We’re back from a spectacular trip to Washington, D.C. just as the Iowa State Fair gets underway with presidential candidates trying to talk around mouthfuls of deep-fried Iowa pork chops or Snickers bars on sticks. I gather conflict with hecklers is not hard to find on the midway.
On the other hand, Sena and I found a lot of friendly people in D.C. I was reminded of The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics “Going the Extra Inch” service excellence program I attended a couple of years ago. One of the teaching points was about recognizing the sign of a bewildered and lost visitor or patient–the “spin” move, marked by the wide open mouth and eyes and a tendency to revolve around staring up and down with that helpless, lost look–sometimes with a tattered map dangling from the hands.
We were amazed by how many passersby, sometimes hurrying on their way to work at rush hour speed, actually stopped and patiently explained exactly how to find this or that monument or metro station.
And they did it with a smile.
I got a bump on the noggin blundering into the wall of a revolving door (no, I had not been drinking) and a complete stranger offered to help–probably because she heard the loud crack of my forehead on the glass wall. But seriously, after the trip to the emergency room, the brain MRI leading to the routine evacuation of the frontal subdural hematoma followed by the incidental colostomy (hey, it was complimentary; the nurses were so nice.), I was out of the hospital in plenty of time for our DC Trails tour of the major highlights of the city (there were only 4 other passengers on the air-conditioned bus which could have seated at least 30, so it was a miracle it hadn’t been cancelled; a personalized tour!).
Even the metro station attendants took the time to give us clear instructions for how to obtain a SmarTrip card for using the subway. I still got separated from Sena once, but easily caught up with her. I’d not used a subway since the days when they were still digging the tunnel for it in New York City, and it was Sena’s first time. One very kind man reassured her that, as the train pulled away with her on it, leaving her with the image of me at the station shrugging my shoulders at her, that I probably would have sense enough to hop on the next train–which was only a minute or two behind.
Frequently we were struck by the relaxed, down-to-earth practicality and sense of humor of D.C. people. One of the waiter’s at a popular restaurant, the Elephant & Castle, got to talking about his affliction with poison ivy–which of course led to Sena sharing her own encounter with the stuff in our back yard.
Our hotel was only a block away from the White House and we probably never walked much farther than 5-7 miles on any given day. Heck, I’ve walked almost that much during a busy day on the psychiatry consultation service–although I left my pedometer at home this trip.
Even our waitress at Pizzeria Uno, located in the Union Station (a massive place where you can buy a $55 dollar bow tie, made of Italian silk spun by presidential candidates). There were these electronic gizmos called Ziosks at every table, which no customer knew how to use. We were exempt because our waitress had disabled ours in order to get us to our table faster.
No Ziosk can replace that kind of human service excellence.
It’s funny what we remember as highlights. It’s easy to understand why the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery is so very memorable. On the other hand, how to explain why a golden retriever named Maggie stole the show from Mount Vernon?
Sometimes it’s the little things we remember best.
Maybe we were just lucky, but I like to think that the hospitality, generosity, great sense of humor, and patience displayed everywhere we went in Washington, DC. is the norm. Anyway, this is how we’ll remember it. If you decide to visit, we hope your experience will be the same.