Ever since we started out on our road trip, Sophia has been obsessed with Barack Obama. We’ve listened to a lot of NPR to stay up to date with news and culture, and some Christian radio so that we can learn what exactly the Tea Party is all about. Plus, unsurprisingly, the healthcare debate came up a lot in conversations with people we met along the way. So of course she has heard quite a bit about Obama.
Her most frequent questions: Why is he so important? Where does he live? Can I see his house?
What better place to conclude a cross-country trip but Our Nation’s Capital?
The visit started out very well indeed, since we stayed at an awesome hotel. A-loft, the diffusion range of the upmarket W hotel group, has nice design, great beds, fantastic customer service and fun things like a pool, coffee bar, flat screen TVs, cordless phones, a gym and repetitive dance music at the cocktail bar. This was a major departure from our usual motel fare, which had gotten really depressing, and was well worth the trade-off of staying not only outside the center, but in Virginia.
But back to culture.
Check out our best parking spot ever, right outside the Capitol building. We tried to go on a tour of the building, but a last minute visiting (unspecified) world leader put paid to that plan. Tourists had to wait in long lines, as snipers, secret servicemen and sniffer dogs positioned themselves for the big arrival.
So we went to the National Museum of the Native American, for lunch. We had been there before, and knew the food was great. The cafeteria is divided into sections based on geographies and tribes. We ordered traditional food from across these geographies: cornbread, salmon, wild rice, buffalo burger, cranberry crumble, nopal cactus, succotash, etc.
Then, having enjoyed the ground floor’s exuberant costume displays and a live drumming performance, we headed out and decided to split up.
Daniel and Sophia went to the National Gallery of Art to check out European paintings, while Lulu and I hit the Newseum, a museum dedicated to journalism.
Because it’s not part of the Smithsonian, the Newseum has a hefty entry fee ($20, but there’s a small discount for journalists) but it’s well worth it. My favorite exhibits included satire as news (Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, The Onion, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, the Colbert Report, etc); the decline of old media/rise of digital media and blogging; a comparison of press freedoms around the world; and a more somber one on all the journalists who have been killed in the line of duty.
There was also a fun interactive part where you can pretend you’re a broadcast reporter. I chose to do the weather report, speaking into a microphone and using a teleprompter while Lulu slept strapped to me in the baby carrier. I can confirm that I am not photogenic and should stick to print.
Having reconvened after the museums, it was off to Obama’s house, at the height of the evening rush hour. We drove all around the White House, getting great views from the front and back, but failing to get a good photo since there was nowhere to stop. Sophia and I jumped out of the car at one point, running across a park to take a picture in time to get back in the car so Daniel wouldn’t hold up traffic. But no luck.
We finished the evening by meeting up with Thomas, an Irish friend from London who relocated to Washington to work for the Marshall Fund. We had pints and some seafood snacks along the Georgetown waterfront, catching up on the last year, life in Washington and life on the road.
He insisted that we join him at an ideas-n-drinks party at Slate magazine, having OK’d this with the event organizers beforehand. So, banishing our doubts, into the venue we headed, tired kids in tow. Disheveled in appearance and brainpower, we attempted to make conversation with people who had Real Jobs. Thomas, ever the skilled and delightful host, introduced us to a selection of his many accomplished friends. They were very nice to Daniel and me, and chatted to the girls. Thomas and Sophia made canapé smiley faces (great way to get kids to eat vegetables!). But with the girls heading quickly towards Meltdown, we made our excuses and left.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.