Monthly Archives: February 2013

The South

We left D.C. just ahead of an approaching cold front, driving south on I-95, a very familiar road for us from our years in North Carolina. First stop – Fort Bragg, birthplace of both Carson and Bridger, home of 3rd Special Forces Group (my first assignment in SF), and our home for over 7 years. It was great to catch up with friends who have either moved there or never left. We stayed with Jason and Amy and charming Ava, saw Frank at “work,” and went to dinner at the Mash House with Rob and Kim, Chris, and Matt for an old school Bad Boys reunion! Our boys got a full-on Green Beret history tour, from the JFK SF museum on Fort Bragg to the Airborne and Special Operations museum downtown to dinner with team guys. Perfect!

Driving south from Bragg, we took the kids even further back in time, continuing the reunion tour with Jason and Alis, our amazing friends from back in my infantry days in Baumholder, Germany. We had a family Super Bowl party and spent hours catching up. Carson, Bridger, and Erin spent hours playing Xbox and laughing at us laughing at our own stupid inside jokes. We all took an evening to visit historic downtown Savannah, drank Wet Willies on the riverfront, walked through a few of Savannah’s squares, and ate at the Moon River Brewing Company. It’s hard to believe how the years have flown by. Adrienne’s in college, for Pete’s sake! We have such great friends.

After studying so much American history in the past six months, it was very cool to visit Fort Sumter, site of the first battle of the Civil War. We drove from Savannah up to Charleston, South Carolina for a day and took a ferry out to the island fortress-turned-monument. They still have some of the original guns in place along with Confederate cannonballs lodged in the brick walls. You can literally touch the history here! The enormous US flag (20′ x 36′!) that flew over the garrison during the initial battle in 1861 is in the nearby museum. It was raised once again on April 14, 1865, four years to the day after it was lowered when US troops withdrew from the fort. President Lincoln didn’t attend the flag-raising, knowing he was unpopular in South Carolina and not wanting to invite unpleasantness. Also, he had theater tickets that evening…

Back in Charleston, we spent the rest of the day just enjoying the city. While walking on the waterfront in the evening, a couple asked us to help them send off paper lanterns to mark a 50th birthday. We were more than happy to help and pretty soon those beautiful glowing lanterns were floating high over the Charleston Harbor. We waited until they were out of sight then headed back to Savannah.

The next day, with the cold front following us once again, we turned the bus down I-95 and made a beeline for Florida. Next stop – Cocoa Beach!

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Our nation’s capital city

The Smithsonian! The National Archives! The US Capitol! Monuments! The International Spy Museum! The Library of Congress! Friends! Family! It’s a wonder we ever got on the road again but we were lucky enough to have almost two full weeks in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area. My parents lived in Ellicott City, Maryland for almost 20 years, so we thought we had seen most of the sights, but D.C. has an amazing ability to remain fresh and interesting. Even museums we visited just a few years ago were seen in a new light, especially given our recent trips to Boston and Philadelphia. Independence Hall in Philadelphia had George Washington’s rising sun chair; the National Museum of American History had his military dress uniform. The Henry Ford in Detroit had Abraham Lincoln’s rocking chair from Ford’s Theater; the Smithsonian had his familiar top hat. And it was a moving moment to step into the rotunda in the National Archives and see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, documents we had been following since Boston.

We toured the US Capitol building (something we had never done) and even got passes from Senator Merkley of Oregon to watch the Senate in session. It was very cool to see our government in action (inaction?). Even better was getting a “behind the scenes” look at the setting of so many presidential inaugurations and funerals, impeachments and filibusters.

One of our favorite museums in D.C. is the International Spy Museum, a monument to skilled (and not so skilled!) clandestine agents from around the world. They have devices and stories from ancient history through the Cold War, including a letter from General George Washington authorizing establishment of the first American spy network during the Revolutionary War. As if that wasn’t enough – 50 Years of Bond Villains on special exhibit! It was awesome!

Of course, the real draw to the D.C. area, and one our favorite things about this road trip, was visiting with family and friends. Some memorable moments – dinner at the Ellicott City Brewing Company with Darla and Mark; campfire and football with the Mulvaneys; a delicious dinner and a great evening with the McGowan family (friends from Breitenstein! felt like a big warm hug); Indian food with Killian, Melissa, and Caden (hottest vindaloo ever!) that led immediately to ice cream next door. We got to spend a couple of great days with Matt and Anja and Max, our godson; Dan and Bryn, our old shipmates, even joined us there for poker night – so much fun!

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Despite what seems like Mother Nature’s best effort to keep us away from Philadelphia, first with Hurricane Sandy and then with a foot of snow, we managed to sneak there anyway. With the bus parked safely in Maryland, we took a day trip up to continue our American history tour in the nation’s first capital city.

We started our day in Independence Hall where we were able to stand in the Assembly Room that held the Continental Congress, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and some of the most famous debates among the Founding Fathers. It was unexpectedly moving to see the very chair that George Washington sat in while presiding over the meetings. The National Park Service rangers were really sharp and full of great information about the site. In an adjoining building we saw an early printed version of the Declaration of Independence.

Across the street we stood in a short, cold line for entrance to the Liberty Bell exhibit. I thought, “It’s a cracked bell. Let’s get in and see it so we can head over to the Mint and watch them make money!” Wrong. The hall was very simple but well laid out. By the time you actually get to the Liberty Bell, you’ve seen the progression from simple steeple accessory to iconic symbol of freedom. Like the Mona Lisa, however, you’d think it was bigger.

Time for lunch! Now, we’ve had amazing food all over the country – fresh fish in the Boundary Waters, organic local everything in Portland, chile in New Mexico, clam chowder in New England. What is Philadelphia famous for? The Cheesesteak. Last time Ayrril and I were here we tried the famous versions at Pat’s and Geno’s. Awful. This time we did a little research and found Campo’s Deli, just a short walk from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Awesome! Philadelphia, consider yourself redeemed.

On to the Mint! The US Mint tour showed how our coins are designed and produced, but it wasn’t as exciting as I made it sound earlier. Cool, informative, and well done but no pictures allowed, no hands on stations, and nothing was really in production while we were there. On the other hand, we saw a banner advertising a special exhibit across the street at the Constitution Center about the 18th Amendment and we were sold.

The exhibit was called The Rise and Fall of Prohibition and it was excellent! From the temperance movement to Prohibition, bootleggers to speakeasies, rum runners to repeal, we got to see how it all fell into place and then fell apart. The only thing missing was a drink at the end!

Before we went to Philly we introduced the boys to the best boxing movie of all time. So of course we ended our day by running up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art just like Rocky. It was cold and getting dark but we saw close to a dozen runners hit the steps in the 10 minutes or so that we were there. Thanks, Rocky! You make us all want to run through the streets and punch beef.

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