May 2-5…the running continues

The 4 days Christopher was here were spent showing him as much of Washington as possible.  His visit is almost a blur, but exhaustion and sore feet are solid memories. One of the 3 highlights was an evening tour of downtown Washington on the first real spring day of the year. 

A few factoids:

WDC is the 9th city we have called our Capitol.

WDC is equal distance from North and South.

WDC is approximately 60 square miles in size.

The #1 Industry is Government  #2 is tourism

50% black, 40% caucasian, 10% other

Approximately 700,000 people reside in the district

Residents of WDC do not have a Senator or State Representative.  You will see some license plates that say “Taxation without representation”- probably so?

There are 19 Smithsonian museums (2 in New York) and all are open 7 days a week & free to the public.  They were founded by a man named James Smithson. He was awed by our great country, although he never stepped on our shore.  He left his considerable wealth to the used for the preservation of our country’s history and specified that it always be available to the people.  After his death it took Congress 8 years to agree on how to proceed with his wishes.  See – they were slow even back then!

The first building was built in 1849… The Castle.  The Smithsonian is the largest museum complex in the world.

The Smithsonian Castle. Dave Skorton’s office is in the far left of the building

    The entire city is built around the Capitol. North-South streets are numbered, East-West streets are letters & diagonal streets are states.  I am very directionally challenged…when I emerge from the depths of the Metro I never seem to reorient myself.

While riding the Metro, Doug thought he recognized a passenger in front of us.  He exited the train when we did, so I asked him if he were Tom Fitton.  HE WAS! We thanked him for the extraordinarily good job he has done as president of Judicial Watch.  I would have almost expected him to have a body guard.

The 2nd highlight was a private tour of the Capitol with our representative from Shasta County, Doug Lamafa’s, aide Andrea.

What a great and informative tour.  Because Congress was not in session, we were treated to 3 surprises, one being able to sit on the floor of the House of Representatives – where the State of the Union is held.  I think I sat in one of the seats that is occupied by one of the Justices of the Supreme Court. The second surprise was getting to go out on the balcony which is Paul Ryan’s at present and where Pope Francis was introduced to the US,  We got to see how the votes from each house are tabulated. The House of Representatives  are electronically counted and a board shows how each voted.  The Senate is more antiquated.  Each Senator has to physically go up and vote yea or nay with a thumbs up or down.  “Why” we asked…”because that is the way it has always been done”.  Where have I heard that before?  The last surprise was the original Supreme Court Chambers deep in the Capitol Building.

Dave Skorton is the Secretary of the Smithsonian. He runs the whole operation and reports to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Now that’s intimidating. I met Dave when I was a first year medical student – I was 22! We have known each other for 50 years!

After spending some time at both the Natural History & American History Museums, we had our 3rd highlight of the trip, a visit to The Castle and a brief meeting with the Secretary (President) of the Smithsonian, Dr. Dave Skorton.  Doug was his dorm advisor when he was at UCLA and tells the story of this crazy freshman kid and his friend that always wanted to look at his “bone box” from his anatomy class.  Dave went on to medical school and became a cardiologist and president of Cornell University when Matt (Doug’s son) was a student there.  He and Doug have kept touch over the years and we thought this a great opportunity to catch up.  He says one of his greatest challenges as Secretary, and the one thing he looses the most sleep over, is providing for the safety of the over 30 million people that visit the museum each year…imagine.  The security is certainly tighter than our last visit there several years ago.  There is definitely a security presence there.  If our experience is typical, we always felt very safe everywhere we went. 

He graciously showed us a couple of items in his private collection.  One was a hand ball that President Lincoln used frequently.  Another was the actual bat used in the movie The Natural.    The last was the actual leather helmet worn by Charles Lindbergh when he made the first transatlantic flight. Doug and Dave had a conversation about Lindbergh’s being credited for demonstrating the feasibility of the heart-lung machine. It’s amazing to think how that development changed the world of cardiology and created the field of cardiac surgery!

I was most awestruck by the fact that most of what we saw in the different museums were the ACTUAL items on display, not replicas. Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, the actual bullet that killed him, the portable desk that Thomas Jefferson used to pen the Declaration of Independence, and the table and chairs that General Lee and General Grant sat negotiating the end of the Civil War.

Foctoid…Present Taft (all 300+ pounds of him) was the only man to be the head of two branches of government, the executive and judicial (he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after he was president).

It is true that Thursday is the new Friday on college campuses.  We were looking for a Whole Foods and ran smack dab into the middle of the U of M campus.  It seems every student was out on the streets.