By Todd Franko
I’m not a travel writer.
And I’m not really a traveler. I’ve been as far north as Ottawa, Ontario, and as far south as Fort Lauderdale. I’ve been only as far west to the sand hills of Nebraska, and as far east as the waters off Cape Ann, Mass.
Although the bar in East Hampton, N.Y., may have been farther east, I did not compare longitudes.
Regardless, our summer travels took the Franko clan to Washington, D.C., last week.
And since I almost stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, I’m almost a travel expert.
So here’s a list of my do’s and don’ts of traveling to D.C.:
U Do not look for a historical marker by the solitary tree that sits at the base of the Washington Monument facing the Lincoln Memorial. It’s an old tree; its deeply grooved bark is Teflon slick from years of kids’ climbing; and it’s being held together by wires because someone wants it to stay for some reason. But no sign says why. So I made up a story for the kids: Lincoln’s hockey skates are buried underneath.
U Do wade your feet into the water at the World War II monument fountain despite the signs that say “No wading.” Apparently in Washington, “No wading” means that you can’t walk in the fountains. If you do walk in, a burly guard will come out of nowhere and start blowing a whistle at you. Yes, you. A whistle means you have to get out. So sit on the side and just dip in your feet. No whistle.
U Do not be too alarmed by the drunk, homeless guys. They’re loud. But the ones immediately surrounding the mall area are harmless.
U Do take time to “push over” a monument and photograph it. You’ll be puzzled at first glance when you see people in an assortment of mime-like poses. But you’ll catch on.
U Do wonder what the most boring job is in D.C. I first thought it may have been the many, many guards in front of the many, many government buildings standing and awaiting terrorist strikes. But hands down, the most-boring job has to be the elevator operator in the U.S. Capitol. That job wins my “I-hand-out-tickets-at-a-toll-booth” award.
U Do buy the $1 waters from the rough-looking guys selling them from coolers on the street corners. They’re cheaper than what you’ll find elsewhere. And, more importantly, they are not tampered with as I’m still alive to write this.
U Do hit the Smithsonians. They’re free.
U Do not hit the Smithsonian eateries. They’re not free, and the prices make beers at the Covelli Centre seem like a bargain.
U Do not tempt yourself with the snacks in the hotel room. The prices make beers at the ... ah, that’s piling on.
U Do rent your hotel from Priceline.com. I became a first-time user of the William Shatner-fronted Web site. I found myself with a pretty good deal a block away from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. My price was about one-third of the one posted on the back of the hotel room door.
U Do not tour in D.C. longer than three days. It’s an overwhelming place. We live in Youngstown, Ohio; not Youngstown, Mont. If you hop in a car after lunch, you can be in D.C. for a late dinner. Go once per year.
U Do bring good walking shoes. Seven days later, my blisters are just subsiding.
U Do not be alarmed by M16-toting policemen walking the streets just as they do in places such as Jerusalem and Baghdad. Like homeless folks, they’re not a sight you see on D.C. postcards. But you’ll see them.
U Do stop by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s congressional office for a visit and possibly some tour help. You get free mini-Constitution booklets and bypass some lines in the Capitol tours. We did not get a Tim bobblehead, though.
U Do eat breakfast at the Lincoln Waffle House across from Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was killed. It’s sorta clean; and you can find room to eat so long as you extend your arms front to back and not side to side. But it reeks of character and texture like having breakfast at your favorite truck stop.
U Do not wonder why an exhibit at the Smithsonian that touts the wonders of insects in our world is sponsored by Orkin — a company that kills insects.
U Do go to D.C. more than once in your life. D.C. reminds you in every step, even in the grittiest or most impoverished points, that despite our many, many shortcomings, we do live in the most fascinating country on Earth.