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Our Nation's Capital

I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for the first time. Having never been there before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am, by nature, a rather patriotic person, but I'm also quite the small town boy. I love history, but I hate being a tourist. As luck would have it, I quite enjoyed my brief stay in our nation's capital.

You may think that much of what I have to say in the rest of this piece is hokey, strange, or at least uninformed; I can base my opinions on nothing more than my own experiences. But, like people, places have a certain quality, call it spirit or, if you prefer, personality, that can be sensed if you are open to it.

Washington is a beautiful city. It is beautiful in a way that Los Angeles never has been, and probably never will be. Like New York, it has that rather stately feeling of an East Coast city that knows its age and the respect that it is due. Yet where New York is vibrant and exciting, Washington has a sense of understated dignity that I found humbling. It is a city that is fully aware of its history and of the symbolism inherent in its very being.

I don't normally enjoy doing touristy things. I like to try to blend in wherever I go. I don't always, or even often, succeed, but I try. Washington was a different experience for me. I found myself trying to visit as many monuments and memorials as I could. I drove all over the downtown area, saw the Mall, the Washington Monument, drove past the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol, the White House. I didn't get a chance to walk around and really experience most--I was in the area for less than twenty-four hours--but I think that many of the attractions just need to be seen. The one place I did get out and explore was the Arlington National Cemetary. I'm glad I did.

As you enter the cemetary, there is a sign that informs you that you are entering the nation's most sacred shrine, and reminds you to conduct yourself with dignity and respect. Periodically, there are signs that say, "Silence. Respect." Here's the amazing thing: people read and obey the signs. The cemetary is not silent, but it is an exceptionally quiet place. I've noticed that certain outdoor places have a certain strange acoustic property wherein sound does not resonate. The Mojave Desert is one such place. The Arlington National Cemetary is another. Sound seems to be swallowed up by the air; you can hardly even hear your own footfalls.

The cemetary is a place of awesome dignity, but one place above the rest sticks with me: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. The Tomb stands before the Memorial Amphitheater, looking out over the hills and the river toward the capital. A lone sentry stands guard, pacing back and forth in front of the tomb. The only sound, apart from the occasional bird call, is the click of his heels as he turns. The tomb bears this inscription:

 

HERE RESTS
IN HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

 

As I read these words and looked out over the city I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat. These were ordinary people, as much so as you and I, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their way of life. It is a poignant reminder that this land was built and sustained by the hopes, dreams, sweat, and, sometimes, blood of such people.

Seabiscuit

This was the kind of movie that really draws you into the story and makes you care about it. I don't normally care about horse racing at all, but I found myself holding my breath during the racing scenes, and felt like cheering each time Seabiscuit won one (many of the audience members did, in fact). Chris Cooper will likely not get an Oscar nod, because although his performance was brilliant, it was probably too understated to be noticed (which is unfortunate because that's exactly what the role required). Tobey Maguire, on the other hand, may be nominated; he is really starting to mature as an actor. The only problem with this film, and it may be a bigger problem to some than it was to me, was that the writer/director didn't seem to fully make up his mind whether he was making a movie or a documentary. Each aspect of the film would have been interesting to watch, but the combination seemed to clash.


Viewed: 7/25/2003 | Released: 7/21/2003 | Score: B

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Slaughterhouse Five

By Kurt Vonnegut

Such an interesting novel, at once hilarious and tragic. I wasn't crazy about all of the ideas put forward in the book, but I can't deny that I found it gripping. There's something bordering on insane about Vonnegut's writing, and it intrigues me to no end.


Started: 7/16/2003 | Finished: 7/23/2003

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Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

I had a great time watching this movie. Yes, the action sequences defied physics and, yes, a lot of stuff was extraneous to the plot, but it was a fun movie. Don't think of it as an action movie with good one-liners, think of it as a comedy with fights and explosions. And there's plenty of comedy: the dance scenes, the costumes, and, of course, Bernie Mac.


Viewed: 7/17/2003 | Released: 7/17/2003 | Score: B

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Things I Highly Recommend

 

     

     

  • Getting married in Big Sur, CA. Not only one of the most naturally beautiful places I've ever seen, but also very special to me because that's where my wife grew up as well as where I lived for a while in my childhood.
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  • Breakfast at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn. Some of the best Eggs Benedict I've ever had.
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  • Lunch at the Big Sur River Inn. Sure, the burger is kind of expensive, but it's mighty tasty (and still the cheapest in Big Sur). Plenty of good stuff apart from the burger, too; it's my favorite restaurant for lunch. And, for dessert, the apple pie is my second favorite in this world (I have to give my mom's the number one spot).
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  • Dinner at Ventana. They have a filet mignon that just melts in your mouth, and if you go right around sunset you have a spectacular view of the sun going down over the ocean.
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  • The bathrooms in the Salt Lake City Airport. Cleanest airport bathrooms ever.
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  • Renting a convertible in Hawaii. Yeah, it immediately marks you as a tourist, but it's so nice to feel the wind in your hair.
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  • The Hotel Hana Maui. Hands down the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. The road to Hana is very twisty and a bit stressful (since all of the other people on the road are also tourists), but as soon as you get there it all just melts away. The staff was amazingly friendly and helpful. It's also very close to Hamoa Beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. And if you're into horseback riding, the hotel runs tours on a couple of trails that offer some amazing views.
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  • Tony and Tina's Wedding. A very interesting off-Broadway production that makes you feel like you really are a wedding guest. It takes interactive theater to a level I've never experienced before.
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  • Breakfast at the Sea House Restaurant. About six or seven miles outside of Lahaina, it overlooks a beautiful bay and has a great view of Molokai (or maybe it was Lanai, I can't remember) and the food is excellent.
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  • The Koloa Fish Market. In Koloa, on Kaua'i, there is this tiny, hole-in-the-wall fish market that sells lunch plates that are to die for. There are no seats, indeed there's barely enough room to turn around, but the fish is so fresh and the prices are extremely reasonable.
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  • Air Kaua'i Helicopter Tours. Not for those who are afraid of heights, but for everyone else, it's amazing. Even the locals on Kaua'i say the helicopter tours are great, and with good reason. Such a beautiful place, and seeing it from a bird's-eye view is even better. And the Air Kaua'i helicopters have huge windows, which makes for a great viewing experience.
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  • Brick Oven Pizza, in Kalaheo. Also on Kaua'i. They have good pizza. Really good pizza.
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  • Marrying the one you love. My wedding was the best day of my life. We've been together for almost seven years, since high school. In that time we've had a lot of experiences. We've grown, and grown up, together. I can think of nothing better than knowing that this is the person that I'm going to grow old with, share my life with. I can't wait to see what the future will bring.
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Hell's Faire

By John Ringo

The fourth installment of the Legacy of the Alldenata saga concludes the Human-Posleen War series. It lived up to the first three novels, if it did resort to a bit of deus ex machina in the end. I would have been upset with all the loose ends, but Ringo made it clear in his afterword that he will be writing more about these characters (although perhaps after a not-too-brief hiatus).


Started: 7/9/2003 | Finished: 7/13/2003

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Peace

By Gene Wolfe

I've been a huge fan of Gene Wolfe since I first picked up his Book of the New Sun series about five years ago. His novels are dense and it can be difficult to get to the core of them. A single reading is never enough to figure them out. But, oh!, they are so beautiful! The Fifth Head of Cerberus was my favorite of his books for a while, but Peace may be giving it a run for its money.


Started: 7/2/2003 | Finished: 7/9/2003

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To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian

By Stephen E. Ambrose

This was a welcome change of pace after Nietzsche. Ambrose's book is a bit biased, and since it was so short and covered so much he didn't have time to really delve into any of his topics, but it was still a good read and I think I can apply the highest praise that can be given to an historian: it made me want to learn more about the people and events he described.


Started: 6/28/2003 | Finished: 7/1/2003

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Beyond Good and Evil

By Friedrich Nietzsche

I read this book as a part of my continuing quest to read all the books I was supposed to have read for various classes. It didn't take me long to remember why I skipped it the first time around. Nietzsche is a racist, a chauvenist, a classist, and, in general, a jerk. I disagree with the basic premise of his philosophy--that the basic and sole important drive in people is the will to power--as well as most of the conclusions to which it brings him. Nevertheless, he was an important influence on so many thinkers, so I suppose it wasn't a total waste of time.


Started: 4/30/2003 | Finished: 6/26/2003

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Hulk

This may be the best comic book movie I've seen. The character of the Hulk is one of the more interesting in the Marvel universe, which gave the film a solid backbone. Nick Nolte was very good, and Eric Bana was quite decent. The editing was a bit jarring at first, but it really made it seem like I was reading a comic book.


Viewed: 6/21/2003 | Released: 6/16/2003 | Score: B

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