U.S. National Mall covered in snow.

The National Christmas Tree

Dick Cheney's
Christmas Eve

In which I realize that the Apostrophe-S, which I originally intended to form the possessive form of "Dick Cheney", can equally well be interpreted as a contraction for "is".

I had some writing work that I could do anywhere, and I had quite a few miles built up on United Airlines. If I didn't either cash in those miles or take another flight, United would throw those miles away by the end of the year.

So I got a cheap airline ticket from Chicago to New York and back, and went to the east coast for about three weeks right before Christmas.

First I had to get from my home in West Lafayette, Indiana to Chicago.

Here comes Amtrak's Cardinal, running three days a week between Washington and Chicago.

The other four days of the week Amtrak runs the Hoosier State between Indianapolis and Chicago. It's surprisingly popular with the Amish, who travel to Chicago for, ah, I don't know. Maybe to take in some shows at the blues clubs?

Amtrak train arrives in Lafayette.

You arrive at Union Station and its famous Odessa Steps.

You see, The Untouchables had that scene with the gunfight on this staircase, referencing a famous scene from Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.

Anyway, this is Union Station. Below is the former Arlington House, now the Getaway Hostel, a good place to stay in the Lincoln Park area. 616 West Arlington Place, Chicago IL 60614, +1-773-929-5380, +1-800-HOSTEL-5, getawayhostel.com.

Interior of Union Station in Chicago.
Arlington House, Lincoln Park, Chicago.
Bob Newhart statue, Navy Pier, Chicago.

I stopped at Navy Pier to chat with the bronze avatar of Bob Newhart. Metal sofas are not very comfortable.

Then I flew to New York for a few days and then took Amtrak down to Washington DC.

After seeing what was new at the museums since I was last in Washington, I went to see the National Christmas Tree.

It was the end of the day, government offices were closed and the museums were closing. The Metro was going to be packed with frantic Washington workers fleeing for the suburbs. It was a grim and savage atmosphere that I didn't care to join.

So, I walked around the Mall and down to the White House area.

The perimeter for mere citizens had been pushed back even further since I had last been there. Now we aren't even allowed onto the drive around The Oval or The Ellipse or The Oblate Trapezoid or whatever it's called.

U.S. White House behind rusting barricades.
U.S. White House behind rusting barricades.

Well, it keeps the grubby paws of the unwashed masses off the steel fence, and safely further back behind a set of rusting Jersey barriers, more fencing, a chain, and another fence.

And if they're going to make temporary construction barricades permanent, why can't they at least spray the metal with rust-proofing primer so it doesn't look so abandoned?

U.S. National Christmas Tree behind chain-link fence.

Anyway, there was the tree.


Behind a couple of layers of chain-link fence and illuminated only by the glare from some distant security floodlights.

It may be an appropriate metaphor for the current Washington atmosphere, but it's not very Christmasy.

"We wish you a Scary Christmas. Now go home and seal your chimney with plastic sheeting and duct tape. And be afraid."

I sense the sinister influence of Dick Cheney. Well, this wouldn't be the last governmental fear and paranoia that I would encounter on this trip.

It snowed the next night.

Or, in local terms, Doom Came to DC.

U.S. National Mall covered in snow.
Washington DC traffic panics in snow.

Apocalypse Warning Level White.

The locals can't drive on snow, and from what I witnessed, many really can't even walk on it.

Hilltop Hostel in Washington DC
Union Station in Washington DC

I had been staying at the Hilltop Hostel, a nice place next to the Takoma Metro station, just barely within the District of Columbia near its northern tip. 300 Carroll St NW, Washington DC 20012, +1-202-291-9591, hilltophosteldc.com, UTM 18S 0325318 4315894 (WGS84)

That was it for Washington. From there it was to Union Station north toward Baltimore on the Maryland commuter rail.

Next stop: Baltimore

Part of a multi-city trip: Washington DC Baltimore Philadelphia New York

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