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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
Steps: 16,939 — Miles: 6.87
Calories In: 2030 — Calories Out: 3066
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 😀
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:
Steps: 10,507 — Miles: 4.27
Calories In: 3124 — Calories Out: 2639
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Steps: 14,148 — Miles: 5.72
Calories In: 2435 — Calories Out: 2813
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.
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:
Transportation: $37.45 (gas bought on 5/31)
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. 😀
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
I never shop at Victoria’s Secret. It’s one of those places I just walk right past and don’t even give it a second thought. But I’ve had such bad luck buying bras over the years, and with my weight loss, I truly had no idea what size I was, so I knew I’d need help getting the right fit.
I asked my neighbor, and she said Victoria’s Secret was the best for getting fitted properly. I guess they have to, since it’s their primary business. I didn’t even think they’d have anything that would fit me, because the last time I ever went in – about 20 years ago – they didn’t have anything remotely close to my size. That was before my breast reduction, and even though I was smaller everywhere else, they didn’t have a large enough cup size. So I was pleasantly surprised that one of the saleswomen was my plus size and body type. Definitely made me feel more comfortable!
They do an excellent job of making sure you have the exact right bra. They measure you, have you try on what they call their “fitting bra”, which is what she said was their best bra. It felt like shit on me, though, because it’s underwire and has a thin side strap, which caused my side fat to blubber all over. But she wanted to get the right band and cup size for me. As it turned out, the band was the right size, but the cup was way too big for me. It was actually quite amusing to look down and see what amounts to two apples flopping around in two bowls.
They have a service button on the inside of each fitting room, and a “personal shopper” that helps you every step of the way. She picked out about 6 bras according to my specifications, and after each one, she came back in to figure out where it was right and where it was wrong. Took about 30 minutes total, from the time I walked in to the time I paid and left. I walked out with the new bra on my body, and my old bra stuffed in a small bag.
They give you a card that shows your proper size, the type of bra you bought, the saleswoman’s name and the helper’s name. Of course, there’s a recommended date for you to come back in for a new bra/fitting. Usually I would laugh at that, ’cause I’m not into shopping for a bra every 6 months … more like 6 years. But with my weight loss, I might have to go back in 6 months! Well, maybe a year. We’ll see. I spent $58 on the fucker, so it had better last me at least a year! 😀
I will say that it’s worth the money. It’s not the prettiest or sexiest bra, but it does its job and feels good. And the lengths they go to in helping you get the right one is worth any extra I spent there as opposed to a 3 hour nightmare at Walmart trying on every bra in the store.
I swear, I’ve never talked so much about a bra in my life. I’ve also never looked down at myself and thought, “damn, I’m just boobin’ all over the place here!” 😀 They’re where they’re supposed to be in a bra, and I don’t think I have ever had that experience before.
So yeah, Victoria’s Secret has my repeat business, that’s for damn sure.
30.9 to be exact. I’ve been at this weight loss thing for 200 days. At least I’m consistent! My first 100 days netted me a 15 lb loss. But the last 8 weeks have been a struggle of epic proportions.
Prior to today’s weigh-in, March 16th was my last good one. I had lost 2 lbs from the week before. I’ve been averaging about one pound a week, so I was ecstatic to see a two pound loss. Then on March 23rd, I lost zero. I was exactly the same weight. I was disappointed, but I figured that two pounds in two weeks was still a good accomplishment, so I didn’t worry too much about it.
But then, week after week, I was seeing less and less of a loss, I started to panic. My losses were .8 lb, then .6 lb, then another zero. I looked at my diet to see if I’d done anything wrong, I analyzed my exercise. I could find nothing out of the ordinary. I reached out to my social network, scared and frustrated that my body had hit the dreaded plateau. I ramped up my exercise in the hopes of breaking through that plateau. I dug out the Wii console, balance board and Wii Fit disc. I played some of the games and did the yoga exercises, in the hopes that it would resuscitate my body. I even chopped off half my hair, which was probably worth about 1 lb (yeah, I know, that’s cheating!). The next week, I lost 1.2 lbs, and I was hopeful that it was over, I’d broken through.
My excitement was short-lived. The following week I lost only .4 lb, and the next week’s loss was .6 lb. I tried not to let it discourage me, but self-doubt seeped in every time I thought about it, which was pretty much every time I ate something or exercised. To make matters worse, an article was posted about the contestants from the Biggest Loser who were studied, and not only gained back most of the weight they lost, but were now dealing with a metabolism much slower than they had before they started their weight loss journey. It was not encouraging news, to say the least. This slowed down metabolism wasn’t something that just the contestants had to deal with, but that every person who loses weight has to deal with. My spirits sank, and I felt hopeless for the first time since starting my journey. I felt the best I could do was just maintain my weight.
My 200th day came on Sunday, May 8th. Mother’s Day. The day that, 20 years ago, I became pregnant with my Son. My official weigh-in day wouldn’t be for another 3 days, but I couldn’t resist the urge to step on the scale and just take a quick look. I was stunned when I saw it was two pounds less than the previous weigh-in. Hope started creeping back in again. I had a bit of a spring in my step. Good things happen to me on Mother’s Day.
When I woke up today, my official weigh-in day, I couldn’t wait to step on the scale! I pulled it out, and stood there looking at it for a moment, when a jolt hit my heart like electricity, and I felt slightly sick to my stomach. “What are you waiting for?”, my logical side asked. My emotional side couldn’t answer, as it was too busy trying to keep me from throwing up. I let the two of them duke it out for about 30 seconds, while I hovered one foot over the scale. I couldn’t take the suspense any more. I stepped on it. The digital display flickered to life, waiting for me to be perfectly still while it calculated my weight. It flashed the numbers, and I couldn’t believe what it showed. I stepped off, reset it, then stepped back on again. Same numbers. I walked out of the bathroom, then back in again and stepped on the scale a third time, fully expecting to see something different. It flashed the same numbers at me again. 2.8 lbs lost!
In addition to my 30 lb loss, I’ve lost 4.8 inches off my waist, 3.5 inches off my hips, and 2.2 inches off my neck. My BMI has gone from 47.7 to 42.4, my body fat percentage has gone from 61% to 53%, and my A1C has gone from 7.0 to 6.6 (last tested in February). I’m pretty sure by this point in my journey, I’m very close to no longer being considered diabetic.
I hope this plateau is behind me for good, and that the next one is a long time away. I’m damn proud of myself for a change. This is a huge war, but I won this battle.
Today marks day 100 of my weight loss journey. I was pleasantly surprised by hitting one of my goals today: 15 lbs gone, hopefully forever.
I started my journey on my 45th birthday. I had an ultimate weight goal in mind, which would take me back to my weight around the time of my first marriage. That meant I had at least 100 lbs to lose. This was not going to be easy.
In 1992, I was a fairly healthy young woman. That’s when my body turned against me. I developed a medical condition called Meniere’s Disease, which causes vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss. It took 14 years to finally get a definitive diagnosis. During those 14 years, I struggled with mobility, because it’s difficult to be active when your world is spinning more often than not. That lack of activity also brought about weight gain. By 1995, I’d gained about 20 lbs. Not a huge amount, but because of my body’s small frame, it made me look chubby.
In 1996, I became pregnant. Naturally, I gained weight. I ballooned another 30 lbs. I wasn’t terribly worried about it, because I knew that once I had the baby, I’d lose weight. Or so I thought. I struggled for over a year, just to lose 5 lbs. I was mortified. I’d been experiencing severe migraines at the rate of about 1 per week. In addition to the vertigo, I was laid up for 1-2 days at a time because of the migraines. The only thing I could do to control my weight was diet, because exercise was something I was rarely capable of doing.
Fast forward to 2004. I’d learned how to somewhat manage the vertigo, and was learning how to do life with migraines that were getting worse by the year. I got a part-time job at Walmart, as a cashier. I was on my feet 2-3 nights a week, walking around a lot. 3rd shift cashiers don’t just stand at the register all night. We were responsible for so much more, which meant walking for several hours, and countless miles. I never did buy a pedometer back then, but I estimate I walked at least 5 miles every night I worked. I ended up losing about 30 lbs in six months. I was ecstatic. I could do this! I could get myself healthy again. Maybe it would even help with the migraines.
Then I injured myself. I slammed a shopping cart into the back of my heel. I thought I’d just bruised it, and it would heal in a few days, and I’d be back to normal (or what passed as normal for my body) in a week. But that didn’t happen. The pain became worse every day. Each step I took was excruciating. I was missing more days than I was working. I went to the ER, where x-rays were taken of my foot. That’s when the bone spurs were discovered. The shopping cart had broken off a piece of a large bone spur, and the broken piece was “floating” around inside. The spur was under my Achilles tendon, and every time I stretched it with normal movement, the floating piece was cutting through the tendon, and rubbing against the bone. The pain was unimaginable. I was sent to a podiatrist, who said there was a surgery that could be done, but he wasn’t willing to do it at that time. I went on a Leave of Absence from work. I never returned.
By 2008, having been unemployable for at least 2 years, I had gained back all of the weight I lost, plus more. I went to another podiatrist when I started experiencing the same type of pain in my other foot. X-rays revealed another bone spur, nearly identical to the other one (minus the broken piece). He agreed that surgery was absolutely necessary. I had surgery on one foot. I was immobile for 2 months, then had to re-learn how to walk on that foot again. It took 4 years and another 25 lbs to get to the point where I could go through the same surgery on my other foot. I was ashamed by how much weight I’d gained. The 2nd surgery had to be done in the hospital instead of the outpatient unit, because I’d gained so much weight, it wasn’t safe for me to be put under anesthesia outside of the hospital.
A year after the 2nd surgery, I had to have another minor surgery on the same foot, to repair a problem. It’s been 3 years since that surgery, 8 years since the first surgery, and I’m still struggling to walk like a normal human being. There’s a good chance I will never walk normally again. I have accepted that. I have accepted that the Meniere’s Disease is permanent, and that the migraines probably are, too.
What I have never accepted was the amount of weight I’d gained over the years. All told, I gained 106 lbs between 1992 and 2015. I am determined to lose it, no matter what it takes! I can’t walk every day. I can’t ride a normal bike outside. I tried joining the YMCA in 2014 to swim, but it didn’t work out, for various reasons. I knew that diet alone wasn’t going to get the weight off. We don’t have the money for a gym membership or diet plan like Weight Watchers. I started researching ways to lose weight, with so many things stacked against me.
I found an app for my phone. MyFitnessPal. I downloaded it, learned how to use it, and committed to doing what I could. I logged everything I ate. I downloaded a second app for my phone to record my exercise. MapMyWalk. I bought a new digital scale to replace the ancient, malfunctioning analog scale we had (and discovered I was 5 lbs fatter than I thought I was!). I bought a digital food scale, and I now weigh everything I possibly can, so my calorie intake can be as accurate as possible. We found an exercise bike through a local FreeCycle group. And lastly, I bought a used FitBit Flex from a local yard sale group.
I ride my exercise bike for at least 30 minutes a day. I distract myself by playing a game on my phone, or by watching tv (usually Biggest Loser). By the time I’m done on the bike, I’m in an excruciating amount of pain. Both of my feet hurt, my back hurts, my knees and hips hurt, my butt hurts, my crotch feels like it’s on fire. But I haven’t gone one day in the past 100 days without riding that bike. And it’s paying off. I’m losing, on average, about a pound a week.
The best part is that I’m doing this on my own. I don’t have a trainer*. I don’t have a dietitian. I don’t have a gym. I don’t have much physical ability. I have many physical disabilities. But I’m doing it. BY MYSELF. And it’s hard. I won’t lie, this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s also slow. I know it will be close to 2 years before I reach my goal weight. I still have a lot to learn. I know I will have to change many things in my diet. But I’m determined to be healthy and beautiful again.
* If Jillian Michaels wants to come train me, I’m more than willing to have my ass kicked by her! 😉
Today marks our 10th anniversary. According to sources, it’s the “Tin Anniversary”. Since we don’t really buy each other gifts, and I want nothing to do with the modern gift of diamond jewelry, I’m thinking I’ll just throw tin foil balls at him all day. Added bonus: it’ll give the cats something to play with.
In all seriousness, though, we’re both quite shocked that it’s been 10 years already. It barely feels like 5. Where did the time go?
We met on my birthday in 2004. Officially met. I’d seen him around work prior to that night, but really paid no attention to him at all. He was just another face in the crowd at work.
It was a horrible day for me. One of my favorite Aunts had just died that afternoon. I was in no mood to acknowledge my birthday, or spend any time at all with a smile on my face. The custom at work was for a manager to announce birthdays over the intercom. It was just about midnight, and I thought I’d dodged a bullet, because nobody seemed to remember. Then, as bad luck would have it, my immediate manager happened to check the calendar and realized she’d nearly missed announcing my “special” day. Right before break, no less, so it was fresh in everyone’s mind when I walked in the break-room with tears in my eyes. Bill was one of the first people to cheerfully wish me a happy birthday. I put on a fake smile, but couldn’t hide my tears.
Later that night, at lunch, the usual group of people sat in the break-room. Back then, smoking was allowed in there, so most of us ate our lunches and puffed away on a couple of cigarettes for 30 minutes. Some spent lunch in silence, some read a book, some slept (how, I’ll never know), but most of us sat around and chatted. I typically sat with the guys. I’ve always been more comfortable being “just one of the guys”, as opposed to chewing the fat and gossiping with the women.
Bill and 3 other guys were my lunch companions that night. They were all trying to cheer me up, but mostly they failed. One of them asked me how old I was, so I told them they had to guess. I don’t remember their guesses, only that they all came fairly close to my actual age. Then they all asked how old I thought they were. That’s when things became funny. I’m pretty sure I got most of them correct (or very close), but when it came time to guess Bill’s age, I was way, way off. Embarrassingly so. I looked him up and down, mulled it over in my head a bit, and guessed that he was at least 40, maybe 45. He was only 32. He took it pretty well, considering I’d insulted him so badly. What’s worse is that he was 2 years younger than me!
It’s here that I should explain that he was already well on his way to a halfway bald head, which prematurely aged him. I felt terrible, and I kept apologizing. He was so sweet about it, though, and kept feigning emotional injury. Naturally, the conversation turned to hair. I remember them talking about age and gray hair. I’d been graying since I was about 18, which naturally, I dyed to make sure I didn’t look like I was 50. Bill snarkily asked if the carpet matched the curtains. Nobody thought I’d understand what that meant. Of course I did (remember, me being more comfortable hanging around guys than women?)! I snapped back, “what carpet? I have hardwood floors!” The other guys were shocked, but Bill just laughed.
Needless to say, the conversation came to a screeching halt at that moment. The other guys were visibly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had turned. Not because they were embarrassed to be guys acting like guys, but because here was this woman who could keep up with them, and they didn’t know how to handle it. Not Bill. He looked totally at ease, not just with the joking around, but with me, personally. I ribbed him a bit more, pointing to the gold band he was wearing on his left ring finger, and asked if his wife would be happy with the way the conversation was going. When he told me he wasn’t married, I was confused and a bit speechless. (those of you who know me know how rare that is)
From that day on, Bill and I shared our life stories with each other. Neither of us can really explain why, but we felt like we’d known each other forever. We’d talk during our breaks at work, and even on the phone outside of work. A little over 2 months later, I moved in with him. 9 months after that, we were married.
And 10 years later, we’re still very happily married and very much in love. And neither of us can explain how everything happened as fast as it did. We’ve weathered many storms together. We’ve carried each other through some of the worst moments in our lives. We’ve celebrated the good times, and mourned the losses. We’ve taught each other, and learned from each other. We’ve grown together. We discovered we’re individually much stronger than we gave ourselves credit for, but we both know that without the other, our strength wouldn’t be as great as it is when we’re together. We fiercely protect each other. And we’re each other’s soft place to land.
I can’t imagine a better husband. He’s truly my best friend. I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years have in store for us! I love you, Bill, with every fiber of my being. Happy Anniversary, my love.
Today, we buried my step-mother.
And I’m angry.
Not angry because she died. Not angry because of the illness that precipitated her death. Not angry at any number of things that I will probably be angry about at some time in the future, distant or otherwise, while going through the stages of grief.
I’m angry primarily because of the funeral service. Or as the Quakers call it, a “memorial meeting”. They don’t have a church, they have a meeting house. They don’t have services, they have meetings.
Prior to today, I would have said that Quakers were the most sane of all the christian religions. I had attended Sunday school there as a teenager (aged 13 until 17, when I figured out how to get out of going without pissing off my father). I had even once or twice attended a meeting with the adults. I thought they were the most boring things ever. But I thought that was because I’d been brought up in pentecostal, methodist, baptist and other denominations (my mother flitted around from church to church), and had a biased view.
Today, my opinion was changed, and not for the better. I’m now wondering who the sadistic fuck was who came up with this idea of how to remember a loved one. If I had a time machine, I’d travel back in time to punch him or her squarely in the gut. What I experienced today was easily the most brutally painful memorial service of my life.
They even print out a pamphlet to warn people about what they’re about to experience, and leave many them sitting a couple feet apart on the benches, along with a travel-sized package of tissues. Ok, the tissues were a nice touch, I’ll give them that. The pamphlet reads:
“The Religious Society of Friends holds as the basis of its faith the belief that every human being is endowed with a measure of the Divine Spirit which may be directly experienced. Our manner of worship embodies this belief. We gather in quiet assemblies, mindful of the words: “Be still, and know that I am God.” We come together in reverent silence with the desire to draw nearer to God and to understand God’s will.
For Friends a memorial meeting is similar in many ways to a meeting for worship. It is not only a time for sharing feelings of loss, but a time for celebrating the life of the departed person. We reflect on the value of that life as it relates to the lives of all of us.
All present share in the is process. We sit quietly; at times an individual may be moved to speak, to offer a prayer or a message that has come out of the silence. All are welcome to do this.
The responsibility for the spiritual depth of the meeting rests with each attender. Those who keep silent as well as those who give a vocal message do their part when they yield their minds and hearts to the guidance of the Spirit.
Friends hope that in the meeting for worship a consciousness of the Divine Presence will be felt by every attender, and will be a source of direction, strength and comfort after leaving the meeting.”
Let me be perfectly clear. For those who have chosen this religion, and who choose to attend weekly meetings, this might be of some comfort for them. But for the rest of us, it’s downright painful.
The magnitude of how painful is not fully comprehended by just reading the warning pamphlet. It sounds nice, even quaint, to the reader. The reality is very different. I’ll now attempt to convey the awfulness of it.
When the meeting starts, there are a dozen or more elders seated on benches facing the rest of the room. Not one of them appeared to be under the age of 60. Men and women with nametags. It felt very imposing. Sort of like a jury, and we were all defendants being judged. I don’t even know what their purpose was, or why they were sitting in this position of authority over the rest of us.
One of the women rose to speak to the room, which, by the way, was packed with about 100 friends and family. She explained how things would proceed, and laid out what can only be described as rules to be followed. We were to sit in silence unless someone felt compelled to speak. After a person spoke, we had to allow a few minutes of silence in order to let everyone “reflect” on their words. No exact number of minutes were given, and I naively assumed that it was meant that up to a minute – 2 minutes, tops – would pass between speakers.
Oh how wrong I was! In the 75 minutes that this meeting lasted, only 7 people stood up to speak. Between each speaker was at least 5 minutes of dead silence. The kind of silence that makes your ears ring, because it’s so loud. The kind of silence that makes you aware of the beating of your own heart, and occasionally the beating of the heart of the person sitting next to you. The kind of silence where every breath is heard, every shuffle of body on seat and foot on floor. And not a comfortable silence, either! It was an incredibly painful silence. The kind of pain where you realize that many other people might have gotten up to speak, had they not felt so intimidated by the silence.
It was brutal. In my head, I shifted between willing someone, anyone!, to get up and speak, and just wanting it to be over. I knew my father intended to stand up and speak, because he had printed out what he wanted to say and was holding it for the majority of the time. I don’t know what he was thinking during all that silence, but I imagine it didn’t feel very good for him to sit for such long periods in abject silence, wondering if the reason nobody stood to speak was because they didn’t have anything to say. I wish I could have whispered some words of comfort to him, but a whisper would have sounded like a megaphone, and I wasn’t sure if the elders would reprimand me for disturbing the silence.
I figured (correctly) that he was waiting to be the last person to say something. I assumed that when he was done, he would end the meeting by telling everyone to go into the next room for refreshments and socialization. I was wrong. He sat back down, and left it to the elders to dictate what came next, whenever they felt enough silence had passed.
When one elder finally did stand and address the room, I was starting to feel almost panicky, as if she was going to tell us that we had to sit until a specified time before we would be allowed to leave, or if we’d be allowed to leave. This feeling wasn’t unwarranted. Before the meeting even started, my Husband received an emergency phone call (my girls were involved in a car accident) and had to leave. He returned just before my father stood to speak. When he moved to walk in and resume his seat next to me, one of the elders, stationed at the back of the room, grabbed his arm and told him he couldn’t enter. I watched this unfold in utter astonishment.
What the hell kind of person keeps someone from going to their loved ones at a time like this?! I have been to far too many funerals in my life, and never have I seen someone be physically restrained and told they couldn’t enter. NEVER!
As soon as we were given permission to leave (after another “moment” of silence), I bolted out of the room. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I didn’t even take the time to turn and hug my father, I was so freaked out and angry. I wasn’t alone, either. Many people rushed out of there, either to the adjoining room where refreshments were being served, or outside.
I spoke to one of my step-sisters a little while later, and partially confided in her how excruciatingly painful the whole thing was. I jokingly told her that, when my father died, if this was the kind of “service” he wanted, that I’d kill him all over again! I never, ever want to experience anything like that again in my lifetime!
At some point, I will have to discuss this with my father. I’m not sure exactly how to bring up the subject, or when, so if any of my readers have any advice, I’d be happy to hear it! Has anyone ever experienced anything like this before? Is this typical of all Quaker memorial meetings, or was this an anomaly? Is it something I should bring to the attention of the elders?
All I know right now is that I feel my step-mother was robbed of a beautiful memorial service. I’m angry. And that’s not how a person should feel after a memorial service.
When I was growing up, I thought my grandmother was the meanest woman on Earth. I don’t recall any good memories of her at all until I was around 19 or 20 years old. I have one funny memory of a time, while at my Aunt’s house, my cousins and I played a practical joke on my grandmother. The joke went smashingly well! The aftermath … not so well; we got into so much trouble for that one! But at least it was memorable.
I have fond memories of my grandfather, even though he died when I was 6 years old. I remember times spent at their little corner store, and a flash of a memory or two about times spent playing with my cousins in my grandparents’ backyard.
My grandmother moved to Arizona around 1980 when I was about 10 years old. I don’t even remember the occasion of her actually moving! I just remember that she lived in Tucson, and I had the worst time remembering how to spell that word.
Some time in the early 90’s, my grandmother came for a visit. She brought her “friend” with her – a man named Joe. I was living in my own place, and dating the man who would be my first husband. I remember my grandmother taking a bit of an interest in me and my life, and asking me to show her and Joe around town a bit. They both sat in the back of my car like teenagers while I drove them around. It was kinda cute.
The next memory I have of her is when she was quite ill, and came to live with my father for a period of time in the mid 90’s. I remember visiting a couple of times, and how miserably grumpy she was, and not wanting to visit with her much because of her bad mood.
She ended up moving back to Arizona, where she eventually died in 1998. By that time, I was 27, divorced from my first husband, in a committed relationship, and my Son was just over a year old. I don’t even remember if she met my Son, or even knew I had a child.
As you can see, I wasn’t very close to my grandmother at all. Most of what I know about her came from stories I heard after she died. I’ve learned a good bit more about her since I’ve started doing genealogy research, which ironically started because I found out her side of the family came from Native American ancestry. I wish I’d known that growing up, and had taken the time to talk to her about what she remembered.
I’ve discovered that she and I have very similar qualities to our personalities. We both have a love of learning. We are excellent typists. And looking back, I’m thinking she wasn’t mean as much as she was someone who embraced her inner bitch, just like I do. In fact, I think she’d be pretty damn proud of me if she knew the person I’ve become.
The best evidence I have for this conclusion are the letters I uncovered while going through old photo albums. It looks like my grandmother was also an activist, in her own right! And that makes me grin from ear to ear!
The Case of the Missing Bandshell and Broken Lights
a.k.a. – The Verbal Bitchslap My Grandmother Gave the Mayor of Wilmington DE
Rockford Park is in Wilmington Delaware. It is one of the sites for the Summer Concert Series – free concerts in the park during the summer. This was something my grandparents enjoyed doing together in the late 1960’s.
There were some problems that occurred that must’ve made my grandmother downright furious, judging by the letters she wrote to the Mayor of Wilmington and the newspaper.
She received a note back from Mr. George Sargisson, on a membership letter, which is undated. The note at the bottom reads:
Many thanks to the [surname redacted] – thanks, too, for your letter to mayor, Frank, etc. It’s to the point & should get some positive results. Hope future concerts go OK & without a hitch.
George Sargisson –
Things didn’t go any smoother the following week, prompting my grandmother to show her skills at persuasive writing yet again. I may have to try this tactic some time in the future!
Finally, she received a reply from the mayor’s office. I must give proper kudos to the mayor’s Administrative Assistant, Allan C. Rusten, for a brilliant and funny reply!
Things seem to have been very different 40+ years ago … these days the typical kind of reply you’ll get from someone in office is a canned response that usually doesn’t even address your reasons for writing to them in the first place.
I’m also very impressed that the mayor remained calm and objective in his reply to my grandmother, even though he launched a bitchslap right back at her for her insinuation. (an insinuation that really pissed me off when I read it, thinking that not much has changed in 40 years when it comes to the vitriol aimed at those less fortunate)
And lastly, another written note from the Executive Director of RP&S, Wilmington DE. The note reads:
Thanks Mrs. [surname redacted], for showing Hal’s letter. You certainly got ’em “moving” (slowly) – saw Hal yesterday at Rotary & told him that there were still 3 lights out! Hope remainder of concerts go well. Thanks again.
Incidentally, there was a write up about George T. Sargisson in 2007, about what he accomplished in Wilmington. There’s also a little bit at the end about the permanent bandshell that my grandmother was talking about. He appears to have been quite an extraordinary guy. I’m sure my grandparents were lucky to know him.