(*) … well, I mean the USA of course. Apologies to the rest (and majority) of Americans on the twin-continent. But for the scope of this blog post I’ll continue this way.
Thanks for your hospitality, America. It’s now been three months since I had the pleasure to visit you, see your lifestyle, meet some more of the people that you usually don’t get to meet because they like you so much they never leave you.
I never thought I’d visit you ever in my lifetime unless a revolution would return you to the principles the founding fathers tried to instill in the young republic, but which evidently wore off during the time since then. However, my boss – Siggi – asked me to consider it and my significant other graduated in American studies and suggested I take the offer. So I did. Sure enough it also meant that I’d have to spend my birthday as your guest, but the only precaution I took was not to tell anybody as to make sure not to end up in some weird birthday situation at some restaurant or even at the office.
I arrived very tired at Dulles on 1st of March. The unattended sports bag in the queue in which I waited for over half an hour was a bit unsettling, but none of your security officers really cared, when I told them. It was more or less shrugged off.
Alright then. So showing passport, getting photo taken, hand or fingerprints. Awesome. Not exactly what I would do to my guests, but as a EU citizen who am I to judge. After all the EU is so far up your politicians’ rear side that they have lost sight of any sensible approaches in those matters.
Anyway. The officer asked me what I was doing, told him we were on a visit to the Virginian site of the company in McLean and then explained briefly what type of software this was about. He seemed mildly interested, handed me my papers and waved me through.
Got the luggage quickly from the luggage belt – after all it had probably been circling there for an half an hour or so.
We got picked up by two of your naturalized, i.e. relatively new, citizens, colleagues and friends.
The good part about visiting you is that for the most part the language is comprehensible, thanks to your broadcasting shows and Hollywood movies worldwide. Well, unless you’re a German living in Germany and get to see the dubbed version only. Fortunately I’ve left that behind me.
Anyway, that night was mostly trying to somehow get something to eat and go to sleep.
How convenient it was then to find out that only a few meters from the residence in Falls Church was a plaza with Starbucks and CVS pharmacy. I suspect a few more Starbucks were hidden inside the shops of the plaza and perhaps in some backroom or the basement of Starbucks itself. Not that the coffee there is the best. Not at all. But it’s consistent – as someone put it. And when you have your Grande Vanilla Latte in the morning with six shots of Espresso overall you can literally feel the caffeine speeding through your veins after a few minutes. With the jetlag and all it was a blessing.
By the way, when are they going to upgrade to a better version control system than CVS? I mean it’s so 1980s … I couldn’t help but smirk
After fetching us some coffee on March 2nd we went on Gallows Rd towards the Mosaic District where we’d been for some food and drinks the night before. We passed by a McDonalds and I think Siggi still possesses photographic evidence of me coming out of there. I went in while he held my coffee and checked out how different it was and it turns out other than the menu being slightly different and having prices in US dollar, not so much. Didn’t buy anything. But it’s an American thing, McDonalds, isn’t it? And when in Rome …
Anyway, we were picked up from Mosaic District in Falls Church and then went to the White House and some of the sightseeing locations in Washington DC. Some of the buildings were very impressive. Some reminded me a little of the pompous socialist architecture in Moscow that Westerners often like to poke fun at – especially the FTC building, including the artwork there. We stopped not far from the Washington Monument, crossed the Constitution Ave, if I remember correctly, and went to see the White House. First the usual view you get to see on TV, from the Ellipse, and then to the other side at Lafayette Square (Pennsylvania Ave). From there we headed to the Capitol, passing the old post office – which one of our hosts recommended to climb to get a nice view over the city, but was closed – several federal buildings such as the FBI, The National Archives Store, Dept. of Justice and the FTC. In front of the The National Archives Store I handed a five dollar bill to a homeless guy. It was a nice day for me, so I told him to get something nice for himself, too.
I also noticed a huge inscription at the Dept. of Justice building I wish US-Americans would take more to heart, especially in light of world-wide drone killings in their name and because of Gitmo which the current president in the White House promised to close but never got around to:
NO FREE GOVERNMENT CAN SURVIVE
THAT IS NOT BASED ON THE
SUPREMACY OF THE LAW
WHERE LAW ENDS TYRANNY BEGINS
LAW ALONE CAN GIVE US FREEDOM
(inscription on the Robert F. Kennedy Building, Federal Triangle, Washington, DC, USA)
Sure enough none of the folks with me, including your very own naturalized citizens noticed the inscription. I guess ignorance sometimes is bliss. When I pointed it out, they shrugged it off
The Capitol was impressive in size and unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to see the library. Being a self-confessed bibliophile this should be for me like Mecca to the devout Muslim.
We returned to the car via The Mall and passed by the Smithsonian Castle, among other things. Krassie and Ceco, our hosts, pointed out all kinds of peculiarities and what they deemed mandatory to visit et cetera. My boundless curiosity must have been quite exhausting for them at times and sure enough it surpassed their knowledge about the city several times. On the other hand they could offer those little tidbits you’ll not likely find in a tourist guide.
On the way back we passed the Washington Monument close up and Siggi used the chance to “hack” some Ingress portals there.
Ceco already warned us that afternoon that for the next day a blizzard had been forecast for the capital area and sure enough we had perhaps one inch of snow the next morning.
The fridge in my apartment – yeah, I think a small family could have stayed there – was not only impressive in size but also in sound capabilities. I’d liken it to a departing airliner. When that happens in the middle of the night it’s somewhat confusing, though.
Next morning it was somewhat amusing to see the everybody struggle with this little snow which shouldn’t be so surprising at the beginning of March. Sure enough the office was nearly empty that day. It was also the first day I noticed the yellow school buses parked in a depot a few yards from the residence at which we stayed. It was explained to us that the removal of snow was mostly outsourced to some contractors with trucks that were equipped with snow shields and could be called on-demand. An interesting concept and it seemed to work for the most part.
That day we also went to eat at Harry’s Teeter in McLean, I remember. On the way back we passed the Blackwater and CIA buildings.
Anyway, due to most people not showing up at the office, the day was mostly boring.
By the way, America, what’s it with those six-lane streets …pardon me, roads … you’ve got everywhere. Have you heard of the concept of humans walking on their two legs? Despite some fascinating and vast crossings, not all of them had traffic lights for the two-legged, as opposed to four-wheeled, among us. It was one of those times when I regretted for a brief moment not to have insisted on a rental car.
Next day was more lively and we got to meet a few of our colleagues. Most were friendly and open, but all of them seemed to wonder how I was but didn’t actually care …
I still don’t know how to respond best to “How are you?” Should I take up the mostly nonsensical response “How are you?” or the “Fine fine” or should I empty my heart to the person asking, thus discouraging the “How are you?” next time around?
Anyway, we had loads of meetings and all that comes with it.
Next day – and birthday – I was hoping for a quiet day. It turned out to be quite a fruitful day, but also long and stressful. I took some minutes off during the day as I had promised my parents and my significant other to contact them, because there was no good method for them to contact me the other way around.
After work we went to a fancy restaurant. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name. But the food and drinks were excellent. After that we went to some concert of some indie band. Alas, we were a bit too late. And it was loooooooud. It was also my first contact with the concept of drinking age. Fun fact: one of our colleagues didn’t bring her ID and was therefore not allowed drink any alcohol herself. We joked a bit about it and wondered whether it’d be okay if we purchased it and also moved the glass to her mouth etc. The joking was met with the awkward silence and weird looks that tell you “we’re not kidding, we take that serious” – much like Sarah the Dutch teenager must have felt when she found out that her Twitter prank had backfired.
And they say we Germans have no humor … *g*
Anyway, the biggest challenge that night was finding a parking spot. We went to the hotel late at night.
My SO had already remarked there was something going to be waiting for me at the hotel. I had no idea what she was talking about and asked the receptionist. He didn’t know of anything so I went to my room. When I wanted to have a bit of that orange juice I found a fruit bouquet in the fridge which she had sent me. What a pleasant surprise. And it was technically even still my birthday, even though the day had ended both in Germany and in Iceland by that time.
Next day more meetings and first visit to Tyson’s Corner Center.
On Friday basically the same.
On Saturday, the day I had my returning flight, Ceco and Krassie had offered to take me to the Smithsonians at The Mall. In particular I chose the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
It’s an excellent museum and I was surprised to find out that not entrance fees were due. Ceco explained a bit as to why and I later read up on it on Wikipedia. Another interesting concept, indeed.
I really enjoyed that museum and it certainly lets one yearn for more of that kind. Sure enough The Mall is crowded with museums and exhibitions that seem to be worthwhile visiting.
On the way back to the car we were not sure whether we’d find it or whether it would have been towed. Ceco assured us, though, that parking there would be okay. It was right next to the pond in front of the Capitol. The parking lot normally used by the US senators and cordoned off for them, but apparently free to use during weekends and holidays.
After that the two dropped me off at Dulles.
I went through the TSA checks with headache and opted out of the full body scanner and went for the pat down. Luckily I had read something by the guy behind Taking Sense Away before. Thanks Jason! So in TSA jargon I was:
- Opt out: A smart passenger.
The TSA officer was professional and it was all in all not a sluggish treatment either. Most opted for the full body scanner, though.
After taking the tram to the terminal, I found myself a shop that sold painkillers and had a bit to eat.
And then a few hours later I was back in Iceland. Jetlagged and again on the West-Icelandic continental plate from which we had departed some hours before in Washington DC. Yes, that’s right America, you lie on the West-Icelandic continental plate. A well known fact among all Icelanders. Trust me!