Washington, D.C., Diary

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, June 17, 2014 No Comment(s)

4:55 p.m. Friday. The Auto Train leaves a few minutes early. Notice new Sanford commuter station, next to last on the northeast leg of SunRail – Central Florida's new version of Tri-Rail. Research ridership. It got 17,000 riders in one day – then, they started charging. Still, it’s averaging more than 4,000 daily riders in the first month – not bad considering only one half of the proposed 60-mile system is running. The other half to the southeast is not scheduled for several years. But unlike Tri-Rail, this train is on the right track, with three stations in downtown Orlando. It should be a big winner.

8:30 a.m. Saturday. Arrive in Northern Virginia right on time. Learned overnight that the previous reports that Auto Train makes money are no longer valid. Amtrak still claims that the train is profitable, but a confidential source says that’s no longer true. The signs are there. Cutting back on frills. No more free wine at dinner. No more welcome aboard cocktails. No more free fruit. Room attendants hinting about tips; never saw that in 30 years. Now, there are too many fat people who can barely fit in the narrow sleeping car corridors. If one of them falls in the diner car, it might turn the whole freaking train over. It’s still the best way to go north. It’s about $350 more than driving, but you save a full day and maybe your life. It should be running all over the country.
Noon. Read Washingtonian magazine. Founded 1965, same year as Gold Coast, making us among the oldest regional magazines. Also, the only magazine to share Gaeton Fonzi's 1980 story implicating the CIA in JFK's assassination. The big Washingtonian story this month is the fight to have a memorial for former President Dwight Eisenhower. It began in 1999, with seeming accord, but has turned into a capitol feud, getting worse with each decade, dissent among dozens of power players, including Eisenhower's descendants, made complicated because those feuding are dying off. Maybe a good thing. Almost 15 years later, project in limbo. Washington already has too many memorials.
3:30 p.m. Cocktails in kid’s backyard. We’re shown the newly re-bricked alley behind the house. Perfect place for grandkids to play, which they did until 4 p.m. when a wandering derelict scared everyone away with anti-social act. Retreated to the yard and called the cops. They asked if the subject was armed. Otherwise, they’re not likely to respond. … So much for a changing  neighborhood. Daughter says neighborhood is much safer than in the past, but says to always be alert. Years back, wrote anti-mugging piece, pointing out that muggers sometimes pass going the other way, and then attack from behind. Guard against that by walking backwards, which can be tricky on Washington's uneven brick sidewalks.
9 a.m. Sunday. Mass at St. Peter's (c. 1820, rebuilt 1890) which has made a big comeback along with the Capitol Hill section … absurdly young congregation. They should rename the place “Our Mother of Day Care.” More babies than gray heads. Toddlers were running all over the church. Suffer the little children. This neighborhood revival owes much to the Florida House, which Rhea Chiles, wife of the late senator and Gov. Lawton Chiles, helped create 42 years ago. It took an abandoned, rundown property right across from the Supreme Court and made it a beautiful state embassy – the only state to have one, totally privately funded. The movement spread block by block. The late U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw and wife Emilie bought here, and now half of government lives in what used to be a slum.
10 a.m. Pancake breakfast with grandchildren at Eastern Market, another former eyesore now one of D.C.'s biggest attractions, especially for hungry children.
1 p.m. Went shopping in Alexandria, Va., the closet major center to Capitol Hill. Got component at Best Buy to make this stupid iPad work.
2:30 p.m. Made impromptu decision to visit Gravelly Point Park, which you can reach only by going through Reagan National Airport. There, hundreds gather to spend Father's Day watching jets taking off so close overhead you hear the wheels going up. Was it not that long ago that Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport had to throw everybody out of the way to provide a clear zone on both sides of the runway? How can Washington get away with making its supposed clear zone virtually a picnic area at the very end of a busy runway? Great fun anyway. Only thing better would be sitting on the wings.
3:45 p.m. Impromptu decision to stop at Garfield Park so kids can recreate. Wife immediately recognizes voice of Kathleen Sebelius, recently defrocked secretary of Health and Human Services, etc. who is there with toddler, likely a grandson, certainly not grandfather. For the occasion, she chose a top of Dolphins aqua, shorts a cross between cadmium and taupe and a shoulder bag somewhere between liberal tan and University of Tennessee cantaloupe orange. Daughter resists urge to confront her for criticizing those, such as daughter, who suspect a link between heavy doses of vaccines and the increase in autism among young kids.
8 p.m. After dinner, resist urge to stay up late and watch the Miami Heat lose final game.
7 a.m. Monday. Read Florida papers online. Impressed with grace with which Heat takes loss. Wife asks if basketball season is over. Advise that it is just about to begin.
9 a.m. to noon. Walk all over Washington looking for an open barbershop. Where are the girls of Las Olas when you need them?
1 p.m. Read email from Buddy Nevins who says recent quote in this stupid blog, "These are the events that alter and illuminate our times," comes from the 1950s TV show "You Are There." It was narrated by Walter Cronkite before he was Walter Cronkite. "Does this make me old?" Nevins asks. Well, it doesn't make him Kathleen Sebelius' grandson.
5 p.m. Cocktails in preparation for the World Cup.
6 p.m. Watch World Cup. Advise wife that two on U.S. team are from local high schools. She asks how long World Cup lasts. Tell her if they beat Ubumba and Socratia, they play countries we have heard of. If they win all, must play Spurs and winner of Wood Memorial.
9 p.m. Enjoy victory cocktails, and prepare to find open barbershop. Off to Philadelphia in the morning.

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