Monday, December 14, 2009

The Willard Hotel, Frito's, Nixon's Inauguration, Lobbyists and more...

Two close blocks from The White House is the Willard InterContinental Hotel, and a grand hotel it is! Some Suites go for $3,000 per night! Some say the word lobbyists came from the Willard Hotel and the days of hard-drinking President Gen. Ulysses S. Grant nightly wandering over to the Willard bar for a whiskey. There were gladhanding throngs lurking in the lobby only too happy to buy the President a whiskey and succor federal favor.  Martin Luther King wrote his "I Have A Dream" speech he delivered on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 there.

Some of my own personal history include my mother's habit of taking her sons to lunch around Christmas-time and eating surf and turf at the Occidental Restaurant inside the Willard.  But my favorite story comes from a cold January 20, 1968 when Richard Milhous Nixon was to be inaugurated President. I was an 11 year old new Boy Scout, and our Troop 881, was to a be a back up Honor Guard. That meant we froze in our little uniforms and were allowed to warm ourselves and wait interminably inside the now dilapitaded run down Willard Hotel, paint peeling and graffiti abounding.

Marriott had given up one box lunch each, Pepsi all the Pepsi we could drink and Frito's all the Frito's we nervous, cold Boy Scouts could shovel into our fat faces.  It was only a few years ago that the smell of Frito's didn't bring on a nausea.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Colder and Merry (Greek) Christmas!

Four hours passed this cold gray day before a penny was made. Oh sure, I like pedalling around the Mall and getting some exercise, but this is a job and that means I need to get paid for it.
But there was a lighting of a Christmas tree on the grounds of the Capitol at 5pm . Several pairs of ladies paid for my words and legs. A Greek pair told me the way to say Merry Christmas in Greek - phonetically - Kala Christougena.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"The whole world is waiting for your Congress to pass a climate bill."

"The whole world is waiting for your Congress to pass a climate bill." said a young woman from Italy I picked up in front of Smithsonian Air and Space Museum tonight. She works on climate change for the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, Environment Research and Development Department in Rome.

Vanessa has a Ph.D. in Microbiology; she worked on biological remediation methods for hydrocarbons (oil) pollution. She also has a Masters degree in International Law.

I feel like I disappointed her when I gave my jaded ex-lobbyist perception that the current priorities for the Obama Administration were The Economy (stupid !, as President Clinton campaigned),  Afghanistan, health care, then maybe, climate change.  I thought about Steven Covey's quadrants for prioritizing:  urgent/not urgent vs important/not important. Global warming may be important (IT IS!) but not collectively perceived as urgent yet. It will take the Great(er) Communicator President Barack Obama many speeches and press conferences to convince the American people and thus their Congress that time is now, even overdue, for substantive action on climate change legislation.

She mentioned Obama's excellent campaign speeches promising action onclimate change legislation.  I thought of that joke about heaven and hell where hell was golf courses, lobster and steak dinners, strolling violins etc. and heaven was quiet and harps. Something like one was advertising and one was something else. (OK, I can't remember the joke exactly so will edit the blog later..)

We took a 45 minute tour to the Lincoln Memorial, passing where the President was about to light the National Christmas tree! It looks great! Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2 doctors, a lawyer and a Texan

Several more interesting folks I drove today,  Tuesday, usually slow. At the Capitol I picked up a young couple who's family came from Kerala in southern India. a family physician and a radiologist couple. It was right next to the James A. Garfield statue so I had a good story to tell I heard from Stephen Pinker podcast on the mind.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wound had the doctors attending him been more capable.[27] Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield's liver in doing so. This alone would not have caused death as the liver is one of the few organs in the human body that can regenerate itself. However, this physician probably introduced Streptococcus bacteria into the President's body and that caused blood poisoning for which at that time there were no antibiotics.

Guiteau was found guilty of assassinating Garfield, despite his lawyers raising an insanity defense. He insisted that incompetent medical care had really killed the President. Although historians generally agree that poor medical care was an element, it was not a legal defense. Guiteau was sentenced to death, and was executed by hanging on June 30, 1882, in Washington, D.C.

Next, a Texan wanted to go to the Rayburn House Office Building to tell his Congressman why he opposed the health care bill. He paid me to wait 45 minutes, then take him to WWII and VietNam Memorials. He was a paratrooper "jumping out of perfectly good airplanes" in VietNam with the 101st and 82nd Airborne. He is a small businessman and we talked about as a small businessman, success or failure is all the owners fault, the American Way!
Finally, on the way back to the shop, I picked up a a well dressed man and his wife.  Today this man from Minnesota argued before the Supreme Court, suing the government for laws he said were written by Citibank and Visa that allows lawyers to give bad advice on financial matters.  We both loved Mondale.

Monday, November 30, 2009

"Happy wife, happy life." the secret to 30 years together.

It was dark and the temperature was dropping. Picked up a joyful couple from Bay City, Michigan on the last day of their 30th anniversary trip. So the 1/2 hour tour started from the Washington Monument. "Foundation laid in 1848 but the civil war interrupted things. See the two colors of stone 1/3 of the way up? They ran out of money and it laid unbuilt for a couple decades until a Federal Commission was appointed and it was finally finished in 1884, at 555 feet it was the tallest building in the modern world until the Eiffel Tower surpassed it in 1889."

Then off to my favorite, the Jefferson Memorial, where I learned the couple was on an anniversary ride.

I pointed to the Tidal Basin and told them about my first anniversary 4 months earlier.  I used to tell my wife several times as we passed the blue paddle boats, that while I have been here for most of 30 years (permanent tourist, eh?) I had never taken a rideon these little boats. So Trish started our amazing anniversary soiree with a ride on the paddleboats and a picnic.

Then, from the Jefferson, we went to the Capitol and time was well passed the 1/2 hour so I stopped the clock and drove them partly back as I was late to return my pedicab.

I asked this happy couple, she a nurse installing cardiac stents and catheterizations, he a school janitor, the secret to their 30 years?

She ginned and said"Happy Wife, Happy Life!

I had to call my wife on that one....

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Old cell phones traded at Natural History Museum for 3D Movie

Traded three old cell phones for three IMAX tickets at Smithsonian Museum of Natural History 3D Wild Oceans movie! Nokia doing this special for one more week! Save your coltan, a mineral used in cell phone metals. San Diego Zoo warns of relation between cell phones, coltan mining and extinction of Great Apes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Milano, Amsterdam and Mexico City

It was a beautiful day to pedicab today - cloudy and not too hot, not too cold, like the three bears porridge. After taking an American mother and older son to the Grand Hyatt, an Italian woman from Milan here for business with the pet food part of Mars asked for a round trip to CVS. We chatted in Italian about La Scala and our recent honeymoon in Italy.
Then Richard, a kind financial analyst from Amsterdam took a tour from me and I snapped a few pictures of him on my cell phone to send to my wife so I could send to him via email.  I love the 21st century sometimes!
Finally on the way back to the shop, found a happy Mexican couple near the Capitol, managed enough Spanish to give good tour.  He works for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sent a nice note.

All spoke English very well. Too bad most of us don't speak their languages.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

More than 2,000 children from D.C. area trick-or-treat at the White House with the Obamas

Picked up a white ghost faced little 3rd grade girl and her Mom and took the short ride up 15th Street from the front of the White House to the back so she could go trick-or-treating at the White House. I was told she was chosen by lottery out of a pool of local students who participated in sports.

And I had to send a note to my sister in law who once helped the engineering of a process to print on the tiny face of M&M's. The kids got dried fruit and M&M's with President Obama's signature!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Where are the 2 FDR Memorials?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a major role in winning WWII from a wheelchair, has not just one but two memorials here in Washington, DC. The most recent and largest FDR Memorial lies between the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. It takes up 7.5 acres and has waterfalls, statues of the dog Falla, Eleanor and the President in a wheelchair.

This contrasts to a white stone block on the greens of the National Archives. FDR told his friend Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1941 that all he wanted was a memorial the size of his desk with just in memory of, his name and the dates 1882-1945.

A desk sized block of stone vs.  7.5 acres?

Gideon, President Obama, NFIB

I saw a well dressed man near the Washington Monument and wondered what his lapel pin meant. It was a Gideon lapel pin, as in those Gideon Bibles found in hotel room drawers. He had just given a Bible to President Obama.
How did you get to visit the White House?  I asked.
"I own a small business near Pittsburgh and won the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) Man of the Year Award and they called on me for this." he said.
So we had a nice chat about President Obama and how God is in charge and that all good things that happen to us are because of grace, not necessarily virtue. It was a short ride, he gave me quite a generous tip. So I called him back over and we prayed. "Thanks God, keep us safe, direct our thinking and use us for your highest good." Amen.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hear Dr. Martin Luther King at Lincoln Memorial 1 and 5 pm

August 28, 1963 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech before 400,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
While taking a nice father and 7th grade daughter on tour yesterday, I saw a National Park Service Ranger with a small crowd listening to a boom box and heard Dr. King's stirring speech.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"No one moves as quick as he who walks." Henry David Thoreau

I can't blame the folks who would rather walk than take a pedicab. While I may change his language to he or she who walks, and these tourists or locals may not afford themselves the luxury of our historically informed banter, sometimes Washington is just a beautiful city stroll around.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

tracking down the Longview Gallery Opening for Andrea

It was about 6:30 pm and close the 7 end of shift and I was near Gallery Place Metro when a senior citizen well-dressed, in cocktail attire, flagged me down. Andrea, new from San Antonio, was trying to find a "Long-something Gallery for an art opening that should have 900 people." So I Googled on my cell phone Longstreet Gallery and got something on 21st and R Streets, many blocks away. I suggested possibly the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery around the corner which was open until 7.

No good.

So I called my favorite trusty Washington Post 202 334-6000 using the ancient technology of the telephone and asked to be connected to the Style Section. Justin Moyer was fortunately still there working after their 6pm closing and kindly answered for me. He looked it up on their Calendar Events section.

1234 9th St., NW. We found a beautiful, exciting opening of amazing modern paintings and fancy people and fancier hors d'ouevres!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"War's legitimate object is a more perfect peace." Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

William Tecumseh Sherman has a nice grand statue of himself on a horse next to guard gates near the White House. Many Southerners who still resent The War Of Northern Aggression aka the civil war, might choke on this inscribed quote,
"Wars legitimate object is a more perfect peace." Feb. 28, 1882.

And driving my wife to work this morning I hear Crosby, Stills and Nash quote some biblical physics,
"We are stardust, we are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Back in the saddle again!

A few days of cold rainy weather has kept me off the pedicabs for a week. And while we had a frost warning, this week promises to be near 70 degrees F.
So I made my breakfast of granola, a scoop of protein powder, 1% milk and a few prunes. Gulped my vitamins with coffee and filled my water bottles and a "Make love not landfills" Swiss thermos my wife gave me with strong coffee and off I go into DC.
A little cool to start and it got quite cold again after about 4:30 but it was a good day. The last half hour was a quick tour of the monuments and White House for a pediatrician who is a member of the Congress from Montenegro, in the former Yugoslavia.   
All I knew how to say was, "Kvala" thankkyou.

Travel Quotes

"Nothing is more dangerous to prejudice than travel." Mark Twain

"I have traveled extensively in Concord." Henry David Thoreau

"I have been around the Beltway a few times." Paul Mazzuca

Friday, October 9, 2009


Once upon a time about 3 years ago, I had my first date with my wife at Jaleo. We've had many joyous, delicious meals there since. It is a tapas restaurant as good or better than what I found in Barcelona! I always recommend Jaleo to passengers in search of good food. Last week I had a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in my pedicab. I couldn't help but share our first date story of Jaleo with them. I asked them how they did it (40 years). They said they always go to bed saying "I love you" and "Goodnight" no matter how rough the day may have been. And the husband told me, "no matter how mean she gets, just don't pay attention to it and remember that you love her!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ventian honeymoon memories

A very windy day today. Saw a group of over a dozen mostly men with blue shirts with Polizia Venezia (Venice Police) on it and joyously practiced my Italian, recalling our honeymoon (viaggia di nozze) where we saw the best fireworks (fuochi d'artificio) at the (Festa di Redentore) Feast of the Redeemer. They built a church and made a Mardi Gras-like holiday in 1577 when Venetian prayers were answered for the end of the Black Death or bubonic plague brought by lice on rats from the new trading routes with the far east.

A Tale of Two Families

We had a 4 pedicab tour with a large family. The 3 little children rode in my pedicab and were so polite. A beautiful family, we raced to Jefferson, didn't stop to read my favorite quote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just." (and he said that in the days BEFORE we started pre-emptively invading countries), zipped over to the larger FDR memorial, then passed WWII to the White House. We ended at the Spy Museum where we have a family membership.

This family contrasted another family of 8 from Tennessee. I started to engage them at the Air & Space Museum and the wife didn't want to spend the money for 3 pedicabs but the husband did. I told her when I was in the 1988 Gore Presidential Campaign the password to get into the campaign headquarters after hours was Tinnessee, pronounced with an I. "Oh yeah, the one who invented the Internet", she smirked. "Would you vote for him if he was running today?" she asked. "Yes, and he also was one of the first to draw attention to the satellite data showing the seasonal hole in the ozone layer in Antarctica."

"Well, let's talk about history and science and culture and leave politics alone for a while." I smilingly suggested. We obviously had a different world view. Brian, my fellow pedicabber on this tour, shook his head and wondered how I could handle these rambunctious kids. They were screaming and wanted to bump the other pedicabs. All kids are by definition wonderful, even if the 5 year old did lose his shoe in fortunately VERY slow rush hour traffic!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!

Today I start a sporadic habit of listing a few of the quotes I see carved in stone around Washington. This one is from the John Paul Jones' small, easily missed monument located on a sort of triangular island between the Washington Monument (el obelisco some South Americans described it) and the WWII Memorial (the only memorial I know if that has a searchable database to look up a soldier, an uncle, father, brother or grandfather perhaps who fought in WWII!)

Strong like bull?

Folks often say, "You must have strong legs and be in good shape to do this."
I tell them that's what I tell my wife, speaking in a Russian/east European accent,"I am strong like bull!" here's the punch wife answers back, "Strong like something that starts with bull..."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Took a group of happy kids and their Mom on a short ride to their car today. As I often do with children, I asked them what their favorite subjects are in school. I was charged to learn they all liked science and math! Lucky for us we would be passing one of my favorite spots on the Mall where the solar system is proportionally laid out in a one to ten billion scale on oval metal signs. At each planet, there is information about how many moons, temperature, day and year length, chemical composition, distance from the sun, and many other interesting factoids.

"one to 10-billion scale model of our Solar System—spanning 2,000 feet from the National Air and Space Museum to the Smithsonian Castle. The Sun and its system of planets—our Solar System—is portrayed at one 10-billionth actual size, and contained on 13 stanchions."

The first stanchions or oval metal sign starts with Voyager and I tell them it has actually gone out of the solar system, waving my hand up and out. Then there is poor Pluto. And I always tell the same joke. "Pluto has been demoted as a planet. People who have been laid off say they have been Pluto-ed."

And I keep pedaling past the Arts and Industries Museum undergoing asbestos removal with a stimulus grant, point out Neptune with its 8 moons. And keep pedaling past the Hirschorn Museum of Modern Art and entrance of the Air and Space Museum and see the local planets, Mars, Earth, Venus and Mercury and the sun we spin around. I try to instill a little reverence for the uniqueness of our little planet.

"And look how perfect this Earth is for life: water can exist in all three forms- solid ice, liquid water and gaseous vapor," pointing to the sky. " So life has a chance to evolve."
Because the history of Washington has been written by humans, nobody has paid much attention to the fact that 18 Canadian squirrels were released at the National Zoo during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

In this job I get to meet all sorts of interesting people. Big Shots, housewives, actors, producers, lobbyists, street people and more. I noticed Homer, Alaska on one fellows T-shirt and noticed a little gold crab around his neck. Then I noticed Time Bandit and remembered that was the name of the ship on the cable show Deadliest Catch. So I gave Jonathan and his rather beautiful lady friend a disjointed ride, turn here, go there, a fun ride. He wanted phallic photographs staged with the Washngton Monument, saying, laughing and this is the reason why men shouldn't go on vacation.

National Pedicabbing in Washington, DC

So here now I start to type the reflections on many days as an observer and sometimes lucky enough to be a participant in the events in and around Washington, D.C. I have long called myself a Permanent Tourist in Washington.

And I have been pedicabbing - driving bicycle-powered rickshaws called pedicabs rented from National Pedicabs since mid-July. I've lost 30 pounds, gotten what Doonesbury might call a "competitive tan" and made a few thousand dollars.

I am exhausted but loving it. I am in much beter shaape than I have been in quite a while. It's like geting paid to work out. And I love tourists and love Washington DC. One nice lady from Pittsburgh today said it was like a spinning class all day long.