A Bike Ride in America 2018

The weatherman called for temperatures in the high 50Fs so there was just one thing to do: go for a ride. I had originally planned on spending the day at the Women’s March in DC. Last year Mrs. Rootchopper and I went to the Women’s March. We stood unable to move for hours in a throng of at least a half million people. I hadn’t heard much about this year’s march. I had committed to a volunteer event that was cancelled by the government shutdown. Mrs. Rootchopper was committed to doing a volunteer event that wasn’t cancelled, so I decided that, rather than commit my whole day to the march, I’d ride up to the Lincoln Memorial and check things out instead.

The ride featured a helpful tailwind. I slalomed through the people on the Mount Vernon Trail and stopped after 11 miles to take a picture of a jet landing at National Airport.

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I rode into the city on the Memorial Bridge. There was quite a bit of foot traffic coming away from the city. Since the government had shutdown all the Smithsonian museums and public restrooms were closed. I suspect that many of these folks were not having a very good time.

As I arrived at the east-facing side of the Lincoln Memorial I could hear speeches and cheers. Then I saw it. Tens of thousands of people lining the reflecting pool. The crowd was significantly smaller than last year but much, much larger than I was expecting.

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If you look really closely you can see my friends Joe and Veronica and Justin. Okay, maybe not. They were there though. I am sure there were other people I knew too.

As I passed in front of the memorial (to the left in the photo) I saw counter protesters with anti-abortion signs. It seemed that every one of them had a smiling Women’s March participant standing right in front of them holding a sign or wearing a t-shirt with a pro-choice message. Many of these counter-counter protesters were carrying Planned Parenthood signs. Somehow despite their differences of opinion, they seemed to be showing mutual respect. Whadda ya know about that!

I made my way down Constitution Avenue, amazed at the throngs coming and going from the Mall. I took the road around the Ellipse, a park situated between the White House and the Washington Monument, so I could get to the pedestrian plaza on the opposite side of the White House. I decided to stop and take a picture of the White House on the near side. I had taken the Ellipse road counterclockwise. It is a one-way street going clockwise so I was expecting to pull off if I encountered any cars.

The White House grounds is bound by a tall black metal fence. The security perimeter is further extended near the Ellipse by a jersey barrier that cuts off half the roadway I was on. I was inching my way along the remaining traffic lane. I could have gone onto the sidewalk but it was packed with tourists taking photos of the White House. I stopped in the road and reached into my handlebar bag. I pulled out my phone when I heard a man say “MOVE ALONG.” There was no “sir” at the end of the command. This was clearly meant to intimidate me. I turned and saw a Secret Service man (If it’s secret why did he have the words SECRET SERVICE in big white letters on his shirt? Maybe he should get one that says OBVIOUS SERVICE. Just a thought.) He was perhaps in his late twenties. He had on body armor of some sort and was holding an automatic (or semiautomatic) weapon in his left hand. It was pointed at the ground.

My brain went to work. Do I look like an evil doer? A desperado? Do assassins kill with cell phones while holding a bicycle between their legs? Why the hell does he have a weapon that could wipe out me and everyone within 20 feet of me? Why does he have it out?

Then my mouth went to work. I put my phone away and looked Mr. Secret Service in the eye and said “This is America.” I left off “You fucking Nazi.” Call me Mr. Restraint.

I went on the sidewalk and took my picture. In retrospect I wish I had taken a picture of him. I have a bad feeling that I’ll be reading about him in the paper someday when he uses that weapon against a harmless tourist from Des Moines.

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After this pleasant encounter I made my way up the 15th Street cycletrack to the other side of the White House. Pennsylvania Avenue is closed to motor vehicles. Today it was occupied by a hundred or so people expressing their support for the Dreamers. There were plenty of police around. None of them seemed to think they needed to bark at people or hold an uzi in plain sight. This made me feel a little better.

I made my way back down the cycletrack to the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack At 4th Street I took a right to head toward the waterfront and the bustling new development called The Wharf. At a stop light I heard a voice coming from my left. A bike had just pulled up along side me. I turned and saw Rachel M. I know you! She hadn’t recognized me. She was just making idle chatter. So we rode side by side to M Street. She turned left to explore the Anacostia River Trail. I turned right for the Wharf.

When I got there, I stopped to check my phone. When I got off my bike my middle and upper back went into spasm. Since an apparent back spasm a month ago had been the rather unpleasant first symptom of pulmonary embolisms, I decided that it would be wise to head for home. Slowly.

After a couple of miles, my back loosened up. I rode down the trail, weaving in and out of the humanity. Feeling better I diverted away from the river to ride through the Del Ray neighborhood. Everyone was smiling. People were drinking coffee outside. It felt like April (except there was no baseball).

I arrived home without any lingering pain. It’s pretty pathetic when you consider it a good day when your body doesn’t reject you.

But it was a good day. I even managed to get a little tan on my face. In January.

Play ball. This is America after all.

 

 

A Million People, Give or Take, and Some Kindness

Hillary Clinton was my daughter’s high school graduation speaker. Her speech was not political; it was funny and eloquent and inspiring. They shook hands immediately after my daughter received her diploma.  I know exactly how my daughter, who can now vote, felt on election night. I was an eight year old Irish Catholic, an altar boy, when JFK was shot. Dreams die hard.

So last night, I considered my options for today. I could go on a solo hike or I could accompany Mrs. Rootchopper to the Women’s March in Washington DC. I chose the latter.

We arrived in DC at 8 am, parked the car, and walked across the National Mall to meet a friend at the Woolly Mammoth ThDSCN5733.JPGeater Company. The folks there had opened their doors for restrooms and refreshments. What an act of kindness. You can be sure we will be checking out their productions in the future.

After hanging out for a while we headed across the Mall on 7th Street. The crowds were already getting big. Signs were everywhere. Traffic cops wore Statue of Liberty crowns. We moved down the Mall to 4th Street and finally came to a stop at Jefferson, near the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. The crowd grew and grew. We could only see about 50 yards in any direction but all we could see were people. People on the edges of ledges on the museum. People on traffic signals. People in trees.

There we stood, unable to move without massive effort amid the deDSCN5752.JPGnse throng. I was apparently starting to show signs of discomfort when a woman of a certain age walked past. She looked at me and said “Breathe” and calmly inhaled through her nose. She told me she was a Buddhist as she walked past. Another act of kindness. A group of college aged protesters started to get vocal. They were joined by some drummers. A drum/dance circle formed. Party!

The circle broke up. We stood and got jostled around waiting for the march to begin. The start time came and went. Another hour passed. Our knees and backs were starting to lock up from standing in the same spot for so long.

Finally we noticed that people behind us were no longer waiting for the march which was supposed to go down Independence Avenue toward the White House. Instead these people were taking a parallel route down the Mall. We waited until we started hearing that the march had been cancelled because the crowd was so big. So the crowd just started to flow down the Mall. And we went with it.

A young woman was perched on her boyfriend’s shoulders taking pictures. I handed her my camera.

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They did this over and over. At one point, the man slowly rotated so she could get a 360 degree shot with another marcher’s camera. Still another act of kindness.

After another 30 or 40 minutes we came to a standstill at 7th Street. Mrs. RC and I decided to leave. we had been there for about 7 hours. The crowd was heading north and we needed to go south. Suffice it to say, we would make excellent salmon.

Many blocks from the Mall we were still going against the flow, this time of people just arriving at the march. It was about 3 pm. It made me wonder if this thing would ever end.

After leaving we made our way to a diner in Arlington across the river from DC. All the customers had come from the march. I check my phone which could now get service and saw the pictures from New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Paris, Tucson, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Saint Petersburg, Berlin, Paris, and Antarctica. Unreal.

I can’t say we had a good time at the march. Mostly we just stood around frozen in place by people. I was disappointed that I didn’t see anybody I knew even though there were probably 50 friends of mine in attendance. But I am glad I went. To add another dot in the crowd shots. To send a message. And to witness how a million people can get along with a few million acts of kindness.

I would be remiss if I did not thank all the police and EMTs who did their jobs with calm professionalism today.

Here are some photos.