Washington Trip – Day 5 – American History X

Travel Log - Washington

Another day in misty Washington DC. After the roaring sun yesterday, the cool, misty morning was a welcome change. Unfortunately, with this cooler weather came the rain. As such, we kept pretty close to the hotel this morning, hitting some of the boutiques Clara had her eye on.

A bronzing that looks just like Jack Layton
Jack Layton: either a time traveler from the 1800s or a highlander. Either way, he must be stopped!

After lunch, we set off for again for a long day of touristing at the National Mall. First on our hit list was a small art gallery called Corcoran Gallery. Part art exhibit, part school, Corcoran gave us our first taste of American art (both famous and not so famous) with works from around the birth of America all the way through to modern exhibits. Although a bit tricky for Jeff to get around, as the only elevator required a staff from the gallery to accompany and operate it, this is definitely worth taking the time to see. Some of the work here is absolutely staggering, both in scale and detail. While some of the modern art was a bit goofy (see Jeff’s concerns on modern art in Barcelona last year…), it was an enjoyable experience that took us a solid hour and a half to take the time to adequately see the whole exhibit. Note the bizarre bronzing we found from the 1800s of a man who looks identical to Jack Layton. Weird.

Anyway, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful and we discovered there is meter parking right next door which is free for 4 hours if you have a handicapped parking pass. Definitely something to remember in the future.

A sketch of one man seductively ontop of another man, sewing his mouth shut
We call this piece: "You told me there'd be naked mole-rats you JERK!"

By the time we left the Corcoran Gallery, the clouds had parted and the warm sun was once again shining. As such, we decided to walk across the top of the National Mall and visit the American History Museum. We had been warned that this museum wasn’t exactly…traditional…and was more of a pop-culture romp than a serious depiction and analysis of past events. This is probably the best way to describe the experience, but that doesn’t mean it was unenjoyable. Despite some truly cringe worthy “God Bless America” moments, especially during the exhibit on the creation of the atomic bomb, there was an absolutely astonishing exhibit about media and the civil rights movement. This exhibit brought a much more critical look at race and class in America. It was strange to compare this type of criticism and analysis with the exhibit on military history a few rooms over which claimed that America single-handedly won World War II in a matter of days and that the US Army had to invade Afghanistan because the Taliban was hiding Osama bin Laden. Admittedly, conclusive evidence that bin Laden wasn’t in Afghanistan didn’t come out until just recently, but we feel the museum kind of glossed over this whole section of history. Speaking of glossed over, there were TONS of mentions of Americans who have died (like the 5 people who died in the Boston MASSACRE or the thousands who died on 9/11) while the 200,000 or so Japanese who died nuclear deaths was but a short end note with half a wall dedicated to the horrors of atomic war. We both kind of wondered if average Americans would find this as jarring as we did.

Photo of the monument to Vietnam War nurses
We think this was the monument to overacting in "Platoon."

After seeing the sights and snapping some photos, we decided to end the day with a leisurely walk through the National Mall to check out the Washington Monument, the World War II memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. It was pretty cool walking through the park, especially because pretty much every square inch of grass was being used for co-ed baseball and kickball leagues. The only downside of our walk was the discovery that the reflective pool between the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial has been reduced to a non-reflective mud patch–apparently it’s under construction? Only America could find a way to do construction on water.

One parting note Jeff wanted to make, that has been brewing in his head all trip, was on the accessibility here. Pretty much everywhere we have gone has had an elevator–and we’re not just talking tourist attractions or government buildings. Stores, restaurants, even the Lincoln Memorial. The transit is universally accessible, as far as we’ve seen so far, and being in a wheelchair hasn’t been much of a problem so far, all in all. What’s really disheartening is looking at the progress that has been made here and looking back to Canada. We always talk about our national healthcare and how we take care of people in Canada…but do we really? Admittedly, accessibility is better in Toronto than it is in London, but my entire life has been spent arguing with people to become accessible and the answer is always the same–it’s just too expensive.

A shirt promoting the ADA, saying "America wins with the ADA"
The American History Museum even had this piece celebrating the ADA right in the front lobby beside C3P0. We've never seen disability mentioned in a Canadian museum if it wasn't a "special exhibit."

Meanwhile, Americans have somehow managed to put elevators damn near everywhere. Can you imagine how expensive it probably was to put an elevator into the Lincoln Memorial? Think of how functionally pointless it is to put an elevator in so someone in a wheelchair can go see a giant statue of Lincoln chillin’ on a huge chair…yet they did. Because they get it. Maybe they only get it because it’s been legislated and litigated through the Americans with Disabilities Act, but people really do think about accessibility a bit differently here and it’s both refreshing and saddening.

Will we ever have something like the ADA in Canada? Probably not, because the provinces demand control over how they operate, leaving us with a patch-work of accessibility standards and protocols, none of which have the legislative or litigious teeth of the ADA.

In Ontario, people in wheelchairs can’t get to work because the transit system isn’t accessible. In America, you can go see a statute of Lincoln, even if you’re in a wheelchair.

Just let that sink in…

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