The Great 1994
eeting & Photo Safari

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by John Johnson
Volume 8 Number 1 - Spring 1995

Go to the photo page!

The weather was gray and cloudy in Los Alamos as I rushed around that Friday afternoon. I was busy trying to finish my transparencies and get the final version of a press release before I had to leave for the Spring American Physical Society meeting in Crystal City, VA.

It's difficult to remember everything that happened on this trip, and often things will get out of order as they work their way out of my head and onto paper. I know that I made it to the airport on time, and had an uneventful trip. I was upgraded to a Lincoln Continental at the airport, due in part to my pleasant demeanor and mostly because their weren't any smaller cars available. Then I headed off to the Crystal City Hyatt Regency. I would just as soon have stayed at the Day's Inn at Iwo Jima with the Michigan State contingency. The service was poor and the room meager. The conference didn't even provide complimentary juice or coffee. It was a good thing I had some free time between the meetings I planned on attending. I wanted to take a lot of pictures this trip, and that meant not being in Crystal City very much.

Crystal City isn't a bad place. It seems like it sprung up from the conference business that naturally occurs near a major airport like Washington National. It even has it's own Metro stop, although it's quite a hike from the Hyatt. There are a fair number of apartment buildings scattered around, but most of the people seem to come to Crystal City for work, and the place is dead at night.

Anyhow, Raman and the MSU gang showed up Sunday night. Carl Nelson showed up with new olive green suit in hand, to try and find a job at the APS Job Fair. Well, let me tell you that it wasn't fair! Neither Carl or I ended up with any decent leads. Now a year later, Carl is working at a museum in Ann Arbor as he tries to finish his thesis and I am soon to be out of work with still no job leads. But that's beside the point. Raman, Carl, Shigeru, John Kelley and I caught a late dinner there at the Hyatt. We were treated to inflated prices, mediocre food and poor service. Every time I tried something new at the Hyatt I was disapointed. It was getting late, so I hit the sack and they headed back to the Day's Inn.

Well, I did register for the APS Job Fair Monday morning. And Carl and I waited around in our suits hoping for an interview. We had no luck, although Carl pressed the flesh in his search for a teaching job. As I recall, Raman and Carl and Debbie and I headed out for a nice dinner that evening. The place that we thought we were going to had turned into the headquarters for some religion I think, so we ended up eating "continental cusine" at a resturant near dupont circle.

We rushed back to the Hyatt after eating so I could present my paper on the latest way to use an LRAD. I was the last talk of the night, only because Jeff Johnson didn't show up to present his paper. Jeff and I work together so they asked me to give half of his talk. Well, he never had a talk, so I kind of ignored them. I was feeling bloated and sleepy from the big meal and I was waving the laser pointer around too much. I was later told that I aimed the laser pointer at a posterior region of a female co-worker a bit too long. Oh well, this talk was so late at night that no one important was there to chastise me over this small fact. Despite the obligatory person asking if we had an LRAD that did laundry, I thought the talk went very well. I was glad it only lasted 10 minutes.

Tuesday afternoon, Raman and Carl and I went off to a "High Tech Job Fair" out in the suburbs. It must have taken us 40 minutes to get there only to realize that we weren't computer science or EE majors and no one wanted to hire us. More rejection.

As for the rest of the week, it kind of flew by. So without regard for the actual order of events, let me present the highlights as I remember them.

Photography on the Mall

I had some time to myself while Raman and Carl were respectively attending colleague's presentations and sucking up for employment, so I spent one morning out on National Mall taking pictures.

I started off by taking the Metro to the Farragut North stop. I bought a Snapple at a cart on the way towards the mall and soon I was at the White House. I had borrowed Raman's telephoto lens so I started peeping in the White House windows. As usually happens when I travel to DC, the President was out of town. It was a beautiful, clear day though, so I snapped off some good pictures and moved on. The next stop was the Washington Monument. Of course the elevator was broken, and they wouldn't let me just climb it, so I headed across past the reflecting pool to the Vietnam memorial.

I'd never been to the Vietnam memorial before and it was quite moving. I mean, you think that a wall of names isn't going to have any impact. What moves you is seeing people search for the name of a loved one. A father, a brother... more often than not someone close who was in their teens still who died in a God forsaken country fighting a war that they didn't understand. Name after name on the wall of real people who came back in body bags, if at all. Hundreds of men are still unaccounted for. You realize quickly the real cost of war is in human lives. Whether you win or lose there are people giving that ultimate sacrifice. Then at a memorial like this, you also see the other victims. The ones who have to live with the loss of a loved one for every day of the rest of their lives. Pretty powerful stuff.

Going Ethiopian

It was Wednesday night and a bunch of us decided to drive out to Adams Morgan for Ethiopian food. It was my first experience with Ethiopian, and I was looking forward to it.

As I said, we drove, which meant we had to find parking when we got there. We took two car loads and eventually found free parking in an alley a block off the main street. We quickly got a table outside and ordered a wide variety of food to try. While we were waiting, I ran across to the drugstore to buy some allergy pills. I was stuffed up and wanted to really experience my meal.

The platters of food arrived in short order. Plates were piled high with colorful mushy substances and pancake like bread. Someone else even got a whole fish on his plate; head and all. (Reminds me of a song...) So we dug in and enjoyed ourselves. Raman wasn't sure he really needed to have Ethiopian food again. For some reason it didn't sit well with him. But, when you travel to a conference in a big city it's tradition to go out at least a couple times to eat something exotic. I think the next night we ate Cajun food at Lulu's New Orleans Cafe (right next to Blackie's House of Beef.) Of course, nothing will top the trip to DC when we went out to Marakesh for a 9 course meal with a side of belly dancing.

The Holocaust Museum

In order to get tickets to the recently opened Holocaust Museum, Raman and Carl and I had to get in line early. Raman arrived at 7 AM, and I remember showing up about 30 minutes later. I relieved him so he could grab a bite to eat, and it was about another hour before we reached the ticket counter.

After we had our tickets, for later in the day, we walked around from one museum to another. We caught a little art here, a little air and space there. Then we headed back to the Holocaust Museum. It was quite an experience. We started out by getting a card with a picture and story of an individual on it. I had the story of, Majlech Kisielnicki. The card tells a story of Majlech's life from the time he was 13 until he emigrated to the United States after the war. If you click on his photo, you can read it for yourself. And the thing is, you get this one card for one individual and you get to feel that the Holocaust is a little more personal to you. Then you realize that there are boxes full of people just as real as the one you drew. None of them deserved what happened to them. They had families and lives, and they were dragged away to these camps where they were tortured, starved and, for most of them, killed. I remember reading that most of the children who were taken to these death camps were killed immediately. In a way I guess that was the most merciful thing that could have happened.

We spent a few hours at the Holocaust Museum, and I found it hard to linger too long at certain exhibits. I'd never thought much about WWII and the Holocaust before. I found myself overwhelmed with emotions. But for Majlech and all the others, it is good to know that there are people who won't let us forget this dark page in our history. We became witnesses to a travesty of inhuman proportions through the eyes of those who were there, and now we have a responsibility to remember what happened and never let it happen again.

A Close Call at the White House

Before the Holocaust Museum, the three of us went to some other Smithsonian exhibits. One of the best was an exhibit that had just opened on poster art from world war II, "Powers of Persuasion." We also got to see the Bill of Rights, and a lot of other good art.

After the Holocaust Museum we ate dinner and headed back to the National Mall for some sunset and night photography. We took some double and even triple exposures in pursuit of artistic excellence.

The Capitol dome was brightly lit. So was the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. There were busloads of school children mulling around the Washington Monument, all wearing color coded T-shirts and looking quite bored. One thing we decided was that most people haven't a clue how to take pictures when it isn't outdoors and sunny. In the museums, we would see people trying to take pictures through glass with a flash. At night people would have no clue how to meter a picture, if their cardboard cameras even had metering capabilities. Most every person would just stand about 200 yards from a monument and shoot. (Not to be confused with some people who shoot at the White House. They don't all use cameras.) It doesn't matter if it's day or night. Off goes the flash. And their friends are usually so far away that you couldn't make them out in the picture anyway. In order to get the whole monument in the frame, they have the subject stand back so that they are dwarfed in comparison. When we were at the Iwo Jima Memorial one night, busload after busload of tourist came to take pictures. Many of them will return home with fuzzy pictures in which you can at least make out the monument, but there were some that really got us rolling. People would stand and face back over the river and try to take pictures of the monuments, all nicely lit up... and they tried to use their flashes! I guess that not all simple cameras allow you to turn the flash off, but it was pretty funny nonetheless.

On the way back to the Metro from our night photo safari on the Mall we walked by the White House. We noticed that the lights were out. Now that Bill was back in town we stood there for awhile trying to see any interesting shapes and shadows in the windows. I have a short attention span, so I started looking around in the bushes. That's where I found this button. I didn't know what it did, so I pushed it. Whoa! It was the automated sound system that suddenly burst into the National Anthem. Loudly! The lights came on in the White House and some guards started jogging over in our direction. We left. Quickly.

Catholic University

Another of our trips, during the rare moment when we weren't in meetings, was to American University. We had heard about the beautiful cathedral there and wanted to photograph it.

We started out around lunch, meeting at Union Station. Then we hopped on the Metro for the long trip out to Catholic University on the red line. We were a little turned around when we got there, but we headed in the direction that most people were heading. Pretty soon we found the campus and the cathedral. Out came the cameras. It was a beautiful day and the sky was blue, even more so with our polarizing filters in place. We took some outdoor shots and then headed inside for a tour and more photography. I was amazed that one of my shots turned out so good. I didn't have a tripod, so I just set it on top of one of the pews and softly pushed the shutter for a 6 second exposure. Raman said it was better than the ones that he and Carl took with tripods.

Arlington National Cemetary

We spent the afternoon with Shigeru at Arlington National Cemetery. I'd never been there, and never thought much of cemeteries, but my mind changed after visiting our Nation's most prominent military burial ground.

The first thing that you realize when you get there is how big it is. It spreads out for miles. We decided on a path to take, by the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier and JFK's plot and other famous plots. On the way we saw just row after row of grave markers. Some were ornate and larger than us. Others were just a small piece of marble with a number. It was amazing to see this aspect of the cost of war. The Holocaust Museum, the Vietnam Memorial and now the Arlington National Cemetery all had their impact on me. Each in their own way. The Holocaust Museum talked of a distant time and place and made it real through stories and pictures. The Vietnam Memorial showed me the pain that people carry for lost loved ones. And Arlington Cemetery had just thousands and thousands of graves. Real people died for our country and were burried here. For over two hundred years real people discovered their mortality in pursuit of our national interests. I couldn't wholly absorb any of these monuments or museums, but the all added up to change my outlook and change me as a person.

Our Last Night Spent in Georgetown

Friday night was the last night we went out. We actually didn't leave until Saturday, but it was the last time that Raman had the energy to venture out on the town.

We took the bus to Georgetown so we could walk around the Georgetown University campus. It was certainly a beautiful campus, and we spent more than an hour just walking around it. Then we headed into town. We were hungry and tired and sunburnt from our travels. Three tired photographers with more rolls of film than they could afford to develop.

We walked down to the waterfront. Young lean students were crewing on the river. Well dressed socialites were dining on the patio of an expensive resturant. It was a beautiful day, and indeed it had been a beautiful trip.

We found a small French restaurant a couple blocks from the waterfront and sat out on the patio to eat. The meal was great. However, it was about this time when Raman started to feel ill. He wasn't sure what it was, but he said he'd felt poorly ever since the Ethiopian meal on Wednesday. After we left his condition worsened and we hailed a cab to take us to the nearest Metro station.

Raman was hunched over as we took the escalator on the long decent into the ground. We parted ways and he and Carl headed back to the Day's Inn.

Excuse me... Mr. President?

Saturday morning, very early, Carl and I drove to National Mall to take sunrise pictures. The most striking thing was how deserted the downtown area was. It was the start of tourist season, but we were the only car out at that hour.

After our sunrise snapshots, we thought we might head over to the McDonald's next to the White House. Never know when you'll run into Bill eating an Egg McMuffin. He wasn't there, but the secret service were all over. It turns out that the President and his cabinet were meeting to discuss the arrangements for President Nixon's funeral. They were meeting at a building across from the White House. Something House, I forget the name of the building. Anyway, Carl and I stood around with the press. Our telephoto lenses on and not very well dressed, we fit right in. About an hour later the President and a bunch of dignitaries showed up. We snapped a few pictures and soon grew tired of it all. After all, it was only the President. Another one comes along every four years so who cares?

And that was it. Raman and Carl headed back to Michigan. I was glad that I wasn't driving back to New Mexico. I only had to catch the plane on time and drive the hour and a half from Albuquerque to Los Alamos. I could handle that. It had been a long, but fun week of photography and hanging out with friends, and maybe a meeting or two. I couldn't wait to get home to develop all my film!

Last Updated 11/05/95.© 1996 PPSA