One is sweet and the other is … a web developer

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Letter 17 (page 2)

Washington D.C.

It became clear that Lan had no future at AmEx so she quit without having another job to go to. Six weeks later, she was offered a job in Virginia, just outside Washington D.C. so she started at the end of August. She would need a car once she was there so this gave us the opportunity for a cross-country road trip!

Prior to this expedition, we had not driven much further east than Denver’s airport Now we needed to cover 2675km/1665 miles in 3 days. I was pleasantly surprised to see gentle rolling hills as we passed through eastern Colorado, Kansas and western Missouri on the first day as I thought the land was as flat as a pancake from Denver all the way to the Mississippi River. That night, we stopped at the aptly named Boonville. Our hotel was next to a service station offering overnight parking and shower facilities for truckers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many big rigs in one place at one time. We walked by on the way to get our dinner at Wendy’s (a hamburger joint) which surprised Lan by having a delicious salad. I remarked to one of the staff how impressed I was by the trucks and was told it was a quiet night.

We had not planned to see anything along the way but figured we would never make a trip to St. Louis, so if we wanted to visit "the arch", we had to do it on the way through.

Built at the junction of the Missouri & Mississippi Rivers, St. Louis was the jumping off point for the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1803 and then settlers heading west in the middle 1800s. The Gateway Arch is stainless steel, 192m/630ft tall and we rode to the top!

Heading east out of St. Louis, the traffic was much heavier and dominated by trucks. Through Illinois, Indiana and well into Ohio, I was struck by the ease with which one could build an international airport. Even several side-by-side.

Finding a place for Lan to stay turned out to be more difficult than expected. The rental market in Denver is weak so there are signs on apartment complexes everywhere offering move-in specials. There was none of that around DC. I had contacted perhaps a dozen places before we left but only one had a unit available for immediate occupancy and it was gone by the time we arrived. We had also arranged to meet two single women offering share accommodation but neither of them worked out. As a temporary measure, Lan moved into a converted garage owned by the sister of a friend of Lan’s sister. It was dismal.

I flew back to Denver that afternoon, arriving at 2am instead of midnight as scheduled with the result that I was too late for a bus of any kind. After turning down an offer of $55 to get home by taxi, I elected to find a quiet, carpeted section of the terminal and sleep on the floor till 4:10am when the first bus left. It turns the airport is quiet for only 10 minutes at a time as the security announcements run all night.

You are probably wondering what my plans were. I intended to move over but later rather than sooner as I wanted to stay at my job for 2 years but had been there only 10 months. You might recall that I was in Australia during most of 1998 while Lan remained in the US. Lan is an independent woman having faced much greater challenges in life and I gained the impression that it didn’t matter much to Lan whether I was with her or not. It turns out that we’ve grown older and more attached since then. In retrospect, in 1998, Lan kept the same job and lived in the same place with neighbors and friends. This time she was completely on her own. Indeed, she said later that she felt the same terrible uncertainty she felt when she arrived in Australia in 1981.

Lan moved to a real apartment after 10 days though even with the minimal furniture she had with her, getting in was a physical struggle. I planned to visit every second weekend but she moved the weekend when I wasn’t there.

She did find some wonderful neighbors though, particularly two older gentlemen Bob, and Roy who served in both WW2 and in Korea. Both were a valuable source of local knowledge, kind words and good humor. Lan later discovered she was living next door to another woman originally from Vietnam.

Lan has two sisters living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Since it is "just" 650km/400 miles from Lan’s apartment and baby Andrew was getting baptized, we drove down for the event. About a dozen babies were processed in quick succession, though not all seemed to enjoy the experience if the screaming was anything to go by.

A wealthy Englishman, James Smithson, died in 1829 leaving his considerable fortune to form "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men". Although he had never visited the country, he specified that it was to be in Washington. He didn’t indicate why. After years of debate about what to with the money and even whether to accept it, Congress created the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 to conduct research, administer national collections and to educate the public. As a result, we now have a series of first-rate museums ranging in subject from the American Indian to Air & Space. On our first assault, Lan and I spent a full day at the Museum of American History and only conquered three-quarters of it. So much to see but sore feet are a limiting factor.

I actually lived in Washington DC in 1969 and 1970. As many of you know, my father was in the Navy and Australia was buying something from the US Navy at the time. Somehow dad was involved. I had a reasonable recollection of the house we lived in but none at all of the school I went to even though it was only two blocks away.

Lan called me after starting work describing it as a "dream job". Unfortunately it didn’t last. The man that hired her left two weeks after she arrived and his replacement was incompetent and arrogant. And loud! If Lan called me from the office, I could often hear him in the background shouting at someone. The stress made Lan sick which made life even more difficult so I urged her to give up and come back to Denver.

On my final visit, we made a trip to Annapolis, a beautiful small town an hour or two north. After inspecting the State Capitol and some other historic buildings, we walked down the waterfront and admired the yachts. We struck up a conversation with a man making repairs to his craft and he told us that "Only one thing works on an old boat and that's the owner!".

Although Annapolis bills itself as the "sailing capital of the world", its real claim to fame is being the home of the US Naval Academy where officers are trained. The visitor center was a waste of time catering mainly to prospective students but the museum’s collection of model ships was stunning. Especially intriguing were the ships made of bone. To relieve the boredom of their captivity, French prisoners saved the bones from stew, dried them and cut them into strips to make the planks and rigging for their models. The English arranged for the models to be sold to the public so the prisoners could make a little money. A few of the model makers were so successful that they elected to stay in England after peace was established.

The ships were difficult to photograph in their glass cases so I was hoping to buy some postcards. The gift shop didn't have any of the ships but I purchased a few others that were interesting. Figuring that Lan had a spare car key, to liven things up a bit, I left my keys on the counter after getting some coins out of my pocket. We walked back to the car and then I announced that I had lost the keys that included the keys to Lan’s apartment. I ran around the places we visited during the day but they weren’t there and the gift shop closed shortly after we left. Lan did have a spare car key so we drove back to Virginia wondering what to do next. Lan’s apartment was on the 3rd floor and she left the balcony door slightly open for ventilation. To entertain Lan’s neighbors, I climbed up from the balcony below. It doesn’t look very high up when you are on the ground looking up but it certainly looked high when looking down! Anyway, the following day we returned to Annapolis and I must admit to considerable relief at recovering the keys.

A few days later we were packed up and drove to Charlotte to visit Lan’s sisters for Thanksgiving. On the way back to Denver, we made good progress on our first day and drove into the evening hoping to make it to St Louis. While on the freeway at around 7pm, a deer mounted a kamikaze attack on us and I surprised myself by swerving instinctively to miss him. It would have spoilt my day (and the deer’s) to have hit him or her. 150 people and 1.5 million deer die in such crashes each year Note 1. The next day we set ourselves a new record driving 1337km/831 miles, getting home at 11pm. It was lucky we did as it snowed heavily the next day.

Despite trying without luck for 3 years before leaving for Washington, Lan got another job in Denver within a week of returning. It is with TriZetto which serves health insurance firms.

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  1. From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
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