I should have known the moment I boarded that bus that I was in for a wild ride. Our group’s motto was “DC or Bust”, and after our fifth hour on the road, it seemed like we were closer to busting than to DC. I thumbed through my battered travel guide listlessly, attempting to ignore the sniveling complaints and constant utterances of “Are we there yet?” by my adolescent traveling companions. Patience was a commodity in short supply among parents and students alike as we traveled through the nondescript scenery of Illinois and Indiana.
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Night began to fall as we entered Ohio, but it would be a long while before anyone fell asleep. Conditions on the bus were growing increasingly unpleasant. The supply of movies had been exhausted hours ago, and Napoleon Dynamite had become noticeably less entertaining with each successive viewing. The air in the bus had taken on a repugnant odor thanks to the rear lavatory, which was used by students whose bathroom schedules didn’t align with our planned stops at various highway rest areas. A continuous stream of Hannah Montana escaped from headphones throughout the bus, causing a continuous headache in several passengers, myself included.
With just minutes until midnight, the kids were as rambunctious as ever thanks to an abundance of caffeine- and sugar-laced drinks. Their hijinks continued well into the wee hours, until one particularly agitated parent laid down the law: any excessive noisemaking would be punishable by death. Although it may have been a slight exaggeration, her desperate plea for quiet was granted, and both kids and adults could slumber in (relative) peace.
Morning came much too early for us weary travelers, but the sight we beheld as we woke up gave us all a jolt of energy for our one jam-packed day of sightseeing. I gazed longingly at the various monuments and museums as the scenes of metropolitan Washington, D.C. unfolded.
The bus came to a stop in front of a towering greystone building, replete with buttresses, arches, and Gothic Revival-style masonry. The building, known to locals as the OPO, or the Old Post Office, is home to the city’s greatest souvenir shops and eclectic eateries. (Tourist tip—since tickets to the top of the Washington Monument can be hard to come by, take a trip up the clock tower instead. The view is breathtaking, and better yet, it’s free.)
As our school group flooded into the Post Office, I was immediately drawn to the food court. While my peers were chowing down on less highbrow fare, such as burgers, fries, and ice cream, my culinary sampling included a calzone, a hefty slab of cheese-filled bread, cannoli, miniature tube-shaped pastries filled with ricotta and chocolate shavings, and light, flaky baklava, encrusted with honey and walnuts.
Refueled and ready to continue sight-seeing, we reboarded the bus. The National Mall was next on the agenda. Much to the dismay of the female faction, there wasn’t a single retail outlet in sight, unless you counted the handful of hot dog stands lining the streets. I rolled my eyes at their naïveté and continued on with our tour group. As we passed each successive monument, I became more amazed at the history and patriotism behind them. (Taking a guided tour of the National Mall can give you a greater insight into the monuments’ stories.)
Following the tour, we pressed on in our one-day whirlwind exploration of the nation’s capital. At the conclusion of the day, as I sleepily boarded the bus to return home, I reflected on the trip, which wasn’t such a “capital disaster” after all.
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