This archived article was written by: Chris Barney
The newspaper lab was empty–as usual, considering it was past 11 p.m., and the phone rang. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival echoed through the almost empty room, and I picked up. On the other end of the line, a good friend responded. “Chris,” he said, “I just bought a ticket to Washington, D.C., and I want you to come with me.”
In less than 24 hours I had purchased my ticket, the trip a little over one month away. It was a leap of faith, and as many hopeful and adventurous youth hope for, we decided to go on a trip across the country. Many talk about doing things like it, but few commit and follow through. I felt a certain thrill in breaking the trend, and with an unusual spring in my step, I left the newspaper lab with a spring in my step.
The first stop was Philadelphia. My wing-man had already crossed off one thing on his bucket list; kiss a girl at 35,000 feet in the air. Myself being a man of tradition, I felt it was my duty to find the nearest and tastiest cheese-steak the city of “brotherly love” had to offer. It didn’t disappoint. We met a young lady who herself was traveling across the country. We shared a brief lunch, and it was off to the nation’s capital.
Upon our arrival in Washington, we grabbed a shuttle to take us to our friend’s house where we were staying. The night was cool, not more than 50 degrees. Seeing the national monuments for the first time pierce into the night air above the Potomac River was a sight to behold. Immediately, the several hundred dollars I spent to get there became worth it. Truly. The embassies on “embassy row” spotlighted their flags and lined up Massachusetts Avenue. It all seemed a bit surreal.
The next day we rented bicycles from Capital Bike Shares, and pedaled all over the national mall: Jefferson Memorial, FDR, Lincoln, Washington, MLK, Arlington Cemetery and back across the Potomac. The humid air had preserved the fall colors until mid November, and we profited. Only in Paris had I seen such diversity; students, professors, soldiers and civilians crowded the walkways. The most marking was memory was the address by President Thomas Jefferson inscribed around the inside of his memorial:
“…I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
A deeper understanding of the individuality that we experience as American citizens sunk into my mind. That’s when I realized why I had come. Sure, it was for the adventure, the excitement of seeing new things. But there was more profound reason for why I was there. To rise out of ignorance. I have to say, when I returned back to college life a short five days later, it didn’t take long to hear slanders about the nation’s government and its leaders. I can tell you, a certain burden must sit on the president’s shoulders as he looked out over the Speaker’s Balcony just before being sworn into office. I can only imagine how it might feel; I’ve stood there. I would be hard pressed later in life to find things I wouldn’t trade for that experience.
There is a certain hallowed feeling in Washington. People from all over the world taste daily what it means to be a U.S. patriot. I didn’t realize prior to arriving, how special it really is. For those on the Western portion of the country, it beckons us to make the journey, and see where this country began. It’s not just a cool movie set, or a phone place to post Instagram pictures. Washington, D.C., is the nation’s capital for a reason. You just need to go find for yourself why.