Stateside: Rosalea Goes To Washington (Part 2)
Rosalea Goes To Washington (Part 2)
Click Abe For Stateside Images - Rosalea Goes To Washington
Now, where was I? That's right, in Chicago's Union Station waiting for the train to DC, having just arrived on the Southwest Chief from Albuquerque. Since starting on my Amtreks, so to speak, in 2000, I have been on all four national routes that cross the West, passing through every state west of the Mississippi except Wyoming and South Dakota.
But the trip from Chicago to Washington DC on the Capitol Limited would be my first venture into Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia (though I had already been through parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania a while back when I took the Metroliner from DC to NY). My seatmate is the grandmother of the two girls sitting across the aisle from us, and she's come prepared with a coolie bin full of ice and soft drinks with the curious name of Hillbilly Holler. She says it's no different than other sodas, just a lot cheaper at $1.99 a dozen.
The family is of Irish/German extraction and are Midwesterners through and through - they're the very epitome of why you have men of Irish and German extraction running for president. I'm excited that the train will be going through Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, the next day but I obviously watch too many US history programmes on public television for my own good. The only Harper's Ferry this family knows of is in Iowa.
We cross Ohio at night, waking to a misty Pittsburgh morning as we curve along between forested hills that must be a stunning sight in autumn, but are no less stunning in their dewy summer green. Down in the cafe car I join in a conversation with a motley group of early risers, one of whom lives in the Maryland county where the Potomac River bubbles up out of the ground and you can stand astride it.
Nobody talks politics, even though today is the day that Reagan's funeral service is being held in DC, and I don't bring the subject up. We won't be getting there until after all the fuss is over, but perhaps someone going to the funeral took this train on a previous trip. Either that or Amtrak doesn't clean out those little mesh pockets on the backs of seats very often. How else to explain the September 2001 copy of Sojourners magazine that I find in the pocket of the seat in front of me?
According to the magazine's masthead, "Sojourners is a Christian ministry whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice." In this 2001 issue is a commentary entitled The United States of Ronald Reagan, that starts: "Other than the fact that he was one of the worst presidents of the 20th century, I really have nothing bad to say about Ronald Reagan."
The columnist is decrying the sudden effusion of renaming things Ronald Reagan this and Ronald Reagan that. In the interest of truth in memorialising, he laments the missed opportunity to have, for example, the Reagan Museum of Contra Training in Florida, the New Jersey Ronald Reagan Toxic Waste Dumps and, in Illinois, the Reagan Institute Against Legal Representation for the Poor.
This aversion to the deification of Reagan seems much more in the air when we detrain in DC on 11 June 2004 than any genuine feeling that the country has just lost a great and beloved leader. Sure, he might be remembered for saying, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall" - if only because the media keeps playing it over and over - but in the USA of today I'm betting people are more interested in who would have the guts to say, "Mr Sharon, tear down this wall."
Anyways, I had a great few days in the capital city of the United States of America, but was so busy that I only had time to take a four-hour nighttime tour of the sights. It's alarming how popular war memorials are on these tours, but my favourite memorial was the one for FDR that was built in 1997. At the time of his death in 1945, Roosevelt wanted only a memorial the size of his desk, and was duly given that, but this new monument consists of four outdoor "rooms" - one for each of his terms as president.
Our tour also took in the White House - from a very great distance. Nonetheless, I can attest that the current president really does turn in at 9 pm, because I waved to him at that time as he stood in the window of the Lincoln Sitting Room, and then he turned off the light and trotted off to bed. Yes, yes, I know he doesn't sleep in the adjoining Lincoln Bedroom, but my trusty and most excellent guide - How to Be President, by Stephen P. Williams - assures me that the Lincoln Sitting Room is where many presidents relax.
So that very well could have been the Commander in Chief at the window, sipping his cocoa, and getting one last look at the National Christmas Tree and the sticky-uppy thing with the two red lights on top, before he hit the sack. Here's hoping his pillow was appropriately smoothed.