Monday, June 22, 2015

The Circulator's New Mall Route is Gold

This photo belongs to DC Circulator.
The DC Circulator bus recently debuted a new National Mall route and I just had to try it out last Saturday! How was it, you ask? Short answer -- I was impressed! Long answer -- Here's the minute by minute:

2:00 PM - I arrive at the corner of 21st St and Constitution Ave NW. I had just walked down from GWU after having seaweed-two-ways lunch at Beefsteak. I took a rather meandering walk, and was reminded how dead federal DC can feel on the weekends. The closer you get to the National Mall, the more desolate the city feels with empty federal buildings and sometimes not another soul on the sidewalk. Anyway, when I arrived at the Circulator bus stop, there was a family seemingly waiting for the bus. They actually were in the process of getting two cabs to take them away when...

2:03 PM - The eastbound Circulator bus arrived at the stop. The family that was about to hop in a cab decided to head on over and squeeze all their bodies and the baby stroller in between myself and the opening bus door. So, I politely stepped aside because I had temporarily forgotten about the rule that having a baby stroller absolves the stroller operator of several personal etiquette rules. So, go on ahead family of seven. No worries. Of course, then there's the game between dad and bus driver of "How much is it," I only have a 20," "Is it free for the kids," so on and so forth. We finally start to move, with a nearly full bus at this point. FYI - this is the stop closest to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. 

2:12 PM - We stop at 18th and Constitution. Yes, this is only 3 blocks from the previous stop, but a lot happens on these buses, so it takes a while to move anywhere. Apparently, I had missed a rather epic, long-unfolding drama of a married couple who was separated on the Mall. I guess the husband had gotten on the bus, and the wife didn't, or I really have no idea. But at this stop, someone yelled "There she is!" and the husband spotted her, and ran off of the bus as people applauded. Pretty cool. Really wish I had asked for the backstory.But I didn't, so I made this one up:
Mae stood alone in front of the Lincoln Memorial and wiped sweat from her brow. The weather today reminded her of an oppressive Tuesday in Georgia, during the summer of '73. She had been working for Governor Carter at the time and on that particular scorcher of a day, was regretting having volunteered to guide a group of sixth graders from Cedartown on a tour of the Governor's Mansion. That day ended up being the hottest, most humid, most uncomfortable day she had ever experienced; until today in Washington. 

Mae and her husband Jerry had come to the very recent realization that neither had ever set foot in our nation's capital. They realized this while at a family dinner with their three adult children, at which Charles (actually Jerry's son from a previous marriage) forcefully urged them to visit Washington before the end of the month. Charles was strangely aggressive regarding his suggestion and had excused himself to the the guest bedroom just as dessert was being served. He emerged from the bedroom minutes later with a printout of airline tickets and hotel reservations for Mae and Jerry to visit Washington, DC. They had little time to contemplate the meaning of all this, as the trip was scheduled for Friday, just three days away.

Most of Friday was spent walking on the Georgetown waterfront, shopping for clothes, and stumbling upon what Mae would later describe as "probably that same damned cupcake place from the television." Normally, Mae and Jerry wouldn't shop for clothes on vacation, but Jerry's luggage had been mysteriously misplaced by the airline, and then sent to Des Moines of all places. While Friday seemed like a wash, Saturday was reserved specifically for touring the memorials. 

By 1:30 PM or so on Saturday, Mae and Jerry were beat. It was so hot, Mae thought to herself, "if you saw a dog chasin' a cat, they'd both been walking." But, at least Mae and Jerry were hydrated. Too hydrated. Mae had counted at least four times during the ranger-led tour of the Lincoln Memorial Jerry uttering some variation of "I need to go see a man about a horse." She had to explain to a younger couple visiting from Chicago, also on the tour, that what Jerry really meant was "I need to go to the bathroom." So, after the park ranger turned his back to the tour group for a second time during a rather long-winded explanation about the meaning of President Lincoln's second inaugural address, Jerry quietly backed away and headed downstairs to the public restrooms.

To Jerry's surprise Mae was waiting for him when he walked out of the restroom. He was vigorously shaking his dripping wet hands, halfheartedly complaining about the lack of real towels in today's public restrooms. He just didn't trust the blast dryers anymore after what Charles had told him during a trip to the movies a few months earlier. 

Mae was ready to head off to the next memorial. So, while Jerry was indisposed in the men's room, she had learned from the Chicago couple that a bus costing only $1 traveled to and fro across the National Mall and would, in fact, be arriving in just four minutes. Well, that's what Jerry heard anyway. While Mae was actually explaining that she recommended catching the second bus that would arrive in fourteen minutes, not four, Jerry had started to concentrate on remembering what exactly Charles had told him about the blast dryers. He couldn't quite remember, but by the time he gathered himself and came back into the world, Mae was gone. 

Thinking Mae had walked outside to catch the four minute bus, Jerry rushed to the curbside bus stop and dashed on board just as the doors were closing. However, Mae was actually still in the women's restroom and had been holding her hands under the blast dryers for an extra long time, as she tended to do now that she knew Jerry hated them for some unknown reason. Mae hadn't been able to attend the movie with Charles and Jerry because that was the only night that, as far as she knew, the documentary "Grey Gardens" would appear on television. And Grey Gardens was not to be missed. As it turned out, Grey Gardens actually aired three times that week.
When Mae finally walked outside to check on the arrival of the fourteen minute bus, she noticed that Jerry had vanished. Knowing exactly where to find him, Mae turned 180 degrees, and sprinted past the Chicago couple, just as her cell phone began to ring. She wouldn't find this out until much later, but it was the airline, with an unexpected and surprising update about Jerry's luggage...

(To be continued)
2:19 PM - The bus arrives at the transfer spot for this route. The Circulator's Mall route is split between a Lincoln Memorial bound (westbound) bus, and a Union Station bound (eastbound) bus. Riders can easily switch between the two buses at this location in front of the Washington Monument on 15th Street. So, I did just that, walking from 15th and Madison down to 15th and Jefferson to wait for the second bus. This second bus would take me to the Thomas Jefferson, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr, and Lincoln Memorials.

2:26 PM - That bus arrived rather quickly, only 7 minutes after I departed the Union Station bound Circulator bus. The new bus was about half full, but almost everyone on it seemed to be from the same family.

2:28 PM - We stop at 15th and Maine Ave SW, which is where one would disembark if visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

2:32 PM - Moving right along, we reach the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This is when I truly start to appreciate this new Circulator route. I've walked out-of-town visitors down to the Jefferson Memorial from various Metro stations an untold amount of times. It's exhausting no matter which station you use. This bus solves that problem by just taking you right there.

2:36 PM - We stop on West Basin Drive at a point that is equally close to the entrances to the FDR and MLK Jr Memorials. For some reason, there are a lot of other Circulator bus operators hanging out at the stop and one gets on. He's talking to our bus operator for a while. They're laughing about something, but then the new operator goes outside to adjust one of the mirrors or some such. While we're waiting for the bus to get moving, a 30s-something mom starts explaining to her kids who the band Journey was.

2:46 PM - We arrive at the next stop, the Lincoln Memorial. During the ride over, an unaffiliated, much older man jumps into the Journey conversation and mansplains that Bon Jovi was a better band. The mom tells him that her kids have no idea who Journey are or who Bon Jovi is because they're like, 10 years old. The older fellow insists that Bon Jovi is better and that the kids should really recognize the name despite their age. I love tourists.

2:50 PM - The bus arrives at 21st and Constitution NW, which was the origin of this whole trip. So, it took about 50 minutes to traverse the part of the Mall with the Washington, Jefferson, FDR, MLK Jr., Lincoln, Korean War, Vietnam Veterans, and World War II Memorials. That's not bad! This is an awesome service for tourists and will make life easier for all of us armchair tour guides when family comes to town and wants to see it all in one day.

The new Circulator Mall route has 15 stops from Union Station to the Lincolm Memorial and back. The summer hours (April-September) are: weekdays 7:00 AM - 8:00 PM; weekends 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM and the winter hours (October -March ) are: weekdays 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM; weekends 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM and . It costs $1 per person.

Here are PDF and Interactive maps of the Circulator routes. Enjoy it!