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16 October 2010

A Red Eye and a Real Red Eye in DC

Washington, DC. The capitol of the United States of America. This is where the country's--no, the world's--power is concentrated. It's impressive, especially considering that this city was merely a small town for many decades after it was built on a drained swamp over 200 years ago.

My arrival in DC was neither triumphant nor glamorous, but pretty mundane, commuting into the city with lots of workers. I flew into Dulles Airport, about 26 miles (41 km) west of Washington. It was 6:45 AM, and the earliest splashes of daylight were just emerging to the east.

The flight was not bad for a red-eye. I had an aisle seat, and I was so exhausted that I slept through most of the flight, waking up about halfway through and for a couple cups of water to hydrate my scratchy throat. The vast majority of the plane was composed of middle aged, white-collar men. Before I drifted back into sleep, I caught a peek out one of the open windows to see the lights of a city below with a river bending through the city - I thought it must be Pittsburgh. Or Cincinnati.

The plane touched down at Dulles on time, but took 10 minutes to taxi to the gate. Sitting at the rear, I was one of the last off the plane. I followed the flow of people, into the terminal, and I ended up rushing onto one of the big people mover shuttles that drive people from one terminal to the other (the terminals are not connected). Then I followed signs to "ground transportation" and discovered the shiny new people mover subway (AeroTrain) linking all the terminals. It was quick, clean, and efficient. Before I knew it I was exiting through the 1950s/60s era airport lobby.

It was chilly! The temperature was in the 40s (°F; 5-10°C), and I was not prepared, with only a thin jacket. The still air smelled prominently of smoky bus fuel, the exhaust fumes wafting into my lungs. My bus arrived within five minutes, the MetroBus 5A, and after paying the $6 fare, the bus soon whisked through the northern Virginia suburbs. The bus stopped once to pick up a group of commuters, who queued politely before filling the bus. The traffic was horrendous this Thursday morning, and we were stuck in a traffic jam for at least half an hour. I was perplexed that the freeway has large open grassy areas on both sides of it, large enough to expand to seven lanes in each direction, yet the freeway remains only TWO LANES wide. Not to mention that there are toll booths! It's essentially paying to use a more inconvenient road. What an inefficient use of space.

I noticed that many of the cars were "out of state": Maryland, DC, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania. Judging from the announcements playing on the bus, Columbus Day is apparently an official holiday here! Not just some ceremonial holiday where you still have to go to school/work.

I got off the bus at Rosslyn, and I followed the flow of commuters into the Metro station. I bought my ticket and descended into the deep station. The next train arrived, and it was absolutely packed. A couple people got off and I squeezed my way in. My full backpack was clearly in the way, so I wedged myself next to the wall so as not to block anyone. I still ended up getting jostled around. The train was very clean at least. And luckily, I was only on the Metro for two stops. I got off at Farragut West, except that the exit gates wouldn't let me out. I tried again. The error message told me to add fare. Turns out, there are higher fares to travel during rush hour. *grumble* Even worse, after adding the required $0.15, I couldn't add any more, so I couldn't keep my metro ticket as a souvenir. *grumble grumble*

I walked out the station and headed straight to Leslie's place at the UC Center. Leslie had to sign me in with the security guard at the front. We headed up to her 11th-floor 1-bedroom. I freshened up quickly, discovering that my shampoo had leaked out and some of it had gotten into my contact lens case. So when I put my right contact lens in, in burned my eye badly! It was just about 9 AM and time for her to go to work. So I had no time to rest, and I didn't want to anyway! I walked with Leslie to her office, which is only four blocks away. The office was very clean and organized; it's shared with several other think-tanks and policy campaigns.

Remember my shampoo-contaminated contact lens? Well, after I stepped out of Leslie's office, my right eye was on fire like there was hot sauce in it, so I found a ledge and removed the contact. I spent the rest of the day exploring with only my left eye seeing clearly. Therefore, please excuse me if the rest of my day was just a blur...

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