National Air and Space Museum, courtesy of Ryan
Tell us a little about you.
Right now, I live in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle and spend my days working in aerospace procurement. My nights and weekends are spent attending live shows and being outside trying to enjoy any good weather Seattle has to offer.
Why did you choose to visit DC?
Simple: I’d never been to DC before. I’m 32 years old and while DC has been in the forefront of my mind because of its historical importance and the constant references to it on the news and in pop culture, I didn’t have a real sense of what it was like. In many ways, it’s America’s most important city and I really wanted to experience it.
Was this your first visit to the area?
Did you have any preconceptions about the city before you arrived? Did your visit change any of them?
I had a ton of preconceptions. DC is a place that evokes a strong reaction in people who have never even once visited. By the time I left DC, I had developed a real appreciation for how complicated governing a country can be. Every day for 5 days I walked through and around the various government buildings — from the Capital building to the White House to the American Red Cross and State Department. Except for one year living in New York, I’ve lived my whole life on the west coast and so I didn’t have any sense of the humanity that existed even in the thickest of bureaucratic environments. Seeing government workers trudge to work every morning made Washington DC seem very real when for most of my life it was nothing but a mental image or a picture on TV.
What did you expect to see here?
The only thing I expected (and hoped for) was that I would be surprised in some way. I definitely was.
What surprised you about DC itself? About the people?
I was surprised by how friendly the people were. I live in Seattle and it’s consistently ranked as one of the friendliest cities in the country. However, the ugly truth is that in Seattle it’s very difficult to meet new people. There’s even a name for it: The “Seattle Freeze“. Without exception the people in DC were warm and easy to engage in conversation.
While you were here, what did you most want to see? Were you able to? What did you think?
There wasn’t one thing I wanted to see more than any other. Even with five days, I know there are a lot things I missed, but for my first trip I’m very pleased. Anything less than 5 days and I either would’ve had to cram too much into my days or skip out on a few things.
Pentagon Memorial, courtesy of Ryan
It’s a tie between two moments, actually. On my first afternoon I walked along the north side of the White House and saw a professional photographer standing with his gear. He was obviously waiting for someone to depart from a meeting inside the White House. I noticed a Getty Images sticker on his telephoto lens and I happen to live across the street from Getty Images in Seattle so I struck up a conversation with the photographer. I asked him if something special was happening or if it was just the usual course of business at the White House. He said, “Well, it’s mostly just the usual course of business but I’m waiting for Ben Bernanke — everyone wants a picture of him nowadays.” At that moment, there was some activity on the grounds of the White House and the photographer looked through his lens and said, “Damn, that’s just the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden.” A few moments later the gates opened and Hayden’s white Chevy Tahoe drove right by me. Not too long after that, Bernanke departed and the scene was repeated. So, within three hours of my arriving in DC, I saw both the Director of the CIA and the Fed Chairman. I thought that was an auspicious start to my trip.
The second moment was at the Pentagon Memorial. It was my last day and I had seen all of the other big memorials. I thought some memorials were better than others. I thought the Korean War Memorial was a little ghoulish and the World War II memorial ostentatious bordering on tacky. However, I thought the Vietnam War Memorial was very moving and the FDR Memorial was very creative and enjoyable. So, heading out on the Metro to the Pentagon I already developed an idea of what I thought made for a good memorial. When I arrived I was a little confused by the arrangement of the benches. After a security guard explained to me about the rows and what the direction of the benches meant, I was awestruck. The Pentagon Memorial’s austerity resonated very deeply with me. It was a poignant moment and I think the memorial will stand the test of time as one of our country’s best.
Will you return to visit again?
Absolutely. Next time I’ll try to visit some of the smaller museums and spend a little more time in the bigger ones. I may even schedule an appointment to talk to my Congressman (Jim McDermott).
What differences do you think there are between DC and Seattle, now that you’ve visited our fair city?
The sense of history. Walking down nearly every street in DC was a rich experience. I had dinner in Georgetown one night and afterward walked around the neighborhood. I was shocked to see gas lamps. Seattle, by contrast, feels very new. And again, the people were mostly friendly and warm. I really enjoyed my time in DC and look forward to returning someday.
Check out Ryan’s photos from his recent visit.
If you’re a visitor to our city and wish to share your experiences, contact Ben at cherokeeace [at] juno [dot] com.
Nice! Thanks for doing these, Ben. It’s so great to hear from folks who are enjoying their visits to our fair city! Plus, there’s usually a reminder of something new, or something I’ve never bothered to see during 15+years here.
Cool feature! It’s nice to hear from someone so pleasant, and with such nice stuff to say about the city.
The sense of governing reality that Ryan mentions is probably the biggest thing I hear about from my friends who visit DC. Everyone has this idea in their heads about it, shaped by movies, shaped by politicians who like to bash on it, whatever… and then they get here, and instead of some faceless boogeyman, they see the actual IRS building, with actual people walking in and out of it, and the actual State Department, and Embassy Row, and it’s like something clicks. I’m always pleased to hear about that moment, because it’s a different thing that does it for each person.
I’m disappointed that Ryan returned to Seattle with a complete lack of Bridge limoncello. Very nice Ben, makes me want to write a similar piece on Tom and Tiff’s recent trip to Seattle. I have to be honest and admit that I didn’t take the time to visit some of the obvious D.C. tourist spots whilst I lived in D.C. (including the Monument), but I do hope to visit them when I come back as a tourist.