...in the bottom drawer
I knew I'd lose it so I put it in a safe place, and now I can't remember where it is.

currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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August 05, 2005 || 10:45 pm
Road trip, day 5

Washington, DC to Charlottesville, VA - 117 miles

Ah, I'm back in the countryside. Big sigh of relief. Although my dutiful sightseeing this morning in DC ended up being quite fun - after tackling the totally unnavigable IM Pei wing of the National Gallery of Art, followed by the more navigable but far too vast old wing (beautiful Italian rennaissance saints and Rembrandts to restore my sanity), I gave in the the ultimate DC tourist attraction, the Air and Space Museum. It is absolutely packed as (unlike high art) it appeals to every tourist group that might pass through the city. It has a McDonalds and Wendy's as its 'food court'. But it's also really good fun, because they actually have the real deal to show you.

The actual Apollo 11 command module. The actual airplane which the Wright brothers first flew in. Real long-range nuclear missiles from the USSR and the USA, cold-war style (without warheads, of course). The real backup Skylab space station that you can actually go inside. A V2 rocket. The first Boeings and the Breitling balloon that first circumnavigated the earth non-stop. A bit of the Hubble Telescope that they brought back when they repaired it. The Apollo-Soyuz modules that docked together in 1975. And so on...

The nearest you get to a replica is a fully working test model, like the rest of the Apollo 11 (the bits that were left behind in space) which is shown by an identical one that they made and used for training beforehand. It's actually a really weird object - I am dumb, but it never occurred to me that because space has no atmosphere and therefore no friction, you can viably have something covered in tinfoil attached with duct tape flying around at hundreds of mph. Which is basically what the lunar landing module was - it looks like something out of Blue Peter. And the command module that came back to earth is unbelievably tiny, as are lots of the other craft that took astronauts into space in that era. I could hardly believe that it was possible to survive such a journey in such a small, toy-like thing. Space exploration - what a ridiculously crazy thing.

After all that, I left DC and struggled through horrendous Friday afternoon traffic for what felt like hours, hot, frustrated and claustrophobic. But when I finally got to the hills of Virginia - ah, what a relief. The Shenadoah hills are absolutely beautiful, and the roads opened up across a more familiar terrain of small settlements, antebellum houses, roadside gas stations and fields. It is more hilly and more populous than Alabama, but it felt so good to be back in the open country air amongst the blue hills, with friendly country folk everywhere.

I finally got to Charlottesville where I intended to stay the night, and headed into the downtown in search of food and to check out the town. What I found was a prosperous, genteel, peaceful university town, extremely quiet, until I got to the Main Street and spied, through the gaps in the buildings, that the 'real' Main Street was pedestrianised and seemed to have rather a lot of activity on it. So I parked, exited the parking garage behind a group of people in funny costumes and carrying circus implements, and found the whole street was full of people strolling, shopping, sitting in cafes and outdoor restaurants, and watching street performers - very unusual for an American downtown. Ah, I thought, this must be some kind of festival that I happen to have caught. So I strolled around, looked at everything, ate a lovely icecream, found the ice-rink (!) at one end of the street and then headed back to explore the other end.

And at the other end I found a new-looking amphitheatre of sloping grass and concrete covered by a big tensile roof, in which a band was playing and hundreds of people were milling around. So I approached and entered, didn't have to pay, and inside they were selling beer and everyone - from babies to grannies, and plenty of punky young people - was just hanging out, dancing a little, chatting and having fun. It turns out that this isn't a one-off, but happens every Friday in the summer. How lovely. And (I hate to have to mention this) almost all the young people were hanging out in mixed-race groups. Normal-looking youths - not preppy, not on crack. First time I've seen this here.

My new favorite motel: Econo-Lodge. $30 cheaper than everywhere else and still has wireless internet.



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