Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Heading south as it rains on our little parade

We had reservations for our trip, but not about it.

So, on a soggy Sunday, we headed for the Mason-Dixon Line, the invisible barrier between North and South. Maryland, our first stop, is below the line, although it was kept in the North camp during the Civil War by troops from nearby Washington.

Talking to the people in four Southern states, we found two things were universally true: the Civil War is neither considered civil nor called civil -- it's called the War Between the States and it hasn't ended. There has been a truce in the minds of many Southerners for the past 142 years, but they have not lost.

It's good to keep in mind that the wounds of war, although not physically maintained except in some historical restorations, are still felt in many quarters.

So, on a soggy Sunday, we took Mapquest's advice and headed across the George Washington Bridge and I-95, headed for Rockville, Md., where my stepmother lives in a wonderful assisted-living residence that's part of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

It was not an easy journey. Please see

I didn't want to expand too much on it at the time, since we were on our journey and one is loath to let all and sundry know that one is away from home, for unfortunate but obvious reasons.

Stay to the left: geographic, not political, advice

Heading south on I-95, we found a number of truths: First, the rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, we found, were cleaner, better maintained and had more of what we were looking for than those in Delaware and Maryland. The gas is also cheaper, although it is not self-service and the people who pump gas, we have found, are sometimes a bit slow.

Although gas in Connecticut is still around $3.00 a gallon, we bought gas in South Carolina for $2.49 a gallon and could have saved a couple of cents on that by searching a bit more.

In any case, in order to get to Maryland, you need to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and then continue south on I-95, the Delaware Turnpike, all 11 miles of it. That will cost you $6. Get an E-ZPass before you go. Just do it.

Whatever you do, stay to the left when paying the bridge toll. It's not well-marked, but take our word for it. You see, after the bridge toll, there are two ways to go on I-95 -- south toward Washington or north toward Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia. You want to stay to the left to continue south, and stay out of the Mixmaster of cars that need to cross as many as a dozen lanes of traffic.

On our journey south, we didn't, and it cost us nearly an hour between the bridge, toll and Mixmaster. We crawled across Delaware. I'm still waiting for my $3 from the governor.

Maryland, my Maryland

Washington, D.C., is one of the best and certainly one of the least expensive places to tour that there is. Anywhere.

That doesn't mean meals and hotel rooms are cheap -- they run from pretty inexpensive to bank-breaking. Stay in Maryland or Virginia and take the Metro. The Metro is clean, relatively safe, not that expensive and most tourist places are near a Metro stop.

Your taxes at work, for a change

The National Mall is not a shopping center, but a few blocks of open space surrounded by some of the best museums anyplace on Earth. They're great, there is something for everyone and (wait for it) they are all free. From the Air and Space Museum to the Hirshhorn Museum of Art and Sculpture Garden to the Museum of Natural History and other parts of the Smithsonian Institution, you can spend weeks touring them. Don't forget the National Archives, the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, the World War II, Korean War memorial (I toured that with a man whose father had fought for China in the Korean War) and the chilling Vietnam War Memorial.

That doesn't even count the other museums, the Robert E. Lee house and other places in the Arlington National Cemetery, including the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknowns. Don't forget the Pentagon. You want shopping: Connecticut Avenue, which is close to the National Geographic Society (also free) but the stores on Connecticut Avenue and Dupont Circle will make up for it.

Of course, there is the House of Representatives and the Senate and the White House (get tickets from your representative in Congress or Senator for Congress and for the White House tour). You can also tour the FBI headquarters. Enough said -- I was posted to Washington for four months and didn't see a quarter of what was available.

Eli's at 20th and N is the only kosher restaurant in Washington that's not in the Jewish Community Center, but City Lights Chinese restaurant and the bookstore-coffee shops on and near Dupont Circle are worth a visit if you don't keep kosher.

Fun in the burbs

If you don't want to shlep into Washington for one day, there are things to see in Maryland. For instance, the Montgomery County Historical Society in Rockville maintains the Beall-Dawson House and Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine on its Montgomery Avenue campus. (

My stepmother is a retired nurse, so Stonestreet (that's the name of the doctor whose office that was) was fascinating for her.

Even though we arrived on a steamy afternoon a half hour before closing time, docent Bruce Hendrickson showed us around and seemed to be having as good a time as we did. It cost a couple of dollars each for seniors and was well worth it. My stepmother found a few instruments that hadn't changed from the 19th to the later 20th centuries.

For those who eat kosher, or who like good Chinese food and good bagels, head for Boiling Brook Parkway in Rockland. There is also a kosher supermarket to stock up on LaBriute meals or other stuff before heading to places where there isn't so much choice. I also hear there are some great diners on the Rockville Turnpike.

Next: Heading really south

Until next time...

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