Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top Shelf Does Washington D.C.

As loyal readers know, my jaunt to DC this weekend was originally supposed to be much different. The goal was to sit in the press box, the intended travel partner was to be Kate from The Willful Caboose. Pretty much everything that could happen to change my plans - numerous incarnations of plans - happened. In the end however, I had the time off from work, I had some money stashed aside, and I said way back at the beginning of the season that I'd like to start seeing some of the other arenas in the NHL so I decided to take the trip myself. I've never been one of those people who feels uncomfortable flying solo in public.

I arrived in town Thursday evening and had just enough time to find my way around, check-in, have a great steak dinner and get a good night's sleep. The real fun started on Friday. I would've loved to have walked through a few museums but I was heading back to Buffalo Saturday morning so I was short on time. I was talking to a couple of my students about going to Washington DC where the White House was and they were really excited by that ("You're going to see the White House? The REAL White House? The White House BARACK OBAMA lives in?!") so I definitely wanted to get a picture of that for them. I haven't been to DC since the summer between 7th and 8th grades so I decided to do the typical touristy things. Plus it was exactly the right time for the famous cherry blossoms so I wanted to spend as much time outside as possible.

When I first woke up Friday morning it was raining pretty hard but fortunately by the time I showered and ate breakfast, it had cleared up. I headed out, a girl with a camera and a dream.

First a couple of random shots of the area around my hotel. (You can click on any of the photos in this post for a closer look at a larger version.)

The entry to Chinatown:

I have no idea what this building is but I thought it was really cool the way the clouds and blue sky reflected off the glass:

D.C., you'll be shocked to learn, I'm sure, is really, really busy. People and traffic everywhere. It was around this point that I stepped into the crosswalk in front of a car that was trying desperately to make its way through the pedestrian traffic even though, hello!, we totally had the right of way. "What kind of jackass pulls into pedestrians like that?" I thought to myself. When I looked up at the driver, I immediately knew the answer to that question:

Tony Kornheiser hates pedestrians.

That's right. I, Heather B., was almost killed by Tony Kornheiser.

I made my way to the subway where I spent a very long time staring at the subway map and the fare card machine. I've ridden a real subway exactly once in my life. Wanna ride a bus in Buffalo? I can tell you how that works. Subway? Over my head. Fortunately, it was at this point that I first seized on my key to getting through the day. Grab the nearest person wearing Sabres merchandise, say, "Go Sabres!" and then ask them for help. And it wasn't really that hard because there were Sabres fans all over the place.

Sabres fans!

Fortunately, the Sabres fan I happened along here knew what he was doing (he was also, just for the record, very handsome in his vintage white) and was able to help me figure out how much money I needed to put on my fare card and what direction to take on which route. Thanks, handsome guy! The subway station had a really interesting design and for a girl who has been in a real subway station once before, it was a pretty neat sight watching the trains zoom in and out.

Almost as soon as I got off the subway, boom! important things!

I did take a closer shot but I took this one for the kids. We watched the inauguration with them on TV and we tried repeatedly to impress upon them just how many people were there. I thought maybe if they could see a picture of the space when it was empty, they might realize how big of an area we're talking about. It didn't look nearly so big when it was jammed full of people.

It didn't take long to be overwhelmed with cherry blossoms. I walked down to the Tidal Basin and they pretty much circled the whole area. They were really lovely especially once I started down the path and was actually walking under and through them. By that point, it was really a perfect day for it too. The sky was sunny and blue, the temperature was warm and there was just enough breeze to keep it from getting too hot. I knew even while I was taking them that pictures would absolutely not do those trees justice but here are a few anyway:

Next stop was the World War II memorial which didn't exist during my last visit and which I'd completely forgotten about until I stumbled across it. The water flows to the fountain from the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial and there are 46 pillars surrounding the fountain. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states in 1945, along with DC, the Alaska Territory, the Territory of Hawaii, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. I just kind of walked around it which is too bad because looking at pictures of it now online it looks like there's some really cool details on the inside that I missed.

From there I headed to the Lincoln Memorial. I know the image below makes many people immediately think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech and that was my second thought. My first thought was this scene from Forrest Gump. Who can forget Jenny running across the Reflecting Pool to meet a just-arrived home from Vietnam Forrest? Have you no heart, people?

"Fooooooorreeeeest! Forrest!"

On the way to the Lincoln memorial, I noticed the direction sheet for federal taxes floating in the Reflecting Pool. I'm pretty sure it was thrown there in disgust as a form of protest.

Taxes suck!

Spot the blogger!

I am 100% sure one of my kids will see the picture above and ask, "Miss Heather, how many steps is that?!" so I counted. There's 88. I also figured there was no way to get across to them just how huge the Lincoln Memorial was without a little perspective which is why I took the pictures above and below.

I made a pit stop in the Lincoln Memorial Book Shop which, while sounding completely tacky, was a really cool little shop full of awesome books. I would've picked up a few but it was tough to decide which ones might be good and my duffel bag was already looking pretty full for the flight home. I did grab a few postcards and the new edition of the American Presidents Fandex to take back to school. The kids were pretty into President Obama, I think because it's the first election they've been aware of, and we have some other Fandexes and they enjoy them.

On the way back down the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, I was disappointed to learn that the U.S. government evidently hates fun:

The terrorists have won.

Round about this point, my ankle was really starting to bother me. I decided to make my way back to the subway so I'd have time to ice and elevate it before heading over to the Verizon Center for the game. On the way back I did walk by the Vietnam Memorial, a.k.a. Heather B.'s favorite memorial.

I enjoy the huge, ornate stylings of some of the other memorials around DC but there's something about the simplicity of the Vietnam Wall that is just so beautiful and breath-taking to me. The way it starts out so small and slowly tapers up makes those ten foot panels stuffed with names seem to dwarf you as much as the larger monuments do. The way the surroundings reflect so clearly in the granite, watching people search for and then photograph or take rubbings of specific names, the things people leave behind... the Vietnam War was before my time but it's the one memorial that absolutely makes me teary-eyed and thankful for what so many people have sacrificed for the United States over the years.

A classroom full of kids had evidently visited the Wall because there were little notes like this along the entire length. There were also 2 or 3 old, worn photos of very young men in military gear, big smiles on their faces, that had been left along the bottom of the wall. They probably got to me the most but it seemed like a weird invasion of privacy to photograph them so I didn't.

And then one more picture for the day. The promised picture of BARACK OBAMA'S WHITE HOUSE?!

The White House Barack Obama lives in.

With a day of sight-seeing under my belt, I took a quick snooze before heading out to the Verizon Center for some hockey. I've always heard that a lot of Sabres fans come out to games in DC but seriously, there were a LOT of Sabres fans. In no way did we overwhelm the Caps fans - there were plenty of them there - but there was definitely enough blue and gold around so as to not feel out of place.

One of my favorite little things about the Verizon Center was that the marquee also has Chinese characters since the building is right at the edge of Chinatown.

The Verizon Center is attached to a mall of some sort. I didn't really walk in and look around so I can't give you a ton of details about it but I can tell you this: It really is perfectly understandable why hockey players say they hate coming to Buffalo. Fifteen steps away from this building there was pretty much anything you could possibly want. Movie theaters, shopping, sports bars, restaurants. You name it, it was within easy walking distance. The area around the arena was absolutely jumping before, during and after the game and let's face it, downtown Buffalo isn't like that. I understand why it rankles Buffalonians to hear people rag on their beloved city - I hate it too - but guys who drop in for 24 hours are not going to see the best of what we offer until the downtown area gets some serious work done.

I was leaning on an entrance to the Verizon Center when I took this picture.

Some thoughts about the game and the experience:

- The atmosphere was electric. Criticize the Southeast Division all you want - lord knows I've done it - but DC is clearly a city in love with its hockey team. They were enthusiastic, they were loud and they cheered without being prompted by a scoreboard or a PA announcer. There were "Let's go Buff-a-lo!" chants throughout the game but the DC crowd always made sure they were quickly drowned out by a round of "Let's go Caps!"

- The game presentation was really good although I do think part of it was just seeing something different. They have two ribbon boards, both of which are used to nifty effect. I'm not a huge fan of their very red jerseys but the red did look pretty cool and dramatic when flashed in bright lights and other effects all around the arena. The only thing I'd criticize is the opening video that accompanies the "Rock the Red" theme which features some of the more prominent Caps players playing in a rock band. Totally cheesy.

The view from my seat.

Rocking the red.

- Three different times I saw an adult in a Caps jersey accompanied by a kid in a Sabres jersey. I'm not sure how to explain that. I could make sense of two mismatched adults - one of them grew up in DC, one of them was from Buffalo - but a kid who spurned the team in the area in favor of a team from elsewhere? Awesome. There was a family of four in front of me, two parents, two kids and all of them were in Caps gear except for one of the kids. He was cracking me up because every time the Sabres scored he stood up and applauded very hard and very defiantly. It was cute.

- The Verizon Center has great Coke. I know someone out there is laughing at me but I'm completely serious. Coke can taste very different from place to place and arena Coke can be especially bad. They also had Dippin' Dots which I was awfully glad to see since HSBC booted them this year. I treated myself to a bowl of banana split.

- Caps fans seem to complain more than any other fanbase about rowdy Sabres fans so I kept an eye open for obnoxious behavior. What I heard was the Caps fan behind me telling the Sabres fan a couple seats down from him, "I've been to Buffalo. It's a shit city. I don't know why anyone would live there." What I saw was a very large, very drunk Caps fan cut across the entirety of the concourse and, for no apparent reason, put his elbow in the chest of a Sabres fan who was talking with a group of friends. Am I saying all DC fans are obnoxious assholes? No. I'm just saying there are bad seeds in every fanbase and unless you've seen the beginning, it's sometimes hard to sort out who started what. There was a lot of back-and-forth between the fanbases after the game - "Let's go Buff-a-lo"s being replied to with "Hey, make the playoffs next season!" - but it all struck me as pretty good-natured. I know some Caps fans out there will be offended by this, but I'll stick by my previous opinion that they might need to not be quite so sensitive to things that are really pretty normal at a sporting event. Which is not to say there weren't some truly obnoxious Sabres fans in attendance. I'm sure there were. Just saying that there were some on both sides as is usually the case and that yeah, visiting fans are going to be excited when their team wins.

- Based completely on that game, I think the Caps are a very talented team that's unlikely to go all the way. Their offense is definitely scary and they're all big, mean dudes but they sometimes leaned towards being cutesy over being effective (sounds familiar, no?). Their defense was also not impressive at all and while I do enjoy the hitting, there were a few times where they hit in bad spots and took themselves out of the play. Again, this is by no means an expert opinion so if a Caps fan happens to stumble across this please remember that. I'm admitting right now that I don't know this team anywhere as well as you do.

- Enter Heather B. style rant about how scoring 30 goals makes Mike Green the best OFFENSIVE defenseman in the league but not necessarily the best DEFENSEMAN in the league here. I'm gonna need to see much more from him on the defensive side of the puck before I make a statement like that. I'm weird like that.

- DC's anthem singer was fine - he sang the thing so fast I could barely keep up which I very much prefer to those singers who drag the thing out forever - but the more anthem singers I hear, the more I realize how attached I am to Doug Allen. He's really fantastic and let's face it, he's been the most consistent Sabre of the last two seasons. It also doesn't seem quite like a hockey game without "O Canada."

- One thing HSBC has over every arena I've been to - all three of them! - is the atrium. It took forever to get out of the Verizon Center after the game because the flow of traffic was terrible. Having that atrium for the crowd to dump out into after the game is awesome. My understanding is that was the brainchild of Larry Quinn and I will absolutely praise him for that stroke of genius.

- Also a much better variety of jerseys at HSBC. Huge amounts of Ovechkin and Green jerseys with very few dissenters. I suppose if we had a super superstar like Alexander Ovechkin that player would probably overwhelm everyone else but in HSBC you'll see everyone from Miller on down to Peters.

- It was a really fun game to watch but the back and forth would've made it a tough one to view from the press box. I probably would've been okay during regulation - my goal celebrations were very subtle, being by myself and all - but I had to leap to my feet and let out a big WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! after the OT goal.

(Note the Let's Go Buffalo signage in the crowd.)

Overall, DC treated me very well and it was a really fun place to see a game. I enjoyed it so much that I'm already planning on making one or two or three trips to other NHL arenas next season. One really cool thing about Buffalo is that it's an easy drive or flight to a lot of other pro sports cities. May as well take advantage of it!


Ryan said...

Tony doesn't hate pedestrians, he just hates bloggers. He was probably on deadline and had somewhere to be. Oh wait, he doesn't write anymore; he's a "TV Personality."

Very cool read, it looks like you had a lot of fun down there.

peter-usrt said... o' the list for next year....just a suggestion:)

Heather B. said...

Ryan, you're probably right. I completely forgot about the journalist-blogger factor.

Peter, Montreal actually is on the top of my list for next season. I think right now it's Montreal, Boston (for the city as much as the hockey), and maybe Pittsburgh before the old barn is torn down. That's an easy one because I have family to crash with. I'm also mulling over a baseball trip to Cleveland at some point this season. Any other suggestions are more than welcome! :)

Steve said...

I was at that game! Looks like I was in roughly the same area as you too. That was by far the friendliest road crowd I've ever seen, one guy yelled at me for celebrating the Sabres goals, and even he didn't have much to say other than, "Sit down!" I've been to Pittsburgh which was fairly friendly (though we were being extremely obnoxious) and Philly which was brutal (we also won that one in OT). Road games are the best!

dave in Rocha said...

Very nice writeup. Between having both my older siblings having lived in DC for a number of years, as well as my own summer-long stint there while in college, I'd have to say that DC is my 2nd home after WNY. All of your pics brought back a lot of memories and made me nostalgic for the area. I now have a hankering to go ride the Green Line down from Columbia Heights or go see a show at the 9:30 Club.

As for other arenas to hit, I'd recommend Chicago. By all accounts the atmosphere is (once again) incredible. I went to a game there 2 or 3 years ago when they were horrible so I missed out on it, and I'm trying to get back myself. If you do go, make sure you start clapping at the beginning of the anthem!

amy said...

Ryan, TK does a fair amount of "writing" on the PTI twitter feed. I'm not sure if that's a sign as to how far the mighty have fallen.

It looks like you had a blast in DC. Thanks for sharing with us.

And if you do the baseball trip to Cleveland (and you stay overnight), avoid the Hampton Inn on E 9th Street. The past two times I've stayed there, the hotel was a mess and the staff was incredibly surly. And if you do go to Cleveland, you have to eat at Fat Fish Blue. The food is amazing.

Heather B. said...

Steve, I don't have my ticket handy but I think I was in section 403. It was around there at least. And yeah, considering some of the complaints I've heard I was really expecting to see more nastiness between the two fanbases but most of what I saw was very fun and good-natured. Which is as it should be! Nothing wrong with a little friendly trash-talking :)

dave, Chicago is a great suggestion. I'll definitely consider that if we play there next season.

Amy, I will avoid the Hampton Inn but check out Fat Fish Blue. That name just sounds good!

Morgaine said...

late to the party (and haven't been blog-commenting in a long time, either!), but i'd recommend Columbus, despite my hatred of the Blue Jackets. another very nice arena area, with many choices of foodage and drinkage. i've seen the Sabres there twice and had a good time both times with minimal opposing-fan problems, plus Nationwide is one of the places in which even the cheap seats are good. i know our boys don't go there that often, but i'd be happy to stand you the refreshing adult beverage of your choice if you should make it down!

Your brother, John said...

The photo with the Jefferson memorial, dark gray clouds, water in the foreground framed by cherry blossoms - just amazing - really grabbed me.

As I first approached the Vietnam memorial, I thought it was interesting, but didn't move me until I started to get close enough to read individual names. Once I start reading individual names, tears come to my eyes and a lump in my throat. Then I kind of backed up and looked at the whole monument again, realizing how many names there were.