Off to DC

Apr 14, 2007

This was one of the more complicated starts to a vacation in recent memory, and it began months ago with the fact that historically, everyone goes away for school vacation week except us. Now that the kids are both in school, your choices of vacation weeks are limited to about 9 weeks in the summer, and everything else is shoe-horned into those weeks also. this year requires a big trip to Illinois, mostly because we didn’t do one last year, mostly because the Worldcon was a more attractive itinerary and nobody wants to do two big vacations only a few weeks apart. This year the Worldcon’s in Japan, so no conflict there, and the summer would be completely opened up for an Illinois trip if we opted to go somewhere else at a different time of year. So last fall I seized upon the idea of going to Washington DC and hitting a few other spots in Virginia, all places Beth and I have been to but not since Chloe came along.

The clincher for this trip was that Placido Domingo was singing in Die Walkure at the Washington Opera today, and more or less coincidentally I happened to come upon this bit of information just before single tickets were about to go on sale last November. So after getting some buy-in that this would be the way to go, I ordered myself a ticket the day they went on sale, and subsequently the whole thing sold out months in advance. So now we were committed. Since it’s Wagner, there was a 6pm start time, which necessitated leaving on Friday to get down to DC, but that was ok, just start the school vacation a day early, the kids would be the last to complain about missing a day of school.

This was the plan until sometime around the beginning of February when Justin’s cub Scout pack had their annual pinewood derby competition, and by some miracle his car won. Miracle because while generally the winners are those who’ve done engineering studies on the various aerodynamic properties of different car shapes and weight distribution schemes, Justin and beth just came up with a cool design and went with that, to the point that his den leader had to gouge out some extra weight from the underside of the car just before the race in order for it to meet the weight limit. As I say, Justin won handily, if inexplicably, and the top three finishers get to advance to the district competition. This is seen as a bad thing by those who’ve been there because unlike the local competition, which takes a couple of hours out of a Friday evening, this district thing is an all-day affair. The odds of winning are much reduced because now the engineers are all competing against one another. Marlborough had the option of hosting the event, but the pack leader’s half-hearted attempt to find someone to organize it came to naught and it went to another troop in Milford. And they decided the optimal day for the pinewood derby district competition would be Saturday, April 14.

Now I wasn’t about to give up domingo and Walkure for another marathon derby-fest, which take any fun you may have actually watching the cars race and stretch it out to epic lengths by the painstaking weigh-ins and endless testing of the tracks before the competition even begins, followed by the snappy patter of the MC shilling for the cold pizza and left over concessions from the previous year’s event. And there was no good argument for Justin to miss the race, since he didn’t have a ticket to Walkure and it wasn’t like we were leaving for Disney or something he really wanted to do instead.

So after some deliberation, I came upon a solution. I would fly one way to Washington on Friday night so I could see the opera the next day as planned. And then Beth and kids would drive the eight hours down to DC Saturday after the competition was over. Beth even agreed to this, even though she’d never driven that far on her own and isn’t always the best candidate to stay awake in a moving car, particularly once the sun goes down. That part of plan worried me, as did how I was going to get to the hotel from the airport, since the only cheap one-way flights were on BWI, and didn’t get there until after 10pm. The mass transit options to get into the DC area that late in the evening were marginal at best, and I wasn’t about to spend more than the cost of the plane ticket to take a cab into DC, even just as far as the Metro.

So then I thought of another scenario that would be more palatable to Beth too. I would drive down Saturday morning with all our stuff. Beth would take the kids to the competition, and afterwards all 3 of them would hop on a plane and fly to BWI. the additional expense of flying 3 people instead of one would be offset by staying 1 less night in DC. I had originally picked out a nice hotel around Dupont Circle that would’ve been great for the original 3-night stay arriving at a reasonable hour, but for a 2-night whirlwind tour, there was no point paying top dollar for the extra amenities, so I changed the reservation to a Quality Inn that was just inside the beltway on the BWI side of DC, and only 4 blocks from a Metro station. That made it easy for everyone to get to, by car or subway. Ideally I would’ve just driven there and Beth and the kids would take the Metro, but again the times were a little late and with 2 kids late at night I couldn’t vouch for the neighborhood between the station and the hotel. So I added one extra wrinkle to make it more complicated, but it was ultimately the option we went with and it worked flawlessly.

I was up bright and early this morning and out of the house with the minivan full of everyone’s stuff by 6:15am or so. I don’t know that I’ve ever done a 7-hour drive by myself, and I was worried about having enough energy left to sit through 5 hours of Wagner, but it worked out just fine. Spent much of the drive down 95 listening to a met broadcast of Gounod’s Faust that I’d recorded a couple of years ago and just gotten around to transferring to CD. Made it to the airport around 1:30, a little ahead of schedule. The plan was to leave the car at the airport for Beth, so when she and the kids arrived this evening they could just hop in and drive the last 25 miles or so to the hotel. Since I had some extra time, I scouted around the terminal to figure out what concourse they’d be arriving in, and parked the car as near to that section of the airport as I could. Then I found the B30 Metro bus to Greenbelt station (which runs every half hour or so that time of day), and I was at the hotel by 3pm or so, with enough time to change and call Beth to tell her where the car was. Then it was back to the subway to go into Foggy Bottom and the Kennedy Center.

Although it’s not a long walk from the nearest station, it was starting to rain a little bit by the time I got to the Kennedy Center around 5pm. this gave me enough time to wander around a bit and find the KC Café on the terrace level where I could grab a sandwich and can of soda for $11, and I was in the opera house and in my seat with plenty of time to spare. I chatted briefly with the guy next to me, who had come from Philadelphia just for the occasion, apparently they have the same dearth of Wagner there as we do in Boston. The opera was spectacular, it was announced beforehand that Domingo had a cold but he was going to sing anyway (Siegmund only has to worry about the first two acts, which together are about as long as most other complete operas). This was billed as an “American” Ring, although the general look was more like “Sky Captains and the World of Tomorrow”, without the giant robots. The director was Francesco Zambello, who changed the setting and costumes so that Hundig’s house looks like a cabin in the woods with trophy heads mounted on the walls, Wotan’s castle is a corporate board room overlooking an art deco city skyline, and the 8 rhine maidens are 30’s-era parachutists. I’m pretty sure the singers are miked, the hall is so big I don’t know how they couldn’t be, and they sounded unnaturally loud at different times. Besides Domingo, and Alan Held as Wotan, the rest of the cast was unknown to me but sounded great, colds notwithstanding. Although I have CD’s of the ring and the Met/Levine version on video, I’m sure I’ve never watched or listened to Walkure straight through before. It’s been years since I’ve watch the tape, but the music is relatively familiar now, so it was great to see it synched up with the action and realize what’s actually going on at certain key spots. The second act, which runs about 95 minutes or so, is gripping from start to finish. Wotan’s confrontation with Brunnhilde in act 3 goes on a little long, and Siegmund and Sieglinde at the end of act 1 start to get creepy, but that’s just me. There was quite the variety of people in the crowd, including more kids than I would expect to see at the opera, particularly this one. Alan Held played Wotan as much more angst-ridden than what I remember from james morris. I didn’t recognize Sieglinde, but it was nice to see it played by someone other than the visually unconvincing Jessye Norman. Well worth the trip, no troubles with staying awake, I was back at the hotel around 12:15. beth had made it there with no troubles, everything ran smoothly, nobody got lost, and the kids were trashed. A long day for everyone. Not the way I originally envisioned it, but it seemed to work out fine.

by | Categories: Uncategorized |

Share with others

No Responses so far | Have Your Say!

Comments are closed.