Welcome to America

November 19, 2010 Bloggies by Steve Martin Edit

The man is across the street shouting. Not at anyone in particular, but he’s letting the world know about his rage, or at least that’s what I think it is. We are walking down 14th street in Columbia Heights, just up the road from the centre of Washington DC.

It’s our second week in the US and our base is a one bedroom apartment in an area which was ravaged by riots following the death of Martin Luther King. After millions of government dollars, which included a new train station, Columbia Heights is alive again, or so the historical street signs tell us.

 

 

Our first week in the US was spent on Staten Island, just across the Hudson River from one of the world’s great cities, New York. Each day we caught the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan and spent our time exploring places that, thanks to American TV, are unnervingly familiar to us.

Wall Street looks as it should as does Times Square and the New York Taxi’s. The streets are frantic and the subway really does spew steam up into the street from manhole covers. You simply could not be in any other city in the world.

One the first sites we visited was where the World Trade Centre once stood. Today it is known simply as Ground Zero.. It’s now a busy construction site but the size and scale of the hole the terrorist attacks left in this city is gigantic. In coming days as we walk around the city it’s hard for me not to notice the hole the attacks left in the city’s skyline.

Thanks to that attack the tallest building in New York is once again Empire State Building. I came here in 1976 when I was nine years old and the Bicentenary celebrations were just a few weeks away. The view from the top is just as spectacular as I remember from all those years ago.

After 5 days in New York we have arrived in Washington DC, another place of distant memories. Two of the strongest are of the Lincoln Memorial and the National Air and Space Museum. The Lincoln Memorial is at the Potomac River end of Potomac Park and looks back along the length of the National Mall to the Capital Building. The Statue of Abraham Lincoln it houses is gigantic, and his likeness  serenely stares along the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument.

Our next day is spent in the National Air and Space Museum, and again it’s somewhere I’ve been before. In 1976, on that same holiday, I stood in the crowds with Mum and Dad and watched the then President, Gerald Ford, officially open what was then a new addition to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Museum has a stunning collection or famous aircraft. It includes the original Wright Flyer & the Spirit of St Louis. There’s a collection of space craft and rockets from both the American and Russian space programmes.

Once inside it takes 2 seconds to know that James has been swept into a world of his own. His three year old mind just doesn’t seem to cope with the sheer number of things on display. He races from one exhibit to the next, pausing only to shout out what something is before being distracted by something new. “Look at that rocket, Dad!!”, “look at that plane, Dad!!” he shouts across the hall before racing away again.

Somehow he knows what space suits are and the difference between a rocket and a plane. He even knows that the lunar module on display is neither a rocket nor a plane. My explanation leaves of what it actually is leaves him unimpressed. The concept of a man walking on the moon seems a bit too much.

The Smithsonian is one of the USA’s premier scientific education & research institutions. It has 19 museums, a Zoo, research organisations and a collection that lists 136 million items. It is the largest Museum organisation in the world. It is, quite simply, America at its cultural best.

Despite Washington being a fascinating place to visit and explore our time here is limited. We have come to America to share Christmas with Jo’s brother. Heath has been living here for around 2 years since marrying a local girl and to get to their house for Christmas we are embarking on the ultimate American Road trip. We are travelling from Washington DC to Washington State in the North West corner of this country. We are going to do this in, of all things, a Motor-Home.

After 5 months living in a caravan travelling Europe and the UK, some might argue that we are gluttons for punishment. People we have met have called us mad or brave. A few have kindly suggested we are “adventurous” to make such a long trip with two little children.

The best description came from someone a few weeks ago, who's name and face I can't remember. They said we were “crazy-brave”. Hopefully not quite as crazy as the man on 14th street in Columbia Heights still sharing his rage with the world.