The Metro station was just a couple of miles away. I had wanted to stay and watch more of the opening ceremony but I had never been on the Metro transit system before and didn’t have a clue how long it would take or how close it would get me to the National Mall. I hadn’t driven the streets of DC in a quarter century, and really all I remembered was that it seemed the city’s avenues had to have been laid out by a drunken sailor. If you look at a map of Washington DC one of the first things that catches your eye is that the streets resemble the spokes of a wagon wheel. Try to drive through the city and you’ll discover how to curse in fourteen different languages. My only advantage was that I was going in on foot, which meant I could cut through courtyards if need be. How naive! Next time I’m taking a GPS, a map, a compass, a ball of string and bread crumbs.
The closest parking spot to the Metro Station was a half mile away (I kid you not). By the time I reached the station on foot I remembered the limitations of my congestive heart failure. The temperature at 10 A.M. had to be in the upper 80s already, and between toting the Jack bag with my electronics and water in it and the 100 pounds I had picked up since my heart attack, I was in the mood for love (loving me a hot shower and nap). A courteous Metro worker helped me get my ticket and told me how to use it, and I was off to the races. Before long I was in the bowels of a train car staring at all the sleepy, indifferent zombies around me. This mood was as different from the biker assembly as a funeral to a wedding (although some have tried to draw parallels), but the atoms in my body still vibrated to the throaty rumble of thousands upon thousands of motorcycles and despite my early fatigue I was completely jazzed to witness the blood-pumping thrill of all those machines and their riders rumbling through the Mall.
One transfer and a half hour later I stepped out of the Metro cave and into the food court of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Had I been there as a tourist my awe would have started there: the surrounding buildings were easily two hundred feet tall and seemed to be crafted entirely out of marble. Doric columns larger than California sequoias followed the stupendously huge building as it formed a half circle. I looked down to see if the pavement was made of gold, for surely I had died and gone to heaven. What a fitting building for my favorite President.
Being typically ill-prepared, I stared down at the only map I had of the area: the Metro station brochure. I determined which direction north was, prayed I was right and walked until I came to 14th Street. Good. My old cab driver senses and even older memory kicked in. To the right was Pershing Park and to the left was the National Mall. I fell in step with the well-dressed pedestrians carrying their briefcases and was soon at Constitution Avenue. I looked ahead and saw the Washington Monument surrounded in scaffolding. Even from this distance the monolith seemed enormous. I waited for the signal to cross (although I felt I could cross any street at any time and get away with it once – after all, I am Jay) and once on the edge of the Mall found a bench under a shady elm tree and parked my butt on it. Today was going to be a scorcher, and I scolded myself for not bringing more water.
The now familiar sound of a Harley-Davidson rose to my ears and I looked to see a lone wolf on a beautiful Electra Glide rumbling down Constitution toward the distant Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. There had been talk among the riders in Fort Washington of a rally point in the Mall, but by the time I left there had not heard where it was. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was as good enough place as any to start, so I gathered my belongings to trudge west.
“Well, we meet again!” Mark walked up to me and shook my hand. He had been at the Harley-Davidson Dealership earlier that morning taking photos with a nice-looking Canon, and we had exchanged a few brief words around that stunning red Harley painted in tribute to the fallen firefighters of 9/11. He wore a white button up shirt, tan shorts and matching baseball cap (I would curse myself later for having on long blue jeans). His face was a little red from the sun and he seemed a bit frazzled around the edges. He explained that he had found room in a parking deck a few blocks away and had so far walked from the far side of the Washington Monument past the World War Two Memorial and over to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial looking for someone who knew where the rally point was. He said a truly crusty biker at the Vietnam Vet Memorial told him it would be somewhere between here and the Capital Building about a mile and a half further up Constitution Avenue. As we talked a few more bikers went by in a small group, but by the time I got my tablet out, turned it on and got ready they were long gone. I decided to keep the tablet in my hand from then on. We decided to walk toward the Capital together, but I warned him that I was out of shape, restricted by my congestive heart failure (and beta blocker – don’t think I mentioned that it kept my heart beating slow) and generally fat. Mark was ok with that (I hoped he wouldn’t soon regret it) and we were on our way.
The sun blazed down upon us. My inner thermometer told me it was easily a zillion degrees, and after just a couple of blocks I started sipping on my water. I’m not sure if I offered any to Mark and if I didn’t I was a selfish, insensitive prick. He told me he had been in the first Gulf War, and we swapped desert stories. From time to time one, two or more bikers roared past us going in either direction, and we took pictures and short film clips of them. I kept one eye out for anyone dressed in traditional Muslim garb and saw none. We did witness a line of four men wearing tattered robes walking across the street while dragging life-sized wooden crosses. I had heard that among the many protests and rallies that day there was supposed to be a large group of Christians gathered to either counter the Muslims or pray for peace or protest Benghazi or any of the other eight dozen things the government had screwed up. It was now 11 A.M. as we marched to the Capital. The bikers were to be here in an hour, and I wanted to be in a good spot to witness it. I was glad Mark was with me. It was good to chat with a former veteran, especially on such a somber, historic day.
To be Continued…