Keeping Our Cool in DC -
July 25, 2002
Our bicycles were the speediest means of getting from the boat to Washington's public attractions
In the pantheon of great inventors, Willis Carrier doesn't enjoy the same name recognition as, say, Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell. Last week marked the 100th anniversary of his marvellous contribution to humanity, an event probably ignored by the majority of the world's population. The crew of Little Gidding, however, were singing his praises as we listened to the heat advisory warnings on the local radio in Washington, DC. A century ago, Willis Carrier invented air conditioning.
DC can be a pretty hot place in the summer, and we're not just talking about politics and stock market scandals here. For several days after we arrived for the Independence Day celebrations, temperatures persisted in the mid and high 90's, yielding heat indixes in excess of 100. The fellow on the radio advised us to avoid overexertion, drink lots of fluids and stay indoors. We were quite happy to comply with his first two prescriptions, but staying indoors on Little Gidding would have been a sentence to roast in a coke oven. Our boat is not equipped with Willis Carrier's invention.
The air conditioned bar at the Capital Yacht Club, where we had landing privileges (see last week's log entry), could have supplied all of our heat abatement requirements, but a concern about possible liver damage and a desire for cultural edification spurred us to seek alternatives. Fortunately, Washington has probably the largest concentration of air conditioned public buildings anywhere in America, quite possibly anywhere in the world. Daily between 10 am and 5 pm, there are literally dozens of institutions, galleries and museums that welcome the sweating masses. And the best thing is they don't charge admission. Free culture in cool comfort!
Most of Washington's public cultural amenities are clustered in and around The Mall, a rectangular park stretching over two miles between the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol. The Museum of American History, the National Gallery of Art, the Natural History Museum, the National Archives, the US Botanical Gardens and the multiple branches of the Smithsonian Institution - they're all there in chilling splendour.
From the Washington Channel anchorage where we were parked, it would have been a fifteen minute walk to The Mall or a single stop on the nearby subway. Our preferred means of transportation, however, was bicycle. DC is fairly bicycle friendly, with some dedicated bike lanes on busy streets and a number of scenic trails through the parks. Most motorists appear to be reasonably civilized; they're accustomed to seeing tourists blundering along in a slightly lost manner. It took us all of five minutes to make the dash from the Capital Yacht Club to the cool caverns of the nearest Smithsonian Institute building.
In the ten days we were in Washington, we hardly made a dent in all of the sightseeing opportunities. A thorough observer could spend several days visiting just a single institution such as the art gallery (housed in two separate buildings). We decided that we didn't want to spoil our cultural experience by indulging to the point of over-satiation. We fully intend to return in the future to continue our quest for culture and enlightenment. Besides, after spending ten days wandering through all those air conditioned corridors, we were beginning to show signs of hypothermia.
Cheers, David & Eileen