told to include valet parking in my reservation, so valet it was. ($25/day!) The Monaco is low-okay on my scale of hotels. Serviceable, but there was zero information. How was the hotel laid out? What did it offer? What was in the area? The hotel had no concierge, though the check-in clerks said they could give me all the info I wanted. They printed out a list of the names of local restaurants and their phones, with no other info, like maybe, what those restaurants specialized in, where they were located, etc.

My room had no coffee maker, no hair dryer, no grab bars or safety flooring on the shower.

But it was a great location, right in the lower heart of King Street, which seems to be the main tourist drag in Alexandria. There's a free trolley that runs the length of the street, from docks to Metro—but it starts at 11:30 am, which means that if your day begins before that, you're SOL.

The Visitors' Bureau is two blocks away, manned by helpful employees with handfuls of brochures. King's Street is filled with restaurants, cafes, ice cream parlors, clothing stores, and tourist shops. Lots of people walk their dogs there, and the various shops have water bowls set out for their convenience.

I went down to the docks and decided to go ahead to get tickets to the Mt. Vernon cruise, even though it wasn't until Tuesday (cue ominous music). Storms seemed to be coming quickly; wet weather was predicted for most of the week. Thus I made a quick retreat to have dinner at "The Wharf" restaurant—overpriced, but everything on King's Street is. A talented trombonist had been playing on the sidewalk outside my window before I'd gone out exploring, and he was still at it when I returned. No one paid attention to him. I walked a half-block away before I got the guilts and turned around. A lady in front of me plunked some money in his cup just ahead of me. Then back at the room I heard a clamor from outside. A large group of high school-age kids had gathered around the trombonist and, one by one, they contributed tips to his cup.

Tomorrow's agenda: I would have to listen to a 2-hour "buy a vacation condo" presentation (the reason for the trip), after which I'd spend the rest of the day in DC, vacationing. Oh, the best-laid plans...