It was an ad on Travelocity that encouraged me to leave behind an Austin already hot and devoid of wildflowers for the still cool and blooming northeast. Even though, shockingly, the weather behaved exactly as predicted I hadn’t properly packed. The predicted rain had stopped early, but hadn’t prevented my too long, low rise jeans from getting weighed down with water. Then, my new on clearance super soft red sweater properly warm against the single day of cool turned out to be much shorter than it looked hanging in the store. Which meant sitting wasn’t an option unless flashing a crack at our nation was. It all meant tired, swollen legs after standing, gazing at fine art, and walking the Mall non-stop since morning.
By the end of the day unwilling to give up on the second day of vacation I could only think to stand in line at the National Archives. The Supreme Court, the Capitol, the Library of Congress…all of it was closing leaving everyone visiting the city in early April of 2009 nothing to do but wait in the line curving around NW 9th Street.
In order to see the documents that formed the country you have to wait in line. Which is easier than trying to get into the White House, so at least there’s a plus. You and all the others enter through the side door. Walking up Constitution Avenue’s picturesque front steps like Benjamin Franklin Gates and Riley Pool is not an option. Movies do not authentically show characters visiting major tourist sites because the emotional or the picturesque entrance is more powerful.
Every once in a while a select group, having reached the front of the line, would be granted entrance. Being a knobby-kneed line of school children we never moved forward. Waiting immediately behind me a mom, having already read the review of each restaurant in her travel guide, sighed to her daughter “the only reason you want to see this is because of that movie…National Treasure.”
I wanted to turn around and say, “that’s funny the only reason I saw the movie was because the National Archives are in it.” Perhaps if I hadn’t already been made to feel quite the anomaly as a solo traveler from tourists asking me the direction to national monuments, residents asking for directions to Starbucks, or having to pathetically insist that I, too, was allowed to eat my dinner on a beautiful day seated at one of the sidewalk tables instead of hidden in a corner inside, I would have. I’d even seen both movies. Willingly. Secretly on DVD in the privacy of my own home. And maybe again when it…they came on TV.
Some time later after several bus loads of school children had been pulled from the line the rest of us were allowed in. It was an act of kindness. The Archives were about to close and getting into the building didn’t guarantee admittance.
First we entered a low-lit room displaying some of the important yet unimportant records of early U.S. history. Wound on a large wheel similar to continuous form paper was the petition that paved the roads. Laying down in a coffin-like container of glass was The Articles of Confederation. The first constitution of the United States. Unprepared to govern the newly formed country the founding fathers scrambled. Though I’m sure some had plans thought out as part of their wildest fantasies, I suspect most went through a phase of denial. Five years were spent developing the constitution that would only govern for eight years. I wasted precious minutes gazing at this document. Most walked through without pausing in search of The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and other documents deemed more important. These were upstairs behind glass, a rope, and another line. (Actually, I suspect that these cases are something other than glass. Something much harder to break and much less likely to harm old paper if it were to break.)
Eventually, I made myself leave for this other room. In the ultimate act of kindness the guard here ignored the rules and ignored us breaking the rules so that, as a mass, we could push and shove for a glimpse. And, I saw them. Maybe. I think.
Seeing the lesson meant more to me. Maybe it’s a sign of luxurious stability, but I like thinking about how it took time — 13 years — for the country to decide on a style of government. Perhaps it’s a sign of my own impatience. I like things done quickly so that the next lesson with accompanying project can be started only to be soon replaced with another. Back in December I took a cookie decorating class with a friend. The picture above is my first attempt since then. It is not at all perfect, but as a lesson of all on my own royal icing decorating it’s momentous.