Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Beautiful Ant Hill

The Most Visited Place in Washington DC

What is the most visited site in Washington DC? The White House? Washington Monument? The Smithsonian Museums? The Capital mall?

Nope. 34,000,000 visitors a year pass through Washington's venerable Beaux-Arts Union Station.  

Designed by Chicago Architect Daniel Burnham and completed just 4 years before his death, this building still draws gasps of admiration from anyone seeing it for the first time. 

Burnham is the architect who designed many of America's first skyscraper's and led the design team for the most influential World's Fair in history; the neoclassical 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He designed New York's iconic Flatiron building and created the famous Chicago Plan to guide rebuilding the city after the great fire. He also created the master plans for Manilla and San Francisco. 

Thanks to rejections from both Harvard and Yale, he learned architecture the old fashioned way, by apprenticeship. He then went on to become one of the most influential architects America has ever produced.

Union Station was completed at a cost of $125,000,000 (which would convert to about $3 billion dollars today). Its site originally covered 200 acres of former swamp land. 

When completed the white marble edifice initiated the style that would soon be emulated in the Supreme Courts building and the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.  

70 Pounds of Gold Leaf Adorn the Dome 

The reason it works so well today is because it is still doing what it was intended to do. Serve as a train station. It allows for the smooth transfer from DC's Metro subway system to either AMTRAK or MARC trains. From here passengers can efficiently travel downtown to downtown on an ACELA high speed train from DC to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. I particularly like the service to the Baltimore BWI airport.  

Designed in An Era When Architects 
Still Integrating Art in Architecture

Another key to the success of Union Station is its integration of superb shops and creative restaurants. This is the ultimate place to people watch and eat well.

The Lower Level Food Court

Always busy, Union Station is a superb gateway to the America's national treasure; Washington DC. This is not a place to "visit". It is a place to "use".

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Dream Come True?

The New 787

I noticed a little piece on Yahoo today that made my head start spinning. The new Boeing Dreamliner has made its maiden flight outside the United States landing in Farnborough England for the Farnborough Airshow.

I hope I am not just succumbing to hype. And I do not mean to minimize the achievements that Boeing and Airbus engineers have made on their respective new aircraft in the past two decades. But after seeing some renderings of the cabin and carefully examining some of the scale models of this plane, the 787 appears to be a true departure from the last generation of commercial aircraft, and this road warrior welcomes it.

Carbon Composites Allow For A Highly Sculpted Silhouette

It is not as big as the new Airbus A380, so it won't take so long to load and unload. Nor does it require most major airports to extend their runways. It has a smooth sculpted swept back almost dolphin-like look to its fuselage and wings.

It is just freakin beautiful.

To see why I'm excited check out: 

Big dimmable windows, huge bins, extraordinary fuel efficiency, new levels of quiet.

In a world filled with bad news, it is sure nice to visualize what the collective talents of Boeing's  engineers, designers, and craftspeople have achieved.

As far as the various delivery delays go, I say, so what! The real question is "will it be worth the wait?". 

By all measures I'd say "Absolutely!"

Roadboy's Travels © 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

JFK's Assassination and The Power of A Word

A Walk on a Hot Summer Evening in Dallas

At one time the words "Pearl Harbor" simply defined a place. The same could be said for other places such as Waterloo, Omaha Beach, and Columbine. These "place" words (just like "Pearl Harbor") have morphed from defining a "place" to an "event".

Last night as I walked in downtown Dallas. I realized that, despite a new light rail, elegant lofts, and lovely new parks, Dallas shares a similar fate. It cannot shake the stigma of being the "place" where a terrible thing happened. And, the inability to heal is characterized by a single word.

Time to digress.

Most of my generation remembers where we were when we heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I was 7 years old and was at recess playing four square. The news stopped our game. When we got home, Walter Cronkite tearfully informed America that JFK had been pronounced dead.

To my generation President Kennedy was special. He embodied how we felt about America. He was smart, brash, and rich. He was young, athletic, cocky and very handsome. He was a war hero. He could disarm the most jaded reporter with humor. His beautiful wife defined style around the world. They made us all feel "cool".

His death quickly brought us down to earth. We suddenly felt vulnerable. We wanted answers. We needed answers.

Who did it? Why? Was it the Russians? The Cuban's? The Mafia? Was this the first step in some kind of attack?

Or, could a scrawny little loser like Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone really defeat our elite secret service and pull off this nightmare?

Remember, we were TV's first generation. We had complete confidence that at the end of every show Perry Mason would neatly wrap up every case.

No neat tidy answers in Dallas.

Then before we could get answers from Oswald, in a blaze of flashbulbs, Jack Ruby, emerged from nowhere and shot Oswald right before our eyes on national television.

The Dallas JFK Memorial

In my Dallas walk the first thing I came upon was the inexplicably, clunky, Phillip Johnson designed JFK memorial. Like much of Johnson's design legacy, as it ages it feels trite, vacuous and cheap. It doesn't measure up to the man. A faded and bent interpretive plaque in front of it tells us that it was  "refurbished". Yet, in such a shimmering city, this monument conveys pure neglect. It leaves the wound open. It should be replaced.

And here is where I first confront the one word that prevents healing.


As I read the plaque I was left with the sentiment "how could they be so careless?"

The biggest investigation in modern history told us, that despite our desire to believe in conspiracies, it was indeed a lone shooter named Oswald who killed our president and derailed history.

The Last View President Kennedy Saw

As I walked past Dealey Plaza I looked up to see what the president last saw. My mind replays the whole scene frame-by-frame from Abe Zapruder's 8M movie. Further ahead is the Texas School Book Depository. To the left is the grassy knoll. Obviously, traffic flow is now reversed from what is was on the day of the motorcade.

I walk up to the book depository where Oswald took his shot from the still ajar sixth floor window.

Oswald's Sixth Floor Perch   

When I get to the Depository building (where the "Sixth Floor" museum has been created), I read its plaque and am confronted by that word again.


To me, these words are offensive. Here's why.

On a previous visit to Dallas I had the honor of listening to retired Dallas Police detective Jim Leavelle. He is one of the only people who had a chance to talk to Oswald before Oswald fell to another assassins bullet.

It was Leavelle who was cuffed to Oswald when Jack Ruby shot him. He was the detective in the tan "ice cream" suit and Stetson hat pulling up wildly on Oswald's cuffs to turn him sideways to minimize Ruby's ability to get a good shot. His image is burned in America's psyche. He is handcuffed to more than Oswald. It is frequently said that Jim is handcuffed to history.

Jim has mentally replayed this thing over and over for almost 50 of his 90 years on this planet.

If Jim is convinced Oswald was the lone shooter (and he is), then I'm good with that.

Detective Leavelle

Why is it that a nation can accept the fact that a trashboy tweaker like Tim McVeigh could blow up a federal building, but we demand a more complex answer to the killing of JFK?

With so many pressing needs confronting the nation, it is time to try to further heal this wound. Simple ways to help do that might be to build a fitting memorial and to remove the words "alleged" and "allegedly" from all text associated with the assassination.

It is time to admit that America's hopes and dreams were dashed by a single creep named Oswald.

Roadboy's Travel © 2010