Fun in the DC Sun

Or …the first solo adventures into the heart of America. Things started really over a year ago, with taking Ghassan Hamarneh’s CMPT 880 Medical Imaging course. Things went well, and the course project was good enough that he encouraged me to write it up as a paper. The usual dance ensued, but third time was the charm – got accepted to ISBI 2007, and got the right to head to Washington D.C.!

I’m the kind of person who forgets things left, right and centre…and in this case, I was carrying not only my poster, but also that of the other person in the lab. So three things – luggage, laptop and the poster tube. That was my mantra for the next couple weeks – gotta have all three items to travel. There was a brief bout of panic as I went about the usual hunt for passport since my last one expired. Here’s an interesting experiment – I’ve marked June 2011 for passport renewal…I wonder if that’ll work. I’ll have to check my blog in four years πŸ™‚

The thing about flying East is not really the travel time — actually, changing flights in the middle gave me the time to duck into the Quizno’s in Chicago for a decent lunch — but rather the rapid manner in which all the hours in the day get chewed up. By the time you arrive, the entire day has come and gone. I also discovered that the last row in the plane is awkward — you don’t get to put your chair back, so resign yourself to sitting up straight. My bit of excitement after the transfer was the passenger compartment no longer having room for luggage, so they checked my hand carry. Luckily, all the customs fun was already taken care of in Canada, so after dropping in, it was just walk down the corridor … wait, hand carry was checked. So down the escalator, looking around … not finding the bag. Check, I still have the laptop and the posters, so it’s not critical. But I like wearing clothes, so I continue to look. It appears I have the wrong carousel, so I walk till I find the right one. Still, I don’t see the bag…and then some guy starts cleaning up the carousel. Not a good sign…but look! My bag is on his cart! My heart starts beating again! And the first bit of excitement in DC is successfully taken care of.

Round 2 is getting to the hostel. I pull out the handy dandy instructions, and take the escalator to the Metro station. It’s built right into the airport – ultra-convenient. And ultra confusing – there’s machines everywhere to take your money, but no explicit instructions. There’s some mention of a Metro Pass thingy, with a $10 deposit, so I feed money into the machine. Let’s start with $5. It spits out a piece a paper, as I read the no refund policy. Hmmm…it would appear that I’ve managed to purchase a $15 piece of paper….kind of like a transfer, but worth a good deal more. However, it does make the turnstile happy, and the attendant standing on the other side reassured me that I could use it without expiry date, until it ran out of money. $15 of riding the Metro did seem like a lot … but I had a cunning plan. Maybe I’d hitch the transit to Dulles airport for swing dancing tomorrow.

Still, that left finding the place to sleep for tonight. So grabbed the bags, and went up the escalator. Five minutes of decoding the walls and it’s down the escalator and up the neighbouring one to the other platform, with trains going in the right direction. Let’s put on some sunglasses to look cool, relaxed and non-touristy. No sirree…these bags and this gimongous tube are what I always take to work. Yup. Airport.

Getting off the Metro, and hauling things up the escalator brings me out into the outside air. I’ve made it to Pentagon City Station, with malls all around me. Feels a bit like Richmond, including the familiar feeling of being lost. And carrying bags that are rapidly increasing in weight. A walk a quarter of a block one way, then turn around and start walking the opposite way. Definitely not lost. Definitely not a tourist. Keep emitting the usual calm… After following the road for a bit, I pass a fire station and then realise that I missed my turnoff. Pulling out the Google Map printout confirms it, so I cut across the block, and start head towards my destination. Looks like I’m still out of shape, because I’m sweating when I make it to the house. But I’ve found it, and I’m in one piece. Success, as I punch in the code and enter the Arlington Hostel!

Celebrated my success with hunting around for the wireless access – WEP key was on the wall (there were little tags everywhere with hints like don’t use the shower when other people might be waiting, don’t hit your head, don’t put dirty plates in the dishwasher…) and I eventually figured out the plate on the door with my name on it was actually the entrance to my room — I ended up with the entire basement! Was pretty good — headroom was a bit tight — I would have been perfect if I were a couple inches shorter — but pluses included a personal washroom, three beds, personal TV with DVD and VCR, and more room than I have at home! I could take a shower, plink away at the laptop, then lie down and be in bed πŸ™‚

Still, I was getting hungry, so time to hunt up some food. Found the local bookstore, and the some local eats — food in DC turns out to be at par with food in Vancouver. So pretty expensive, once the exchange rate kicks in. Feel like the effect I felt in London, where everything would have been reasonable if it were Canadian dollars and not pounds. So didn’t quite head into the big restaurants, but ended up wandering next door to the Pentagon City Mall and found the local food court.

Interesting – the mall is open late, and there’s tons of people inside. The place was bustling with activity, especially lots of teenagers grabbing dinner. I ended up getting the “world-famous” bourbon chicken (ended up being dinner twice during my stay), then wandered around and finally found the local supermarket — Harris Teeter, it’s called, behind the mall. Kind of like Safeway, except I didn’t have a local membership so a lot of the of the deals didn’t work for me. Snagged some Harris Teeter branded cranberry/blueberry combo juice, then made my way back. And during this trip disaster struck.

Well, I actually didn’t notice the lost glove till the next morning. Probably due to me trying to feel safe in the dark by making a fist, then my hand getting warm and removing a glove. And then losing said glove somewhere along the way. Somehow, I now have a right glove, but no left.

Returning to my new home revealed my roomies. Turns out a sister-sister tag team doing the great University tour to check out potential places to apply — older grad school sister leading the younger one on this ultimate keener joyride. I’m just jealous that my “keenness” to enter University was limited to remembering to pay the UBC application fee (I forgot the SFU one), resulting in my successful acceptance there. Wish I had paid more attention back then. Anyways, I caught up on all the TV shows I’d been ignoring — Scrubs, Sex in the City, Grey’s Anatomy … Definitely a learning experience. My recent TV experience is really just the Battlestar Galactica-a-thons (good stuff), and one episode of Heroes (I hear this is awesome).

And strange but true, the younger sister’s name was Teddy. She didn’t like being called kitten, but I didn’t learn that till later. I wonder what Teddy is short for? Or is it a common girl’s name?

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