68: D.C. on a Dollar

68: D.C. on a Dollar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

D.C. on a Dollar

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

~Mark Twain

Baltimore was off my radar. I had never been there, never planned to go. But then my documentary was accepted into a women’s film festival. I arranged to share a room with another filmmaker to cut the expense of attending.

I was the first to arrive at our hotel in Baltimore, so I checked in for us. “We are splitting the room,” I explained to the woman at the reception desk. She nodded, took my card and ran it.

While I was out scrounging for breakfast, I tried to use my debit card. Insufficient funds. I checked my balance — all $400 I had was frozen in my account. The hotel had taken all $400 as a deposit and put a hold on my card. This left no money for food, taxis, or anything. I complained. I cried. There was nothing they could do for two business days.

My screening was early in the morning. The auditorium was completely empty. No one was there. Who would want to sit through a ninety-minute documentary on women in prison first thing Friday morning?

I’d always wanted to go to Washington, D.C. and I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity: This was the closest I would get for a while. I had $30 on an old credit card I was paying down, a checkbook, and one dollar in cash. I used the last bit on my credit card to buy an Amtrak train pass to D.C. When I arrived in the city, I used my one dollar for a bus pass.

First, I went to the Library of Congress. I studied the perfectly sculpted stone faces guarding the doors and walked in. Books, murals and sculptures were everywhere.

I visited The Capitol and the White House just as it started raining. With no umbrella or raincoat, I hopped and skipped from one free landmark to the next, only stopping to take a sip from a drinking fountain. The sun disappeared behind rain clouds over the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the Vice President has his office.

I strolled through the Smithsonian Gardens and visited the Washington Monument. I walked along the war memorials to a statement etched in stone: “Here We Mark the Price of Freedom.” Standing above it was a wall covered in gold stars, souls lost in World War II. Each star represented 100 American deaths. The next monument stood for the soldiers of the Vietnam War. Thousands of names carved in stone. I wondered how many fought with my father. He never spoke about his war experiences.

As a little girl, I would wake up early in the morning to listen to the tapes my father sent my mother. The tapes consisted of him talking to her, plus sweet performances of early Beatles songs accompanied by a single guitar. On those tapes he still had his voice. I grew up listening to his speech get weaker and then disappear from the poison of Agent Orange. My parents now insist that they hate the Beatles.

The Monument lit up into a glowing beacon standing guard over the dead.

The rain returned and soaked through me as I slowly climbed the Lincoln Memorial. President Lincoln sat in front of me like a giant. I stood in front of him, feeling small and hypnotized. The lights at his feet turned up to him like proud servants. I read his speech: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I checked my watch — I was almost late for the walking tour of Lincoln’s Assassination. The group met in front of the White House. I wrote a check to the student leading the tour, and he took it without reservation. He enthusiastically led us from one house to the next, colorfully describing the events of that night. The first attempt on the Secretary of State William Seward’s life, including a clever intruder, a misfired gun and a stabbing while he was safely encased in a neck brace. The second, a drunk coward who gave up and went to sleep instead of assassinating Vice President Andrew Johnson. And finally, we stood outside Ford’s Theatre, closed for restoration, and listened as a pistol through a peephole and a cheerful president collided. The small group of strangers standing outside the theater grew quiet, our smiles and questions dimmed as we turned to the house across the street where he passed away slowly, his tall legs hanging off the edge of a bed.

As his life came to an end, so did the tour. We all stood there in silence as our tour guide waved farewell and left us there. After a few minutes, we slowly broke apart and returned to wherever we came from.

My train returned me to Baltimore, where a taxi driver took a carbon copy of my credit card in exchange for a ride to my hotel.

I did all that with my one dollar. I know it was a bit crazy but I saw the opportunity and I took it. It was so worth it. I felt like I completely immersed myself in D.C. that day, getting a quick but meaningful tour of our nation’s capital. It made me proud.

~Vita Lusty

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