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Spring 2000

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Mr. Forrest Goes To Washington

Well, for lack of anything better to do, I decided to set off on a wacky Easter Weekend road trip with the old man to visit a friend of his in Washington, DC. Here’s the complete no-holds-barred exposé:

After getting lost 15km into our trip at Manotick, we finally crossed over into the US at Prescott, where the border guard asked us the usual questions; where are you from, got anything to declare, etc. When asked what he did for a living, my dad suspiciously stated only that he worked for the government. The guard probed further, inquiring "What exactly do you do for the government?" To this, my dad admitted that he was an economist, in a tone that suggested that half of him was worried that economists weren’t allowed in the United States, and that the other half was embarrassed to have such an unexciting job title.

Apparenty wide load restrictions are more relaxed in New York State, because we encountered, along a backwoods highway, a house on a truck with no flashing lights or lead vehicle. After coming within a foot of having the corner of said house driven through my forehead, we eventually pulled over at the Best Western in Tully, NY where my dad’s senility began to catch up with him:

"What’s your first name?"
"Uh..." [slaps forehead] "T-O-N-Y Tony"
The things one notices when driving in the United States are the little differences:
  • Coke tastes different, kind of like those little coke-bottle candies
  • You can buy a "McClub Sandwich"
  • When you order a burger, they ask how well you want it done
  • Gas stations call Diesel "Kero"
  • Fat people abound
  • Hot women abound too.
Well, enough of the boring part. Along the way, we passed billboards advertising injury lawyers and Jesus, and a 500m stretch of forest with "NO TRESPASSING" signs nailed to every single tree. The drive into Washington went through the North Side, which is Washington’s answer to Vanier, except with a lot more guns and crack. Among the quirky scenes we passed was a liquor store with a giant sign that declared "We Cash Tax Checks!"(sic). Talk about convenience!

Downtown Washington itself is kind of like Ottawa, except bigger and more open and nicer overall. All the departments have their own impressive old-style low-rise downtown buildings, as opposed to our beautiful 1960s office towers that block out Parliament Hill. There is approximately 15 000 times more greenspace than in Ottawa, which makes for a very attractive downtown, with lots of space for protesters and souvenir stands, which all sell exactly the same stuff at the same prices. Another cool thing is that they have an airport which is right across the river (2 subway stops) from downtown, which means that you don’t have to suffer through rush-hour traffic on your way in. At Arlington National Cemetery, we had a strange encounter with a security guard; entering the cemetery at 6:50pm, 10 minutes before closing time, the guard shouted at us from 50m away

"You can’t come here, it’s closed!" "OK, we’re just going to go to where you are and turn around" "No, you can’t go past me, it’s closed!" "We’re just going to go to where you are, and then turn around" "I said it’s closed!!", she said, with a tone of voice that sugested that she was about to call for backup. We walked up to where she was, looked around while she yelled at us, then turned around and went home. No one was harmed.
A few cultural observations: Watching shows like Saved By the Bell, you think to yourself "This is ridiculous, no one is actually like that!" But, while conversing with Gary’s son and his friends, I found out that they actually are like that, and that, in general, everything is a bigger deal down there. Greg’s friends wouldn’t stop talking about their dates to the prom and who’d gotten to what base with who and "Let’s go hang out at the mall." Portrait studios advertised "Spring Prom portraits", and movie theatres asked for ID if you were going to see an R-rated film. You had to be 18 just to buy a cigarette lighter, and 21 to drink.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about Washington itself. In general, it kicks Ottawa’s ass as a capital, in part because it was designed as one and not as a major toilet paper manufacturing centre. Oh well. Look on the bright side; we do have less crack addicts.

1 million3 million
1858: Queen Victoria points to backwoods hick lumber-town on map and says "This place’ll do"; Parliament buildings strategically placed across from toilet paper factory.

1790: Empty land selected by Washington himself; Frenchman Pierre Charles L’Enfant chosen to develop a ground-up plan for a capital worthy of the world’s first and greatest democracy.

Government High-tech Shawarmas

Government Protesting Crack dealing

85% English 15% French

45% English 55% Ebonics

Peace Tower (92.2m)

Washington Monument (185m) (sure theirs is bigger, but I maintain that it’s how you use it that matters)


Cinnamon buns smothered in icing

Washingtonians: "What’s this white crap falling from the sky?"Ottawans: "Look mommy! Black people!"

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