Have I mentioned? I happen to like walking tours.

2 Feb

Image Source: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/washington-dc-tours

While you were at the gym, honoring your New Year’s Resolution, I was quietly tackling a couple more items on my 40×40 list. In this week’s update:

#7 – Take an official walking tour of DC. 

This weekend I took my first ever guided walking tour of DC. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know that I love DC and I love walking tours. I’ve just never made time to play tourist in my own city. Coming out of two weeks of near-zero temperatures, today’s balmy 52˚ forecast made me think the timing was right for a walking tour. And it was.

I joined DC by Foot for a “pay what you want” walking tour of the National Mall. I was hoping for a neighborhood tour, but they run a limited schedule during the winter, so the Mall was the only real option that worked with my schedule.

I’ve logged many hours on the Mall doing things that most tourists would find pretty cool – attending the Library of Congress’s Book Festival, playing kickball, watching a kite festival, enjoying Screen on the Green movies, witnessing presidential inaugurations, rallying against the Keystone XL pipeline – so I was worried I’d find the tour a bit disappointing.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/fb/Jefferson_Pier_and_Washington_Monument.jpgThere were two things I saw on this tour that I had never noticed before: One was was the Jefferson Pier. It’s a small marker just west of the Washington Monument, indicating the original intended location of the Washington Monument – AND the prime meridian that L’Enfant proposed. Interestingly, while the meridian idea never took off, apparently whenever NASA measures distance in the universe, they use the Jefferson Pier marker as the starting place. Pretty cool.

The other thing I’d not noticed: The “graffiti” on the back of the WWII Memorial: Kilroy was here. Although I was familiar with the expression, I hadn’t heard the story of its suspected origin before.

Legend has it, prior to WWII James Kilroy was a rivet inspector in a shipyard in Massachusetts. At the end of each shift, he scribbled “Kilroy was here” to indicate where he’d left off. During the war, sailors started finding this phrase all over their ships – and when they compared notes with other sailors, they found that Kilroy had been there, too. Since it seemed Kilroy was inexplicably omnipresent, people took up scrawling the phrase wherever they went, helping Kilroy cover the globe – and bathroom stalls.

In any case, pretty cool that it became so linked with WWII, that it’s there, etched on the back of this memorial.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

In addition to the knowledge I picked up along the way, I enjoyed a few of the unscripted aspects of the tour. For example, when we kicked off, at the highly trafficked corner of 15th and Constitution, our guide made a point of saying that was usually the noisiest place on the tour. His words must have jinxed us – because for the rest of the tour, we had hundreds of Canadian Canada Geese pass over us, honking more fervently than the DC drivers.

[Note: My original post called them Canadian Geese, but my dad, the ornithologist, told me I’d made one of the most common mistakes in birding. Apparently they’re Canada Geese. I don’t even want to figure out the mechanics of this grammatically.]

And when we were standing by the Washington Monument, a young guy walking by interrupted our tour to ask , “Do you know how many flags there are circling the monument?”

“Fifty,” our guide answered confidently.

“Really?” the guy asked, “Because I heard it was like 54 or something – the states and the territories?”

“Nope,” our guide said. “I’ve counted them.” The guy thanked him and started to walk away. Our guide continued, “Do you know what the other question I get here a lot is?” The guy shook his head. “How do they get them to all fly in the same direction?” our guide offered.

The guy stopped and stared and shook his head. “Whoa – you’re right. Now that I look at them, they ARE all going in the same direction… why is that?”

“The wind,” our guide said. The guy smacked his head. “You got me! Man!”

And that’s why you should always join the tour and pay what you can. Otherwise, you’ll be shamed.

9 Responses to “Have I mentioned? I happen to like walking tours.”

  1. Chrystal February 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    I grew up in DC, and my mom was a tour guide (albeit not a “walking tour” guide, but a bus tour guide) for many years, so I pride myself on knowing a lot of information about the city. But I never knew about the Jefferson Pier or about Kilroy… thanks for teaching me something about my native city!

    • pithypants February 3, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      Ooh! I bet your mom has some good stories – not only about the city, but about the tourists as well! That’s always been one of my fantasy jobs – but then I wonder how long until I would punch a rude tourist.

  2. dianeskitchentable February 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    So that’s the story on Kilroy. I’m surprised the guy who asked about the flags didn’t follow up with how they got the wind to blow in the same direction.
    I’ve been all around Boston but I’ve never taken any of the tours which is something I’ll do this spring. I haven’t even been on one of the duck boats tours.

    • pithypants February 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      I know – I’m in Boston at least once a month for work, and I’ve never been able to sneak in a tour. The only one I did there was self-guided along the Freedom Trail when my family visited when I was in 11th grade. I might have to stay an extra night and sneak one in this summer. Not now when it’s sub-arctic.

      • dianeskitchentable February 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

        Ah no, this would not be the best touring weather in Boston. Just please don’t go renting those Segway things.

      • pithypants February 3, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

        But then how will I ever get a video clip to add to this montage? http://youtu.be/pmLLGYn9Fo8

      • dianeskitchentable February 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

        Oh geez, I’ve got to send this on to my daughter. She works in Charlestown & when it’s warm sometimes they sit on the benches by the harbor waiting for some of these idiots to take a swim. Did you notice that the monkey was one of the few smart enough to jump off before crashing?

      • pithypants February 5, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

        Your daughter needs a GoPro camera and good helmet – I bet she can win a $10,000 cash prize on America’s Funniest Home Videos if she sits on that bench long enough.


  1. So, this is a milestone. GULP. | pithypants - October 30, 2014

    […] Take an official walking tour of DC. YES. In fact, I took two and learned a lot about this city I’ve called home for the last 18 years. Including where manure used to flow. And still does. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: