"This is a big f***ing deal."
A major hurdle to clear in our move to DC was finding an affordable place to live that would facilitate metro commuting into downtown, and that would have some of the extras we'd need to make life comfortable. Amber did a tremendous amount of research and organization to get us there and to see plenty of apartments, and the credit is all hers.
On Sunday, we loaded up and jetted off to DC. I found myself sitting right behind Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) on the flight out of Bismarck. He flew coach, but was in the exit row. I tried to peek between the seats to see what he was reading but couldn't get more information than "Page 4 of 5." I debated whether I should try to converse with him about how oil development was rapidly ruining western North Dakota (which he facilitated as governor), but decided it was in my interest as a low-level government employee to not attract attention to myself.
We watched most of the Packers NFC championship game at our gate while waiting for our flight out of Minneapolis, but had to board the plane just before the end of the game. The pilot announced the score to us before we departed. On hearing of the Green Bay win, Amber let out a too-loud "Yessssss!" which made the guy in front of her, sitting alongside his wife and teenage daughter, slowly turn his head and glare in mock disgust. I laughed and said, "That guy is going to recline his seat so hard." Everyone got a laugh.
We got to Reagan and easily got on the shuttle to the car rental place, which showed up about three seconds after we got there. We paid a few extra bucks for a GPS in the car, which was a great decision. The attendant upgraded us to a bigger car for free just because it was closer in the garage and it was apparently "cold" outside. The GPS was remarkably easy to use and helped phenomenally in an area where the roads are like a plate of spaghetti, though operator error caused bouts of "re-cal-ka-lit-ting" which made things interesting later on.
We got up at 5:15 AM to get started on our day of wall-to-wall apartment hunting. We had hourly appointments at a variety of locations around Alexandria most of the day, with a little break around lunch for additional exploration. We looked at some on the high and low end of what we wanted to spend, in different neighborhoods and situations. It's amazing how much was the same about the places we looked, and yet how much was different. Some include utilities and cost more, some don't and cost less on the surface. Some have laundry in-unit, some have it down the hall. We were exhausted by the end of the day, but had a good idea what our front-runners were. Incredibly, we made all of our appointments on time, even with unfamiliar roads and a baby in tow. Good planning and a GPS made it possible.
That evening, we visited my brother and ate at La Sandia. I really liked the steak fajitas I got, which were just incredible. Exhausted, and knowing we had another day ahead of us, we retired to the hotel and set the alarm a little later in the morning.
The second day of apartment hunting, which was really a half-day adventure to scope out some comparable apartments in Maryland, involved a drive from Arlington to Rockville during rush hour. The GPS had me going this way and that, and I was able to negotiate the traffic just fine until the instructions she gave me were made impossible by the dreaded orange cones. No problem, she'll just re-cal-ka-lit and we'll be OK.
Thus I found myself driving over the Arlington Memorial Bridge during rush hour, then zooming past the Kennedy Center, flawlessly maneuvering the epic roundabout at DuPont Circle, then grinding it out up Connecticut Avenue to get where we were headed. I was having "fun;" others in the car were less enthusiastic.
We toured three more apartments, ate lunch at an Indian restaurant, then made our decision to go with the very first apartment we saw. In all, we had seen 11 apartments. We went back to Alexandria. Done deal.
Since we now had free time on our hands, we went down to the National Mall to scope out my new office, Survey Lodge. I found my future supervisor, who introduced me around and showed me the whole building. Survey Lodge once was the boiler room that generated the steam to lift the elevator up the monument. After seeing that, she asked if we wanted to go to the top of the Washington Monument with her. We happily agreed.
The Washington Monument's park service alphacode is WAMO, taking the first two letters of each of the two words in its name. They pronounce it "Wham-O" as a sort of joke, referring to how busy it is. The building, which was once the tallest free-standing structure in the world and still the tallest free-standing stone structure, is visited by some 800,000 elevator riders a year. The trip up takes 70 seconds, and down, 2.5 minutes - a real challenge for the interp ranger to come up with something meaningful to say in such a short amount of time. It was described to me as the "bread and butter" duty station for rangers, since it comes up frequently in the rotation.
That evening we ate at Bus Boys & Poets, where I had some organic beer from the UK and grass-fed beef meatloaf. A portion of the restaurant was closed off for those who came to watch the State of the Union address.
Our plans for an early departure out of Reagan fizzled as our flight was canceled because of mechanical issues. Getting up at 5 AM again had been for nothing. People trying to get to New York were completely stranded before long (so it didn't matter that Christiane Amanpour was being paged because she was late). We got rerouted through Cincinnati, to Minneapolis, to Bismarck. An extra hop with a baby on your lap, trying to keep her feedings and naps on schedule is not easy.
We made it back, enjoying the warm spell in North Dakota's drying off the roads for the first time in months.