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  • We picked friend Deb (you know her as Neighbordeb) up at Union Station, hoping she'd recognize Kathy's car among the many other vehicles making the rounds of the big circle - there was funky yellow Peeps car (really!), the ever present Duck Tour bus, the H.O./H.O. (Hop-On/Hop-Off – but no Hop Shore) buses , the limo's, the abandoned cab clogging up all lanes – But Deb had a sharp eye and found us amid the crazy traffic.

    Everyone was hungry. "Eastern Market's right on the other side of the Capital" I said. “They’ll have plenty of good places to eat”. That’s where I met Kristin for lunch the last time we met up. “There’s a place there that has tator tots!” I’m a huge fan.

    I forgot how you have to drive ten blocks to go two, anywhere near the Capital or the White House. The tour had already begun, as I pointed out places of interest as we went. “See that building there? Uh, I really have no idea about that one…” Deb was duly fascinated already. “Do you really have any idea of what you are doing or where you are going, Pete?’ I swore that I did. She wasn’t so sure.

    Parking was fun – after I dropped Kathy & Deb off on a corner, I went in search of a legal spot. “There’s one right across the street”, Kathy pointed to it. It was a handicapped spot. I kept driving around until I found a spot that I could pay for with my mobile app. It took me awhile to add Kathy's car to it, and I wound up leaving the keys on the seat and the car unlocked as I walked away, having finally successfully paid to park. (Fortunately, nobody noticed, and the car was still there after we ate). Sometimes, I miss just feeding meters with quarters. It would have been so much easier than adding a new vehicle to my app. Call me old school.

    Kathy and Deb found a perfect sidewalk spot for lunch on a beautiful D.C. afternoon at a joint right near the corner where I dropped them off. They waved at me as I made my way down the bustling sidewalk scene. The food was incredible. Even the name was pretty cool – “Hawk ‘n’ Dove”! The menu gave you a choice between “Br’” items and “‘Unch items”. I got the Corned Beef Hash with Poached Eggs and Hollandaise sauce (I think it was a Br’ selection). - I asked the waitress about home fries – she looked at me and said, “Are you sure?”, so I held off on that. Turns out the Hash had plenty of potatoes right in it. Quite filling.
  • We then began our official Pete and Kathy Nickel D.C. Monuments and Memorials Driving Tour in earnest. We drove by the Capital again, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (seriously under construction), the Smithsonian Castle (ditto), the buildings I work in (Agriculture’s Whitten and South Buildings), driving under the archway that stretches across Independence Avenue from one building to the other which, on any given week day, I cross at least ten times in the course of the day; the Washington Monument (currently looking like a giant Hypodermic Needle, due to earthquake-related repairs going on), the World War II Memorial (not one of my favorites – they could have done so much better than that, for that), the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, then we decided that the Viet Nam Veterans Memorial required experiencing up close and personal.

    I’d forgotten how personal that one gets. We were all bowls of emotional jello after walking along the wall. It gets me every time. I stopped to ask the soon-to-be-out-of-work Park Ranger (along with me – looks like furlough will soon be a reality) a question about the Wall and the Statues that stand across from it, looking at it. As we talked, I recalled reading the names of 30 guys at the 20th anniversary of the Wall back in 2002, when all 58,426 names were read over Veterans’ Day Weekend – I read mine at 5:30 a.m. on the 10th - but couldn’t finish my sentence without losing it and blubbering, all choked up as I remembered that most sacred of mornings. I was embarassed at first, but the Ranger clearly was used to this happening to people who talked to him in this sacred place, and nodded with a knowing understanding. I also recalled my friend David who actually got killed in Cambodia in early May, 1970, when his tank outfit was ambushed there, the only person I knew personally who died in this war. He had been that older kid who always stuck up for me on the basketball court of St. Pius X when I was being bullied by the gang that I was trying to fit in with there when I was 12. That was the first time the reality of war really hit home with me. I remember not knowing what to say to his little sister Laura, who I had a major crush on. What do you say to a girl you like when she finds out her brother just got killed in a senseless war? You don’t, and I didn’t.
  • Next we drove across the river to tour Arlington Cemetery. Well, we drove around in circles for awhile before we did that, as I turned onto the wrong bridge, and had to circle back to the Memorial Bridge, which is not easy to do once you miss that turn. (You’d think a Bridgeman would know his bridges, but I make that mistake every time – I made the exact same wrong turn last November, heading there to lay my Mom to rest there. That time, I had others following me, so I made a U-Turn and quickly got back on track. This time, I kept going and wound up driving by the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial as we made the wide circle getting back there.

    I have a car pass for Arlington, since Mom and Dad are both in there, so we got up close to the Kennedy graves (John, Jackie, and Bobby – the Eternal Flame at JFK’s grave is also under construction – all of this construction seemed to be symbolic of a government that will soon need to be reconstructed, as it is getting ready to run out of money to run). Bobby’s grave is one that always really gets me up there. Next, we got to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – still one of the most sacred events one can witness – then finished up at the Columburium Court #4, where Mom and Dad both are interred. Panel Q, Row 13. I, of course, had to repeat Mom’s once favorite joke, from back in our days touring around historic old New England. Whenever we’d drive by an old cemetery, she’d say, very seriously, “See that cemetery over there?” Yeah…waiting for her to say some historic fact about it, or that maybe Paul Revere or Ralph Waldo Emerson is buried there. Then, with a sly grin, she would say, “People have been dying to get into there for years!” Brother Ken and I fell for that one, too many times. Being there, remembering both of their Interment ceremonies, brings me such a sense of peace and satisfaction, knowing that I sprang from two people who lived such complete lives, who each left their lives with no regrets, and with nothing left undone, or unsaid. I’ve said it before, and I am reminded many times over – I am a lucky guy.
  • This was such a spectacular weekend, weatherwise – got home late in the afternoon to our place in Vienna, Virginia. I looked over at my neighbor Joe’s back yard – Joe is now living near Vienna, Austria, and we’re taking care of his yard until his nephew and friend Annie sell the house. My son J.B. cuts the front, and I do the back. I fired up the lawn mower and tackled the lower 40. Nieghbordeb cut some grass in our back yard while I cut neighbor Joe’s. After dinner in a local restaurant, we retired to our living room to unravel more stories, spend more time catching up, more comparing notes about the new Cowbird look – I’ve said it on Cowbirders, and I’ll say it here – I, personally, love it. There’s nothing about it that I have issue with, and I love all the new ways to navigate and connect.

    Today we just did the lazy Sunday thing, lounging around, more stories to tell, more catching up, more good food. I fired up the stove and cooked up some extra thick bacon, scrapple, scrambled eggs and toast buttered with good Irish butter. By late afternoon, I was ready for a nap before my early evening softball games, and by the time I woke up, Kathy and Deb were off for dinner and the train back to Philly. I went out and played softball on the best night for playing softball that we’ve had all year. I made one spectacular play, a diving catch of a dying quail line drive to right field, where I was playing deep and had to come in a considerable way to make the play. This would be right up there with my top 5 plays of the whole year. I sucked at the plate tonight, but this play will make it a memorable night for a long time to come. The perfect end to a fine fall weekend.

    Now, I will probably get to go shut my agency down (in Headquarters) in two days. I refuse to let that get me down. Life is too short – with weekends like this, with good and true friends, how can I possibly complain? I’ll worry about that tomorrow.
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