TRAPPED TOURIST: What I really love about Washington, D.C., is that the hot controversies you read about in the morning paper are happening in the same buildings you're staring at from the $15 ride on the tourmobile.
For example: I tried desperately to get into the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum the day after the enormously controversial Enola Gay exhibit opened there. I was curious--had there really been an historic cleansing of the long-awaited atomic bomb exhibit so that it would be more palatable to Americans? Did it really skirt the issue of the 200,000 people who eventually died?
By the time we figured our way out of the Virginia suburbs, the museum was packed. I begged for early tickets, placing a sweaty, sweet-faced child on the counter.
"He can't sit there. You can buy tickets now for the 4 p.m. show," a harassed information desk employee tells me at 10 a.m. Great. I can let the kids climb the walls of the Washington Memorial for six hours. I figure it's them or me.
"We don't want to go to museums," I hear behind me. "Can we go home now?" We've already been out-lined at the Department of Treasury, which is the only place my numismatic 9-year old really wants to see.
We look at some rockets, get a thumbs down on visiting the Women in Aerospace exhibit, give up on the tickets and head outside to the really interesting controversy: the T-shirt vendors on the mall. "Now I know where they got the word mall," says the buying brother. It's tourist mania and 150 vendors are hawking tees and trinkets. And they've all got vendor licenses.
Or rather did. Being a T-shirt maven, I was obviously predestined to be in D.C. on the very last day that this many vendors would be allowed to flout their wares on the mall, having previously been booted from the Viet Nam Memorial site. After much fighting and a variety of lawsuits, only the Hare Krishnas and some other non-profits came out on top with their lawsuits against the National Park Service, the mall overseers. "Why?" I ask a vendor who is urging my 5-year old to buy both the giant orange pencil and the key chain. "Because the Hare Krishnas had more money and could afford a better lawyer."
I thought I saw a few lawyers around this place.
"Hey, all shirts are half price, which one ya want?" I got the purple one with the Washington Monument in the middle and pictures of Bill and Hillary on the left shoulder.
Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post shot up the Enola Gay exhibit by quoting Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman's take on it: "It says, 'This is the Enola Gay. It dropped the bomb that ended the war.' It doesn't take a position on the morality of it."
Put that on a T-shirt, warriors. You paid for it.
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