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Vacation, Vertigo and Value

My Hubby and I haven’t taken an honest to goodness vacation in a long time. The last time we went anywhere wasn’t for us, but for my Son to be able to see his girlfriend 3 states (and a 9 hour drive) away. That was 3 years ago. Prior to that, our last vacation was a 7 hour drive, a day of fun at Cedar Point, and a 7 hour drive home again, back in 2008. And before that, our honeymoon in 2006. And anyone who knows me, knows that these drives don’t just take the amount of time the GPS says; we have to tack on at least 15 minutes per hour for a bathroom break. That 9 hour drive took about 12 hours. The 7 hour drive took at least 9 hours. Fortunately, our honeymoon travel was by plane, or it would have taken us 2 days to get there!

So this year, we socked away some tax refund money for a small getaway for just the two of us. We had been planning on attending the Reason Rally in Washington, DC on June 4th, but originally thought we’d just make the trip down for the day, like we did for Reason Rally 2012. But since we’d been doing a lot of genealogy research, we thought maybe we could also visit the National Archives while we were there in DC. What started as a 1 day trip, turned into a 2 day trip, which then turned into a 4 day trip. I needed to do some serious research, and a whole lot of number crunching, if we were going to stay within our budget, which was pretty small. I went into planning mode for about 4 months.

Fortunately, almost everything could be accomplished online. I found and reserved a cheap hotel, bought our Metro tickets online, researched restaurants in the areas we’d be, mapped out our driving route, figured out the rules and requirements for our NARA visit, learned the Metro system, downloaded travel and discount apps for my phone, and even bought some items we’d need for the trip. I tried to plan out our days as efficiently as possible, so we could do as much as we could, with the least amount of money, and hopefully no stress. I even committed some of the maps to memory, just in case we ran into any problems. I was all set, confident I’d planned for every contingency.

Thursday 6/2

We planned on leaving the house at 9a on June 2nd, arriving at our hotel at about 11:30a. I figured on getting checked into the hotel,  grabbing a quick lunch at a restaurant nearby, then taking the Metro into the city. I had our route info, toll costs, an estimate of how much lunch would cost, and the Metro times all entered into my TripIt app. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. They went awry.

We didn’t actually leave until 10:45am. We took mostly back roads through PA and MD. I knew we’d be making a pit stop at the Pilot Travel Center in Perryville MD, just before getting onto I-95. Things were going well, we were just a little late. I kept telling myself, “things will work out, stop stressing!” We checked the air pressure in the tires, since they felt a little low (they were). We spent $1.50 for the air machine, though, which irritated me. “Not a huge expense, nothing to worry about,” my brain said. Then because we had been awake since 6a, and it was nearing noon, we figured we’d go ahead and get lunch at the Subway inside the Pilot, which would save us a little money, and hopefully gain us a little time that we’d lost by leaving so late. I was wrong about the ‘saving us money’ part. That meal cost us $19.46, which is much higher than it would have cost us closer to home. We were on the road again by noon.

Not 15 minutes after we got onto I-95, both of our phones started squawking at us. My Waze app was re-routing us, Google was alerting us to an accident ahead, and things got a little chaotic with me checking both phones to see what was going on. Turns out the accident was just before Exit 67. Waze did its thing, and had us get off at Exit 77 so we could take Rt 40 to avoid the traffic. Good timing, too, because just as we were getting off the exit, we could see traffic on I-95 coming to a standstill. We dodged a bullet, or so we thought!  Rt 40, for anyone who has never traveled through Northeast Maryland, is terrible with a crumbling road surface and traffic lights. Add to that the traffic that was diverted from I-95, and it was a 10 mile nightmare. Still better than the parking lot on I-95, but not a pleasant drive at all, and it took us at least 30 minutes to go 10 miles. Time for another pit-stop, then back onto I-95 again for hopefully an uneventful rest of the trip.

We saw this monstrosity from I-495, and didn't know what it was until we got home and Googled it. Of course, it was an LDS church.

We saw this monstrosity from I-495, and didn’t know what it was until we got home and Googled it. Of course, it was an LDS church.

We jumped onto the new EZ-Pass Express Lane, hoping to make up a little time. We hit a little bit of traffic in Baltimore, just before the Fort McHenry Tunnel, but nothing to worry about. Things were smooth sailing after that, until we hit the Capital Beltway (I-495). We were stuck at about 40 mph for 15 miles, until we crossed the river into Virginia, then it eased up a bit. The next 6 miles to our hotel was a bit crazy, with all the exits, tolls, and traffic weaving in and out of lanes around us, but we managed to get there in one piece, though nowhere near the time we’d hoped to be there! It was almost 2:30p by the time we got checked into our hotel, a full 3 hours later than planned. Oddly enough, our EZ-Pass was only charged for the tunnel ($4) and the Dulles Toll Road ($1). We still had money sitting in our account from before, so it wasn’t out-of-pocket money spent on this trip.

Our hotel was in Vienna, VA, in a quiet little area called Tysons Corner. The reason we picked the Quality Inn was first and foremost because it offered the best rate for the weekend. We were able to use Bill’s employee discount from Walmart, so our rate was $56 Thursday night, and $52 each Friday and Saturday nights. The next cheapest hotels in the area were going for nearly $80 a night, so I feel like we got an excellent deal. The second reason we picked the hotel was because of its location. It was within walking distance to a Metro station, which meant we didn’t have to drive anywhere, or pay for parking. The third reason was because of the reviews. If it had terrible reviews, I might have looked elsewhere, but at the time I did my research, it had a 4-star rating.

They gave us a room on the 3rd floor, overlooking the courtyard. Room #2320. One queen size bed, a recliner, a desk with chair, a dresser, one nightstand, and a mini-fridge were all that were in the room. It was cozy, but clean. The first thing we did after we entered the room was to turn up the A/C as high as it would go, because the room was stifling hot. I hadn’t been given instructions on how to connect to the Wi-Fi, so I just gave it my best shot on my phone. There was a password required, and it took me a few minutes to figure out that the password was written on the envelope our room keys were in. The connection was pretty weak, but we were already running late, so I took a quick video of the room, posted it to Facebook, and we left the hotel to go into DC for the afternoon.

The view of our hotel from the Spring Hill Metro station - Vienna VA - Tysons Corner

The view of our hotel from the Spring Hill Metro station – Vienna VA – Tysons Corner (the tiny blue triangle in the upper left part of the photo is an awning on our hotel)

The view of the Walmart and Mercedes Benz dealership in Tysons Corner from the Spring Hill Metro Station - Vienna Va

The view of the Walmart and Mercedes Benz dealership in Tysons Corner from the Spring Hill Metro Station – Vienna Va

We walked the ¼ mile to the Metro station, and on the way, we stopped at Potbelly Sandwich Shop, the place we originally planned to eat lunch, and bought 2 bottles of water. I was shocked at the price! $4.98 for two 25.3 oz bottles! That’s $2.35 each plus tax. Tax! On water! Yeah, not cool Virginia, not cool. That was the last bottled water we bought, and we used them for the rest of the vacation, filling them up wherever we could.  The man who rung up my purchase made me smile, though, when I walked up to the counter and he asked, “what can do for you, young lady?” Young?! I laughed and thanked him for brightening my day.

Spring Hill Metro Station - Bently and Aston Martin dealerships in the background. Very ritzy area.

Spring Hill Metro Station – Bently and Aston Martin dealerships in the background. Very ritzy area.

In April, I purchased 2 SmarTrip® cards for the Metro. They were $10, but came pre-loaded with $8 of stored value. The cards are good forever. I planned to check our balance each day, and re-load the cards online as needed. Our first day should have been completely covered, since we were supposed to be traveling in off-peak times. Since we were 3 hours off schedule, that threw us into peak times, so the fares were 50% higher. We arrived at the Spring Hill Metro station at 3:30p. We had to activate the cards for the first time by touching them to the Fare Vending Machine, then we could simply touch the cards to the targets at the Faregates to enter the Metro system. As someone who loves technology, this was a part of the trip I fell in love with. No sooner than we made it up the escalator to the platform, our Silver Line train was pulling in. It felt like our luck was turning around, and things would go much more smoothly for the rest of the day. I should have known better.

During the 42 minute ride to our first transfer, I studied the Metro app on my phone. I counted the stops, checked the schedule, double- and triple-checked everything, and looked at any alerts posted. That’s when I discovered that the Metro would be undergoing some rail maintenance during our vacation. It wasn’t scheduled to start until the 4th, though, so I thought we’d be in the clear for any service disruptions on Thursday and Friday. Again, I should have known better. As this was our first Metro trip of the weekend, I wanted to make sure I got everything just right, that we didn’t make any mistakes, or look too tourist-y. The objective was to get off at L’Enfant Plaza and switch to the Yellow or Green Line, heading toward Fort Totten (Yellow) or Greenbelt (Green). L’Enfant Plaza is a major hub, where 5 of the 6 lines intersect. It’s a madhouse in there! We followed the signs as best we could, knowing we had only 4 minutes to make it to the correct train. Somehow we ended up on the wrong train. It was the Yellow Line, but going in the wrong direction. By the time we realized our mistake, it was too late. We ended up at the Pentagon station. After crossing a bridge over the Potomac River. Then we had to wait for the train going the correct direction, cross the bridge again (yes, I apparently have panic attacks on bridges even on a train), before finally getting off at the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter station. What should have been a quick, 6 minute transfer, ended up taking us 18 minutes. Best laid plans. *sigh*

Exiting the Metro at 4:37pm, we had mere minutes to make it across the street to the National Archives, to go through the course necessary to receive our research card, before they closed for the day at 5p. That meant sprinting from the escalator in the middle of the block, to the street corner so we could cross at the light (DC is tough on jaywalkers!), then go back to the middle of the block on the opposite side of the street to get into the NARA building. My ankles were screaming at me the entire way!

We get inside the doors at NARA, sweating and breathing hard, and we’re immediately stopped by security. We have to take everything out of our pockets, remove all bags, and place them in a bin to be sent through the x-ray machine. Then we are allowed to go through the metal detectors. I made it through without a hitch, gathered my belongings, and made my way to the desk to sign in. Bill, on the other hand, wasn’t as fortunate. Because he wears his wallet on a chain, and his Zippo lighter and giant ring of keys on his belt, he set off the metal detector when he went through. He had to remove his entire belt before he made it through without the alarm going off. We all had a good laugh; even the security guard was laughing at my suggestion to give him dollar bills for his strip-tease. When that fiasco was finally over, we got signed in, and were given our visitor badges at 4:45pm. With no time to spare, we rushed into the research room to start the computer course. Several people came to assist us with everything that needed done, including giving our IDs, signing paperwork, getting our pictures taken, and completing the course. We signed out at 5p on the nose. Whew! At least that part was entirely free!

The next stop of the day was the National Zoo. Since it was 5p already, and rush hour, I thought that my original plans of taking the Metro wouldn’t be wise. Not only would we still be in peak fare time, but I suspected it would be unbearably crowded. I checked my notes in my TripIt app to see how much it would cost us to travel by Metro, then by bus. It wasn’t bad ($6.80 total), but there would still be a good bit of walking, and my ankles needed a break before walking the zoo. So I checked my Lyft app, to see how much that would cost. I had a discount code good for $5 off 10 rides (a $50 total discount for the weekend!), thanks to some generous people who shared the code on the Reason Rally event page on Facebook. The estimate was $5.29, after our discount. Not only was it cheaper than public transportation, but I thought it would be faster. Guess what I’m gonna say next? Yep, I should have known better. It took us 32 minutes to go 3.3 miles. It gave me some time to use the emergency charger my Son loaned me, since my phone was yelling about the low battery. We had a nice chat with Matt, our driver, so it made the trip much more pleasant than I expected. He explained how Lyft worked, and how he was able to make a good enough living as a driver that he could take 3 months of the year off to go camping. As he dropped us off at the southeastern entrance, I noticed the ability to leave him a tip. $2 extra was definitely worth it.

Prairie dogs at the National Zoo

Prairie dogs at the National Zoo

Unfortunately, we arrived 15 minutes before they started to bring most of the animals in for feeding. We managed to see some prairie dogs, buffalo, a zebra, and a fishing cat, but all the other animals were nowhere to be found. After walking about 1 mile – UP hill the entire way – we were both exhausted and starving. I opened my phone to figure out which restaurant we wanted to eat at, since I’d researched most of the places nearby. However, my phone was already dying a second time. Even though I’d memorized some parts of the map, I’d neglected to memorize the restaurant names. I used Bill’s phone to see if I could find the places, but it wasn’t cooperating either. I didn’t want to use Lyft again, since I wasn’t really sure where we were going, so we picked a direction and started walking. I knew we’d eventually get to one of the 2 Metro stations near the zoo, and that there would be restaurants nearby. We ended up near the Cleveland Park station. Along the way, we stopped at a tiny Chipotle to use the restroom, and to plug my phone in for a little while, before deciding where to eat. Once my phone was charged enough to power on again, I discovered one of the restaurants was only 2 doors down, so we went to Byblos Deli, where we had great food at a decent price. I charged my phone while we recharged ourselves. We spent $19.49, which included a $2 tip.

Fishing Cat at the National Zoo

Fishing Cat at the National Zoo

Since Byblos Deli didn’t have a customer restroom, we made a quick pitstop at the Subway right in front of the Metro. We entered the Metro at 8:14p on the Red Line, rode the steepest and longest escalator we’d ever seen, made a flawless transfer at the Metro Center station to the Silver Line, and arrived back at our hotel at about 9:30p. Exhausted.  Our Metro trips for the day had put us each 95¢ over the stored value on our SmarTrip® cards, so I had to go to the website and reload the cards. I didn’t want to put too much on them, so I figured $15 each would get us through at least Friday. For once, I was right!

Cleveland Park Metro station, Washington DC

Cleveland Park Metro station, Washington DC

We both had some things to do before we could sleep. Our room was still hot and stuffy, so we called for maintenance to come look at it. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and couldn’t offer us another room, so I asked for a fan, and he brought it to me right away. It helped cool the room off a lot! Bill ended up falling asleep long before I did. I was still awake after midnight, and got hungry, so I went hunting for a vending machine with food. I couldn’t find one, so I went to the front desk to inquire. When everything was said and done, I’d walked the entire length of the hotel. Twice. And spent $2 for a small Snickers bar. This was after spending $2 each on a soda when we got back to the hotel. Food was not cheap around there! I put pain patches on my ankles, and finally fell asleep just before 1a. Even though the hotel was fully booked, it was really quiet, for which I was grateful. That just might be the most exhausting day I’ve had in the last 10 years, and noise might have driven me over the edge!

Totals for the day:
Food: $49.93
Transportation: $25.19
Lodging: $64.71
Miscellaneous: $1.50

Fitbit totals:
Steps: 16,939 — Miles: 6.87
Calories In: 2030 — Calories Out: 3066

Friday 6/3

We woke up just after 7a. I had only slept for just under 6 hours, and I was still exhausted and in pain. My pain patches had worked their way halfway off my feet. I was too tired to care, so I pressed them back on as best as I could, threw on Thursday’s clothes, and went down to the lobby for our free breakfast. I was impressed by the amount of food they had available. Scrambled eggs, sausage patties, 2 different kinds of muffins, 2 kinds of danishes, 3 kinds of bagels, bread, several types of fruits, 3 kinds of cereal, jellies, butter, cream cheese, 2 kinds of waffle mix, syrup, milk, coffee, tea and orange juice. There was a toaster, and a Belgian waffle maker. I’m sure I’m missing some items, but they had pretty much every kind of breakfast food a person could want. I loaded my plate, hoping to eat as much as I could without making myself sick, so I could keep my energy up until a late lunch. The orange juice was pretty bad (orange water would describe it fairly well), but everything else tasted decent.

By the time we go back to the room, got dressed (we both decided to forego a shower), gathered what we’d need for the day, and got my laptop packed up, we were already well past the time we’d planned on leaving. At this point, we just accepted that we weren’t going to be on time for anything, and decided to make the best of things anyway. We wanted to be at the Archives by the time they opened at 9a. We didn’t even leave the hotel until 10a. Once again, we got to the Metro station just as the train was arriving, about 10:15a. We knew exactly what we needed to do, to avoid screwing up the way we did on Thursday. However, Murphy’s Law had other plans.

Some of the Metro trains are fairly modern, and some of them were old and in desperate need of repair. Some had speakers that were clear and loud, some were like listening to someone speak with a mouth full of potato chips. Some had LED signs that displayed the next station, with arrows showing you which side of the train the doors would open on, and some had nothing more than smudged windows for riders to figure out where they were and which doors they should attempt to exit through. On this day, we got lucky … we had a train with functioning speakers and LED signs. The conductor informed us as soon as we started to move, that the Silver Line was undergoing some maintenance, and instead of taking us all the way to L’Enfant Plaza, it would be ending at the Ballston-MU station, where we would then pick up the Orange Line to our destination. He offered a tip, that we would be much better getting off one station earlier – at East Falls Church – as it would be less crowded. We’re not stupid, we took his advice!

I quickly checked my Metro app, and readjusted our plans. 4 stops until we transferred to the Orange Line, 12 more stops until we transferred to the Yellow Line, then make sure to go in the correct direction, 1 stop to the Archives. Not only did we manage to do this flawlessly, but at every transfer point, we only had to wait a minute or two for the next train. There was, however, a small hiccup on our ride; since the Silver and Orange lines were single-tracking, we ended up sitting for about 10 minutes, twice, while we waited for other trains to get out of our way. The conductor kept us apprised the entire time. Even with all of the transfers and delays, our cost for the ride during off-peak hours was only $3.60 each, which we considered a bargain!

We finally arrived at NARA around 11:30a, went through the security fiasco a second time, then proceeded to the lockers to deposit everything but my laptop (sans case) and eyeglasses, as practically nothing is allowed in the research rooms. For the next hour and a half, we researched. We researched hard. At every step, we came up empty-handed. Through NARA, you are granted free access to several genealogy websites, such as Ancestry, FamilySearch (the LDS website) and Fold3. However, if you already have an Ancestry account, as we do, you most likely have 99.9% of the records already. Even the information we found on Fold3 was stuff we already had through Ancestry. It was beginning to feel like a wasted trip. We were frustrated, dismayed, and hungry. So we put my laptop in the locker, gathered the rest of our belongings, and left NARA for some lunch, hoping to refresh our bodies, regroup our minds, and make another plan of attack. As [bad] luck would have it, that’s precisely when my vertigo shot up to about a level 7.

Shake Shack table

Shake Shack table

Inscription on Shake Shack table

Inscription on Shake Shack table

We walked the 3/10  of a mile up 9th Street to the Shake Shack, with me holding onto Bill the entire way, hoping to knock my vertigo back down to at least a level 5 by sheer will. I was absolutely stunned by how crowded the place was. It was nearly 2p, the lunch crowd should have been gone, and the dinner crowd should still be a couple of hours away. But this place was mobbed! Having never been to one of these restaurants before, we studied the menu which was written on the wall in what looked like chalk on a blackboard. Since I didn’t have access to a fitness area, and wouldn’t be doing as much walking that day, I decided to try to eat something a bit healthier with fewer calories. I did pretty well by ordering the ‘Shroom Burger, but then I went completely overboard when I ordered the fries and the Strawberry Cheeseshake. I justified it by just saying, “fuck it, I’m on vacation,” and that seemed to work to shut my diet-brain up very nicely. We managed to find a table to share with another couple, and we enjoyed our lunch and conversation. The cost of lunch was a bit high ($30.53) but the food was really good.

Shake Shack meal

Shake Shack meal

Gender neutral bathrooms at Shake Shack

Gender neutral bathrooms at Shake Shack

Corner of Pennsylvania Ave & 7th St NW – Segway tour


We left feeling mentally refreshed. Physically, on the other hand, I was going downhill. Rapidly. I kept a tight grip on Bill the entire way back to NARA, hoping like hell I wouldn’t fall over, or trip over air, and land on my face in front of hundreds of people. It was a stressful couple of blocks. I was relieved when we made it through NARA security for the third time in 2 days, and I was able to sit down and focus my attention on something other than my vertigo. But we were still coming up empty, so we badgered the staff for a while, hoping to gain as much insight as possible into a fruitful search. After about an hour, we had all the information we felt we could possibly get, and decided to call it a day. Besides, the weather was starting to turn ugly, and I didn’t want to take the chance of my laptop getting wet in the rain. We packed everything up, and headed back to the Metro for the hour-ish ride back to the hotel during peak hours.

Just a side note here: if you’re ever going to ride the Metro, and there’s even a tiny chance you’ll have to use the bathroom, try to do so before you get to the Metro station, because the public restrooms there are awful! No, beyond awful. They have to be unlocked by the staff, and they are down a long hallway that smells of burning rubber. They appear to have not been cleaned in at least a month, and it’s almost scary enough to make you rupture your bladder by holding it instead of using the facilities. Yeah, it’s that bad. The rest of the station is very clean, though. But those bathrooms … blech!

We arrived at the Spring Hill station around 5:30p. Of course, it was raining cats and dogs. Fortunately, I’d planned for just such a problem. I unfurled the raincoat from itself (it’s the kind that fits into its own pocket, then clips onto your jeans or bag) while Bill threw the strap of the laptop case over his head so he could carry it cross-body style. He then put the raincoat on, covering the laptop case almost completely. We walked the ¼ mile back to the hotel in the pouring rain. I was absolutely soaked by the time we got back to our room.  Bill had wet shoes and damp jeans, but was otherwise dry. I was smart and wore flip-flops that day, so I didn’t have to worry about wet shoes on Saturday. The very bottom of the laptop case got wet, and when I opened the laptop case, I was shocked to find that the inner case was also slightly wet. The laptop inside, however, was as dry as a bone. That was too close for comfort!

We changed into dry clothing, and sat around trying to figure out what we were going to do for the rest of the evening. For the past few days, I’d been communicating with a long-time online friend of mine who lived in the area. He had earlier said he’d be working late that day, and wouldn’t be able to get together for dinner, so we were planning on a late dinner, and early bedtime. We decided we’d make a run to Walmart later to buy some snacks to eat while we were in the hotel, so we didn’t have to pay the vending machine prices ever again. We were in the middle of deciding which restaurant to eat at, when my phone rang. My friend AJ had a change of plans at work, and would be able to meet for dinner after all. However, it would take him time to get home from work, showered, then make the 30 minute drive to us, so it would be a late dinner. No big deal, we were flexible, and my vertigo seemed to be calming down a bit, so life was good again.

He let us choose the restaurant, so I chose Bennigan’s. First, I’d never been to one before. I didn’t even think they existed any more, so I was surprised when I saw it listed in the area. Second, $20 for $10 deal at Groupon. Yes, please. Third, I was feeling a bit spiteful. Long story short, my mother had a really bad experience there and sued them, which started the avalanche of bat-shittery in her life. When I saw the address was on Greensboro Drive, that sealed the deal for me. It was like fate was making up for all the bad luck we’d had for the past couple of days. I hopped on Groupon, bought the 2 for 1 deal, and we practically skipped to the car. Which is when we discovered that the car was filled with ants (because we’d left our Subway cups in the cupholders), and the passenger window wouldn’t go down. Great. Just our luck.

Walmart - Tysons Corner - Vienna VA

Walmart – Tysons Corner – Vienna VA

Since it was still raining a bit, we decided to worry about it later, and we drove the half mile around the block to the weirdest Walmart we’ve ever seen.  There’s a bizarre sculpture outside that looks like a take on “The Thinker”. It occupies space in a huge building that also houses several restaurants, a 24Hour Fitness, a parking garage, and what appeared to be a medical center. Walmart customers have to use the parking garage, and take an escalator or elevator down to the 1st floor to enter the Walmart. Fortunately, parking is free as long as you don’t go over 2 hours. We were in and out in about 15 minutes with snacks and ant traps, and by 8:30p, we were on our way the 1½ miles to Bennigan’s.

Shelli & AJ at Bennigan's Tysons Corner

Shelli & AJ at Bennigan’s Tysons Corner





Dinner with AJ was a blast! We talked, and laughed, and took selfies, and ate, and laughed some more. When the check came, he pounced on it. We argued over it, and he relented just enough to let me use my Groupon, then he pounced on it again. I hate that part of a meal with friends. At least this time, I felt like we contributed something, so I let him “win”. We then went outside to continue our laughter while smoking (or vaping, in his case), and were joined by a perfect stranger. We spent another half hour or so having a great time, before we all realized we were exhausted, and it was 10:30p, and we all had to be up early for the Reason Rally the next day. I learned a lot about AJ during our time together, but most of all, I learned that he’s exactly the person I’ve gotten to know all these years online. I’m pretty sure we cemented our friendship for a lifetime, and that makes me happy, ’cause he’s a really special guy! 😀


Shelli & AJ at Bennigan's in Tysons Corner

Shelli & AJ at Bennigan’s in Tysons Corner

Back at the hotel, we placed the ant traps inside the car, and went up to our room, exhausted but happy. I hadn’t thought to bring socks, since I didn’t have shoes that required socks, so after applying the pain patches to my ankles, I put on a pair of Bill’s socks. The patches stayed in place all night, so it was definitely one of Bill’s better ideas! Once again, Bill fell asleep before I did, and I finally crashed around 12:30a, exhausted and excited about the day ahead.

Totals for the day:
Food: $54.78
Transportation: $17.90
Lodging: $59.33
Miscellaneous: $4.62

Fitbit totals:
Steps: 10,507 — Miles: 4.27
Calories In: 3124 — Calories Out: 2639

Saturday 6/4

The alarm went off at 8a. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. Even laying in bed, I could tell that my vertigo was threatening to make a mess of the day. A brief thought entered my mind – “What if I just said to hell with it, and stayed in bed all day?” – but I pushed it out as quickly as it entered. I’d waited 4 years for this, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way. I threw my feet off the bed, and struggled to sit up. Standing up took a huge effort. I slowly got dressed in whatever clothes were laying on the floor, and sluggishly made my way with Bill to the lobby for breakfast. I didn’t even bother to put on shoes. I was still wearing Bill’s socks. We ate breakfast as quickly as possible, and went back to our room.

Since neither of us had showered since we left home, we both decided it was necessary. I went first. I got the water as hot as I could tolerate, and turned on the shower head. The stream of water hit me hard enough to cause me to stumble back, and it was COLD. I quickly reached for the knobs to readjust the temperature, which was difficult, considering I was being hit with enough pressure to professionally clean the outside of a building. There was no way to turn the shower head so that the water was spraying more toward the floor; it was aimed at the opposite end of the shower. In order to wash without the shampoo/soap being immediately rinsed off, you had to turn off the shower head and just let the water come out of the bottom faucet. However, when you did that, the water temperature was damn near boiling the skin off your feet. There was no compromise. You could have a warm shower and scalding hot feet, or comfortable feet and a freezing shower. I think that might be the fastest shower I’ve ever taken in my life. I warned Bill about it when I got out.

Awake, clean, clothed and packed up for the day, we made our way to the Metro station, stopping at the car to grab our camping chair bags. The Reason Rally started at 10a, and we didn’t even get on the Metro until 10:15a. I knew we would miss quite a few speakers before we finally managed to get to the Lincoln Memorial. As long as we got there before noon, I’d be happy. We arrived at the Foggy Bottom-GWU station around 11a. I needed a restroom, and I wasn’t gonna try the one in the Metro station again, so we exited and looked around for a place with a public restroom.

There was a Whole Foods right across the street.  Perfect. We could buy a pack of gum to cover up the yuck-breath for someone who forgot to brush their teeth. We’d never seen or been inside of one of these stores before, so we didn’t know what to expect. I found the restroom right away, but there was a combination lock on the door. I stood there for a second, hoping someone would come out so I could go in, but an employee walked past me and gave me the combination before I had a chance to ask. Figuring the gum would be near the check-out, we stood in line, but never saw it. Of course, we were looking for the usual variety of gum, so we completely missed it, and the cashier had to show us where it was when we got to his line. That was embarrassing. And I now understand the “Whole Paycheck” joke. That one pack of gum cost freakin’ $3! But, it had no artificial sweeteners in it, so it’s something I can chew.

Knowing I’d never be able to walk the mile to the Lincoln Memorial, we decided to call on Lyft again. Our driver, Eric, looked like he was in his 30’s, maybe early 40’s. He was a very pleasant man, who really seemed to enjoy driving. He regaled us with stories of his 8 children and several grandchildren. I made the comment that he didn’t look old enough for that, and Bill said, “that’s 9 children too many for me!” It took Eric a few seconds, but when he finally got it, he laughed the rest of the way to the Lincoln Memorial. That was definitely a highlight of our day.

Bible-thumping protesters at the Reason Rally

Bible-thumping protesters at the Reason Rally

I'm actually an atheist.

I’m actually an atheist.

Arriving on the north side of the Lincoln Memorial, we walked past many groups of bible-thumping protesters. They were amusing; thrusting their signs at us, telling us we were going to hell, screaming at passers-by with megaphones, trying to hand out pamphlets, and engaging in debates with anyone who felt so compelled. We just laughed, and made our way to the reflecting pool to find a good spot to sit. We stopped along the way to read signs and shirts. I was surprised that I didn’t see anyone else wearing the same “I’m actually an atheist” t-shirt I was wearing. Just as we’d settled on a spot, I saw another person wearing the same shirt. I only saw one other the rest of the day. We unpacked our chairs and sat down, just as they were acknowledging atheist groups from around the country. They gave a shout out to Lancaster County atheists, and I was stunned to find the couple we were sitting next to started cheering just as loudly as I was, which led to a conversation about where everyone was from. It was a good feeling to know there are others from the bible belt of PA.

Penn Jillette at the Reason Rally

Penn Jillette at the Reason Rally

While listening to the speakers, I busied myself with taking pictures, and blasting out my GPS location to other atheist friends and acquaintances I knew would be at the rally. Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for, when Penn Jillette came on stage. He spoke a little of his friendship with Christopher Hitchens, and got really choked up. He sang a song he wrote, with one of Ecuador’s Got Talent contestants, Carolina Peña. Then he introduced the next speaker, James Randi, and got choked up again, since Randi was his mentor. I kept checking the Reason Rally app, and the slew of push notifications I kept getting (which was honestly a bit annoying, and drained my battery too quickly). After Maryam Namazie took the stage, we packed up our chairs and headed toward the front of the crowd, looking for a friend of mine who had been sitting near the stage. Unfortunately, she’d gone to lunch, so after checking the app once again, we decided to make our way back toward Foggy Bottom for lunch. We were both overheated and starting to get sunburnt. Some A/C and food would do us some good. I wanted to be back before 2:15p, to see David Silverman and Lawrence Krauss speak, so we had an hour. Completely do-able. Or so I thought.

James Randi at the Reason Rally

James Randi at the Reason Rally

I called for a Lyft again, and we waited at the same spot we’d been dropped off earlier. The Lyft app allows you to see where your driver is in real time, and it shows you a picture of their car and their license plate number, as well as a picture of their face. You can contact them by phone or by text, once you’ve set your pick-up location. I saw that our driver was on the opposite side of the Lincoln Memorial, so I watched to see which direction he’d be coming from, to know on which side of the road to stand. We waited, and waited, and waited, and he never moved. So I called him, and tried to explain where we were standing. His side of the app should have showed him where we were, but he seemed very confused. After speaking with him for about 5 minutes, and his vehicle still not moving, we decided to cancel his Lyft, and call for someone else. We walked a very short distance up the road to an intersection, and our new Lyft driver was there in seconds to pick us up.

I had researched cheap places to eat around the area, knowing that we’d need to spend as little as possible, while also getting a filling meal. Pita Pit is one of our favorite places near home. I saw on the Restaurant.com website that there was a Pita Pit about ¾ of a mile back up toward Foggy Bottom. I checked the Pita Pit website, to confirm the address. When our Lyft driver dropped us off at the correct address, there was a sign on the building with the Pita Pit logo, so we went into the building to find it. There were a couple of restaurants on the main floor, and several little shops on the lower floor, but no Pita Pit. We wasted about 10 minutes, wandering around inside and outside, looking for it, before we finally decided it was a lost cause. We walked another 2 blocks up the street, back to the restaurant we’d seen earlier across from the Metro station. At that point, we were so hot and miserable, we didn’t care about the cost, which was a good thing, because Circa is a bit of an up-scale restaurant. We got seated, and I plugged my phone into the emergency charger in my bag.

Our server, Miguel S., was incredible! He could see how weary and thirsty we were, and he kept our drinks filled the entire time, both water and soda. After our meal, he offered to fill my water bottle with cold water, and he brought us both a to-go cup of soda to take with us when we left. Not only was the meal excellent, but the service was extraordinary! We also met another group of people who were spending the day at the Reason Rally, which was surprising, considering how far away from it we were at that point. My phone was about 50% charged, so I knew I’d have to use it sparingly for the rest of the day. I quickly opened the Lyft app, and called for another ride back to the Lincoln Memorial. By the time we got back, it was 3p, and we’d missed a bunch of speakers.

Lewis Black at the Reason Rally

Lewis Black at the Reason Rally

Once there, I found the friend I’d been looking for earlier, and we said a quick hello, talked for a minute about the rally, then we headed for the shade on the south side of the reflecting pool. I once again blasted out my GPS coordinates to a group of friends, and then just relaxed in the shade while watching the stage. At one point, I was joined by one of the people who saw my GPS location, and we chatted for a while. I could feel my vertigo level creeping up again, and was worried it would cut our day short. We still had a few speakers we were excited to see, so we continued to just relax and enjoy our time there. Bill Nye (The Science Guy!) was there at 4:15p, and we thoroughly enjoyed his speech.

Bill Nye at the Reason Rally

Bill Nye at the Reason Rally

Bill Nye at the Reason Rally

Bill Nye at the Reason Rally




Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC

Washington Monument, seen from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Washington Monument, seen from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool

Vietnam Memorial at Washington DC

Vietnam Memorial at Washington DC

Afterward, we both started feeling like it was time to head out, so we packed up our chairs once again, and started walking toward the Vietnam Memorial. When we got to the top, we noticed a book with names and numbers, corresponding to their location on the wall. We looked up our family surnames, and each of us found a few names that might possibly be family members, so Bill went back down with a list, to take pictures. I stayed in the shade, because I wasn’t feeling up to walking any more. About 30 minutes later, he still wasn’t back, so I texted him to let him know my vertigo was really high, and I was feeling a bit of heat exhaustion. We once again called for a Lyft back up to Circa, so we could rest in the A/C and get some cold drinks in us before heading back to the Metro to the hotel. I was very grateful that not only was the Lyft service available to us for my physical well-being, but also that we had the gift certificates, because all 4 trips that day had cost us a mere $5.60, and $4 of that were tips.

Our Metro ride was uneventful. When we got back to the station, before we exited, we used the ExitFare machine. We each had a balance of $1.50 on our cards, so in order to leave the station, we had to add money to our SmarTrip® cards. It was simple and convenient to feed the machine $2.10 cash for each of us, which left us with a balance on our cards of zero. Since we weren’t going to be using the Metro again, it was the only way we could guarantee we didn’t spend more than intended, or leave any money loaded on the card that we wouldn’t be using. At least not in the immediate future. Since the cards are good forever, we’ll just put them aside until the next time we make the trip to DC.

Once back at the hotel, we laid on the bed and watched tv until we both decided we were starving, and had to get actual food in our systems, or we’d never sleep. But we’d over-spent at lunch, so we needed a very cheap dinner. McDonald’s it was. I let Waze direct us to the one that was open 24 hours, not knowing if other stores would be open after 9p. We passed a McDonald’s about a block away from the hotel, to get to one a mile and a half away. Oy vey! That was amusing, but we were just too tired to care. While we were eating, there was a table with several Japanese men and 2 women, one of whom was wearing the traditional geisha clothing and make-up, although her hair wasn’t done up. It made me curious to know what the story was, but I wasn’t going to be rude and ask, so Bill and I talked quietly about the role of the geisha. It’s certainly not something one sees every day in America. We devoured our meal, and went back to the hotel. We watched some tv, got things ready to pack in the morning, and caught up on Facebook. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t sleep, so I took some Vicodin, which is my “last resort pain medicine”. I finally sacked out at around 1am, long after Bill had fallen asleep. I envy his ability to sleep at the drop of a hat.

Totals for the day:
Food: $64.31
Transportation: $20.00
Lodging: $59.33
Miscellaneous: $2.99

Fitbit totals:
Steps: 14,148 — Miles: 5.72
Calories In: 2435 — Calories Out: 2813

Sunday 6/5

We woke up at 8:30a, and the first thing we did was check the weather report. The entire northeast was under a storm warning, and it was expected to be a bad one. We wanted to be on the road ahead of the storm, and hopefully home before it hit. We made a quick stop to the lobby for breakfast, then back to the room to pack up and leave. It was still sunny and hot outside, but we could feel the push of the impending storm.

The view from our hotel room.

The view from our hotel room.

We had everything packed into the car, and were checked out of the hotel by 11a. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the bill, because they’d added a security deposit without saying anything, but said that money would be returned to us in a couple of days (it was). Driving out of the area, we avoided a toll road, and went directly to I-495, planning to take I-95 the majority of the way home. However, traffic was already getting heavy, and a quick check of Waze showed that, although 10 miles longer, it would be faster for us to take I-83 back to PA. Our drive home was uneventful, and with a quick pit-stop about an hour in, and a stop to get gas in our hometown (wasn’t necessary, but we wanted to be prepared because of the storm), we made it home in just under 3 hours, which was an hour faster than our drive down. To make things even better, we didn’t pay any tolls the whole way home.

We didn’t get lunch, because we were nibbling on the snacks we’d bought Friday night, to save time and money. When we arrived home, the snacks were covered in ants. Fortunately, we had more ant traps. The storm was getting close, and we had to make a quick trip to Walmart for some essentials, then we came home and ordered food from the local pizza place, since neither of us were in the mood to cook dinner. The impending storm finally hit us. It was intense for about 10 minutes, then it was gone. We were both sound asleep before 9p. I slept for over 12 hours!

Totals for the day:
Food: $27.33
Transportation: $37.45 (gas bought on 5/31)

Fitbit totals:
Steps: 4634 — Miles: 1.87
Calories In: 2165 — Calories Out: 2242


In the 3 weeks since we’ve been home, I’ve been experiencing an extreme amount of vertigo. It’s to the point where I can’t walk or sit in a chair without the fear of falling. My concentration is almost completely gone. I look drunk and I feel stupid.  This is the worst it’s been since 1992, when the vertigo first made an appearance in my life. It took me several months to get to a point where I could function back then, and that was with the help of a medication called Antivert. Unfortunately, that medication stopped working after about 2 months, and I had to learn how to function with it at a level 8 or above for many more months. Most of my life since then has been spent at a level 5, on average, with flare-ups knocking me on my ass for a couple of days at a time, before going back to a 5. I’ve learned how to deal with a 5, and almost appear normal to most people. A 6 will make me more cautious than normal, and a 7 will keep me sitting for most of the time. At 8, it becomes dangerous for me to do much of anything, and a 9 will keep me in bed or laying on the couch. At a 10, I’m hanging onto the bed for dear life, wishing for death when I’m not vomiting.

We’ve been trying to figure out the cause of this, and suspect it’s because of the multiple trips in the elevator every day. That’s the only thing that’s different from every other vacation we’ve taken, and it’s the same thing that happened to me in 1992, when the vertigo first started. I suspect I’ll be seeing my Ear, Nose & Throat doctor before this episode is over. In the meantime, I’m hoping my doctor can prescribe something to ease the severity. Hopefully I remember, the next time we go on vacation, to get a hotel room on the first floor, so I don’t have to deal with an elevator or cause myself a great deal of pain walking up and down stairs.

Overall, our vacation was good. It wasn’t great, however. We spent more than we intended to spend, and it messed me up physically. We didn’t accomplish anything at NARA, and missed way too many speakers at the Reason Rally. Unfortunately, no amount of planning could have prevented any of the misfortunes of this vacation. It’s just the way Murphy’s Law rules our life. 😀

Grand total:
Food: $196.35 (planned for $160)
Transportation: $100.54 (planned for $97)
Lodging: $183.37 (planned for $175)
Miscellaneous: $9.11 (planned for $0)

Over-spent by $57.37

Grand Fitbit totals:
Steps: 46,228 — Miles: 18.73
Calories In: 9754 — Calories Out: 10,760



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