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My Turn

When the question came up as to where my fiancé, Hope Erick and I would go to celebrate 10 years together this fall, I felt it would be a prime opportunity for her to see the nation’s capital for the first time. Having taught an American Government class at ETSU’s Kingsport campus this semester, I was interested in seeing the Supreme Court, The Capital, and the White House, among the many other offices and facilities that serve the huge bureaucracy of the federal government.

Planned and built in 1790 on land donated from both Maryland and Virginia, Washington D.C. was named after the nation’s first president and was intended to be a grand expression of the young country’s newfound freedom and optimism. Initially planned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the central city had broad, sweeping avenues laid out on an organized grid system. Bordered by the Potomac River on the west, the main venue of the city is the National Mall. Operated by the National Park Service, this two-mile long stretch of land runs all the way from the nation’s capitol where Congress meets to the Lincoln Memorial, with the more than 400 foot tall Washington Memorial at its center.
Constitutionally separated from the rest of the nation, eventually the Virginia portion of the district was returned to the state, but is still home to the Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon, and many other national treasures on the other side of the river. D.C. is home to dozens of the nation’s best museums and archives including the Smithsonian Museums of Natural History, Flight & Space, and American History. These facilities sit on the mall itself, while other treasures such as the National Holocaust Museum are just a few streets away. Surprisingly admission to almost all of these museums is free, along with the National Zoo and the various monuments.

The zoo is located north of the central city and has a wide variety of animals ranging from big cats like lions, tigers, and cheetahs, to its star attraction, the giant pandas. To get there we took the city’s metro, a high-speed transit system much like the New York subway. D.C.’s transportation network was what impressed me the most. Each day more than 1 million people come into the central business district to work, largely on government jobs.

Because of the time it takes to fight traffic and the lack of parking in the city itself, most people ride the bus or the Metro. Many of the stations are underground, and the electrically powered train travels an extensive system of tunnels as well as above ground sections on more than 100 miles of track. Trains run on regular schedules and arrive every five to ten minutes. Although they travel at low speeds, typically 30 to 35 miles per hour and no more than 50, the close proximity of the tunnel walls makes it feel much faster and was a little disorienting at first.

D.C. operates five separate Metro lines defined by color with junction points along the way. Stations are largely underground and passengers buy prepaid fare cards to get on the train and leave the station at their destination. Fare is determined by which particular station you are riding to and what time of day you get on or off. Rush hour has higher fares, sometimes $5 or more, while off peak hours are less expensive at around $3. There are dozens of stations all over the city with several on the Mall itself.
The western end of the Mall is home to some of the nation’s most notable monuments. The Vietnam Wall, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial, and the World War II Memorial are just some of the many monuments found within walking distance of one another. Each was a very solemn place with veterans and family members with lost loved ones reflecting on the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces. One older gentleman at the Vietnam Memorial held a picture of his fallen comrades whose names where on the black stonewall in front of him. The war memorials in particular maintain a certain respect, the weight of what they represent forcing the passerby into silent reflection.

The sheer number of wonderful things to see and do in Washington makes the city impossible to take in with only a few days. Although not without its inconveniences, such as the nightmarish traffic, the trip is well worth the cost and I feel that every American citizen should see D.C. at least once. A true repository for our nation’s treasures, D.C. has grown to become the center of some of America’s biggest historical moments. From the Civil Rights marches of the 1960’s all the way back to its burning in the War of 1812, and its founding just a few years after the Revolution, D.C. has played a prominent role in shaping the nation’s history.

Every corner has its own unique history and coupled with the culture shock of being exposed to representatives from every country and culture in the world, Washington is truly an ongoing example of what makes America different than anywhere else. Constantly growing, changing, and fighting to overcome, D.C. is a suitable and fitting capital that I feel most any American can be proud of, regardless of their background or what piece of the puzzle that is this county they represent.