The humility of turning 30

By which I mean to say that the day I turned 30 had some humbling moments. (The age itself really doesn’t faze me, and I haven’t given it much thought)

Our journey to Washington D.C. was a lot of fun, but it was marked by moments of constantly being lost.

As we neared the district, we had to make a last-minute choice about whether to first go to a Bolivian restaurant, or go sightseeing. I had wanted to do the restaurant, but we were really too early for dinner. So we decided to try to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

We exited the highway onto a road we expected would let us go there. Instead we found ourselves passing the Pentagon (after a while), and headed into D.C. We encountered a maze of roundabouts and “Do Not Enter” signs that completely confounded us. We went back and forth across the Potomac several times before ending up near the Lincoln Memorial. I had originally planned to see it on our way out of town, but we thought what the heck — let’s do it now. But we had to find parking. It was a chore, but eventually we did.

We spent a good amount of time with Lincoln, as well as visiting the Korean and Vietnam War memorials, before deciding to head back out to find El Tutumaso for some charque khan.

Of course, we didn’t really take the right exit off the highway, and ended up in totally unfamiliar territory. We found a gas station repair guy who knew the restaurant and the intersection and was able to guide us where we wanted to go.

I asked the server to give our girls “salchiarroz” (rice with hot dogs, something I made up). They did better with that than they did with the salchipapas (potatoes with hot dogs) they had at the Peruvian restaurant in Harrisonburg.

Yoli and I each had some charque — basically shredded beef jerky that is fried and served with potatoes, eggs, cheese, and choclo (big corn like hominy). It was very tasty, but not all of it was crunchy. Some of it was a bit chewy, and my jaw was sore for a while after that. I also had a headache from all the navigation errors. But the worst was yet to come.

It was night. As we returned to D.C., we followed our Google map directions on a route that wound through Rock Creek Park. We were doing just fine until we missed a turnoff (because there was no sign for the street). We turned onto Beach Dr., and became trapped in a dark, claustrophobic, seemingly endless series of loops. I thought we would never escape.

Eventually we made our way to 16th street. I think we may have been so far north we were in Maryland (we got to know that incorrect northern stretch of 16th very well over the next day and a half). We wound our way south until we got to the International Guest House.

Our experience at the guest house was great. The volunteer staff were very friendly and hospitable. Thankfully we arrived in time for the evening tea, during which we got to know some of the other guests, as well as our hosts. The girls liked it a lot.

Going to sleep all together in one room was another story. It took some cajoling and threatening to get all the girls to be quiet so that first Josie and then we all could sleep. But it worked.

Thursday morning was International Josh Day. The hosts were somehow aware of this fact, and everyone sang for me during our breakfast time. It was a great start to a nice day.

We first drove out to the National Zoo, which was close to the guest house. We followed the pattern established the day before and took a wrong turn while following the directions sketched out by our hosts at the guest house. But we turned around and got to the zoo with no further problems.

We spent a good hour watching just the pandas. The girls really loved them. We saw a lot of other things, including lots of great exhibits in the invertebrate house (coral, snails, jellyfish, etc). One strange thing about the zoo is that it is pretty much linear, which means you can really go across the zoo from one side to the other without totally retracing all your previous steps. (I had to go back to the minivan at one point to get some extra snacks for the girls)

Afterward, we headed back to the guest house to eat lunch (our leftovers from El Tutumaso) and take naps. After we had gotten the girls to lay down for a bit, we came to realize that our plan for the afternoon wasn’t going to work quite right. I had assumed the museums were open until 7, when in reality they were going to close at 5:30. That meant we had a very short window to get down there. Since Josie was sleeping and Yoli had visited the Natural History museum before, we decided I’d take the two older ones by myself without waiting for the end of the naps.

I had planned beforehand to take the bus down to the Mall and avoid all the traffic headaches associated with it. Plus I knew the girls liked to ride buses and trains. We had no problems getting downtown and into the museum.

Jadzia really loved the dinosaur exhibits. We had been afraid that after all the animal watching at the zoo that the girls wouldn’t enjoy the stuffed stuff at Natural History. But they really did great. Our abbreviated tour covered dinosaurs, gems (including glow-in-the-dark minerals which were in a section of the museum Jadzia thought looked like Meramec Caverns), butterflies, man, and tools.

After we got back to the guest house, I wanted to go out for dinner. I did a quick check online and saw what seemed to be a cluster of restaurants a block or so east. So we all walked to the intersection and found a cafe and a little market. The cafe seemed like it might be pricey, so we decided to press on further east. Several blocks later we found a Chinese place, but that wasn’t quite what I was going for.

Lights beckoned to us from the south, so we headed that way. We were getting into a dicier part of town that consisted of lots of beauty salons, used car lots, liquor stores, and small markets. But not much in the way of sit-down restaurants. When we finally reached a Popeye’s chicken place, we decided it was a lost cause.

We walked back, hoping to give the Chinese place a try. But then we saw that despite it’s big bright windows, it was actually only carryout. Okay, we thought, we’ll just go back to the cafe. By this time, the girls were complaining off and on of being hungry, tired of walking, etc. I was tired of holding them on my shoulders (alternating one at a time).

Alas — the cafe and the market had closed by the time we got back to them. It was one more insult on top of the injury. Yoli and I decided to just go back to the guest house, climb into the minivan, and find something to eat.

That proved to be easier said than done. I thought there were places to eat up north along 16th. I was wrong. We headed east once we got into Maryland, and found a Clayton-esque sort of commercial district, but no restaurants were popping out at us. I resigned myself to eating at a chain restaurant. We saw a sign for Subway, but then couldn’t see the restaurant from the street. Then I saw a KFC/Taco Bell (yes, the dreaded “combo restaurant”), and decided to make a run for the border and stop the misery.

The meal turned out to be decent (my birthday dinner was a chicken quesadilla and a beef hard taco), and then it was time to get back to the guest house in time to make the evening tea — which we did.

The dinner experience soured an otherwise really nice day. It felt somehow right to have celebrated International Josh Day in a national capital.

The next morning we got all our stuff together after another wonderful breakfast and left D.C. We decided our final museum before going back to Bristol would be the Air and Space Museum near Dulles Airport. This is a huge complex which houses airplanes such as the SR-71 Blackbird, the Enola Gay, the prototype space shuttle Enterprise, and much more. It also sported a tall observation tower from which you could see plans depart from Dulles.

We spent a lot of time there (I could probabably live there). Two highlights were the girls getting the chance to sit inside a Cessna and operate its controls. Ludi especially loved this. Later, we all took turns landing a plane in a flight simulator. I am happy to say I successfully landed twice. Yoli’s landings didn’t go as well. But we’ll keep her.

After eating some lunch, we headed up the observation tower to watch planes. While we were there, Jadzia and Ludi made a new friend.

About Josh Renaud

I'm the Emperor of the Renaud Empire, which is to say that I'm the husband of a Boliviana and the father of three daughters and one son. When I'm not conquering lands and expanding borders, I'm a newspaper designer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Find me on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.
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