When I tell people my weekend plans, they usually say something like "..why" and "what the ****". So it was with a walk from Bethesda, where I live, and Arlington, VA, a distance about thirteen miles one way. I don't really know why I wanted to walk to Arlington. It's probably because I've never been there before. A good enough reason to talk thirteen miles and spend five hours on a Saturday.
On this trip, I don't plan ahead at all. I have no idea about the amount of time I want to spend doing a certain activity, where I'm going, what I will eat for lunch, or who I will meet up with. So I hike out of my apartment in shorts and a t-shirt, because it is a glorious summer day and I want to enjoy the weather, with my mind a cornucopia of cobwebs and dead flies.
There's this trail called the Capital Crescent Trail that leads pretty much from my apartment's back door all the way to D.C. That day, while I jog alongside the Potomac, I see a lot of people kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and yachting around on the river. One guy is playing “Despacito” on his yacht, and I slow down to listen.
I get about halfway through when I realize I started kind of late, and I am hungry. So I walk out of the trail to go find some food. I walk up this brick ramp, through a Y-intersection with no sidewalks, to a small row of narrow, two-story, white-brick townhouses. They’re not actually houses, they’re a group of stores, each one covering one floor of one house. It’s basically an 19th-century strip mall. Luckily for me, one of these stores is a sushi restaurant named Kotobuki, a small sushi bar covered in maroon Zagat stickers from almost every year in the past decade because it's so freaking good. I get a lunch special for $15 and some water to fill up my water bottle.
Now I'm full and thinking I can run across the entire world if I want to, but I should probably get back by the end of the day in order to do some work. That's when I look across the river, over this really tall green bridge, at Arlington. Now the thing with D.C. is buildings have to be shorter than the height of the U.S. Capitol because it's the U.S. Capitol and building a building taller than it is heresy. So all the buildings taller than the U.S. Capitol have to be built across the river, the land of the heretics, also called Virginia. I see these tall buildings and think it'd be fun to try and see what they look like up close.
I walk into the nearest glass-walled skyscraper facing the capital, and ask the guard at the desk if I can go up to the top and see the view. She looks at me, trying to figure out if I’m serious and ill or not serious and a jerk. I’m a serious jerk and she says no, so I back outside into the skyscraper canyons. I amuse myself with the psychedelic ads on the sides of the buildings that physically move for some reason, because Arlington is full of rich people who like these things. After a while it gets boring and I start Googling (is it googling or Googling) stuff to do in Arlington. And hey ho, Arlington National Cemetery pops onto the list.
A while later, I come across this large black tower with a bunch of bells in it. Apparently it's the Netherlands Carillon, which is a thing that the Netherlands gave us after WWII. It doesn't look Dutch. It might look Dutch. I look at the inscription and it's Dutch. Across from the large bell thing is this garden. It's a very large garden. With these white teeth. A lot of white teeth. I find it interesting and go in and check it out. It's Arlington National Cemetery. I'm a fucking idiot.
I ask the guard (a military contractor who's guarding the cemetery, because who needs soldiers to guard their precious dead) if there's any water to be found in the Cemetery. He says no, why? I say it's because the water I got from sushi ran out and I walked here from Bethesda, so I can use some water. He looks at me like I'm a fucking idiot. He is absolutely correct.
Arlington isn't as flat as I thought it would be. When you see these military cemeteries on Google Images you see these large flat, well organized rows of gravestones that mean something. Those are in France. Arlington isn't like that. Apparently during the Civil War, a Union general got so pissed at Robert E. Lee, the South's general in the Virginia area, that he buried twenty of his dead soldiers in his wife's garden. That's a great strategy to make people move, by the way. Bury twenty dead people in their vegetable garden. From there it kind of just spread, so now Arlington is this very hilly array of tombstones that are kind of organized into sections. These sections are kind of organized, but mostly people are buried wherever. There's people from WWII buried with people from Vietnam buried with people from Iraq. I thought it'd be like "This is the WWII section, this is the Vietnam section". Understandably though, it's bad to assign quotas to how many people die in which war like you know beforehand, and it's bad to dig people up and rebury them somewhere else because bureaucracy. Maybe there is no order besides what happens. It reflects war very nicely.
And then you have the special gravestones, the ones for the officers and the politicians. Those ones are higher up the hill to indicate their superiority after death, and also are very highly customized. Every gravestone is different and they're all much more nicer-looking than the government gravestones for us plebs. The thing is though, they miss all the information from the standard stones because they expect you to know who they are. Like "Lee". Who is Lee. If you told me "Lee, WWII, #XXXXX", I could actually look him up. Now I'll never know who this Lee is.
Also all the Kennedys are buried in Arlington, all together in this giant memorial. John F., Edward M., Robert F., Jackie, JFK Jr., the unnamed baby, etc. like all of America's hopes and dreams. That was super depressing to see. Like why are they all there? Oh right, that's why they're all there.
Lastly comes Arlington House, the big one on the top of the hill. McMansions must have been a thing back in the day too, because only the front of the building has stone. The entire back is wood.
The inside of the mansion isn't too bad, kind of small for us modern healthy people, but the real special treat is the view from the top. It's quite easily the best view I've seen of Washington D.C., better than the Kennedy Center terrace, or the Beltway, or Capitol Hill. You see the Mall curving to your right, lots of little cars and people going about their day, with airliners curving down to land at Reagan and curving up to take off. Everything lines up because it’s meant to, like Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial, a kind of twisted symmetry and beauty for the fallen.
Some police officers take down the American flag in front of the mansion and fold it into a triangle. I watch them do it. I watch them very carefully. They look uncomfortable while they're looking at me and doing the flag folding thing. I watch them very carefully. I wish I could fold a flag like that.
I go to the back and check out the vegetable garden. It's still growing vegetables. I wonder how vegetables taste with dead people nutrients in them. I wonder who eats them.
When I go back home and finally fall flat on my bed, it’s pretty clear today was a pretty special day. I don’t think there’s one day in my life where I’ve ran on a trail, got sushi, and visited a graveyard at the same time. Next time, though, if I want to visit Arlington I’ll take the Metro.