Anyone want to help plan a vacation for me?

So I’m “between apartments” until the end of the month, which means “homeless” to all of you who have a place to live. I’m so stressed and neurotic that I have become non-functional at my job. I have permission to take Monday and Tuesday off, and I can squeeze tomorrow in, as well. Who want to help me get out of Dodge and stay out for a few days?

My requirements are fairly simple: I’d like to go somewhere, nationally or internationally, other than here in Washington, DC. I can leave anytime between now and Saturday. I have to be back by Tuesday night, but I can return earlier. I’d really, really like to have access to shelter and at least one shower. Nice weather is a plus, but not a requirement. Anything else in the way of historical landmarks, museums, beaches, fishing, hiking, etc. is total gravy.

There are some problems, though. I only have about $900 to blow. Most of that can go to travel and accomodations, but I will also need at least enough money to keep me awash in (cheap) beer for the duration. And worst of all, I don’t drive and I don’t have a credit card, although I can use a company card to make the travel arrangements. Oh, yeah. I don’t have a clue as to how to make travel arrangements. I’m willing to learn, fast.

So. Anyone have any suggestions? Where would YOU go if you wanted to see something a little different?

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, one of my favourite places in the US, is not too far from you. You could probably get a bus or train to Kitty Hawk, and from there it’s an easy bike ride to Avon or Hatteras. (I’m working from five year old memories here, so some details may not be correct.)

Right now is prime windsurfing season so there will be lots of people there, and it’s easy to get lessons at the Canadian Hole. It’s a protected seashore which means the beaches are beautiful and clean. The lighthouses are amazing too.

10 cent peel and eat shrimp, caught that day. 'Nough said?

Don’t go there if you hate seafood, though, because there isn’t much else available.

Suo Na, I love the Outer Banks! Plus, this is post-prime-time right, so I could probably do it for cheap.

A guy once told me that you could charter flights from around here to down there for a couple a’ hundred bucks. I think I’ll look into that.

I’ll third the Outer Banks. And do NOT pass up the Kitty Hawk Museum. Boffo. Definately boffo.

Darn. Closest I can get via train is Hampton, VA. As best I can tell, no bus lines run through the outer banks. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right. Best I can do so far is Hampton --> Shallote, a 9 1/2 hour ride.

I could charter a plane, for about $1200 for a day.

Now I’m starting to think about Petersburg, VA. I’ve always wanted to hike the battlefield there, and its only a couple hours by train. And then there’s Williamsburg, too, but I don’t think I have the ducats to stick around there too long.

I really don’t have any specific destinations in mind, but you know…

Can you still get really cheap flights out of BWI? A friend of mine had some time off and non plans at all, so he bought one of those $69 flights to Cleveland simply because he had never been there before. Went to the Rock Hall of Fame, went to the lake, went to a couple of bars.

I’m sure that no matter what city you choose, the cabby that picks you up at the airport can recommend a cheap hotel in a shabby-yet-safe area for you to stay at. I know a lot of people worry about having a place to stay during their trips, but I’ve only had two problems during my road trips: I made the mistake of trying to stay in Albany, NY, during the bar exam, and tried to stay in Terre Haute, IN, during uh…freshman visitation week? I also don’t recommend trying to drive through SD during Bike Week in Sturgis.

Anyhow, that’s my two cents :slight_smile:

I’ve never been to the East Coast, so I have no idea. But how about Annapolis, Maryland? I imagine that’s close to where you live, and I think the city has a cool name. There’s gotta be tons of stuff to do there, it’s the capital after all. Spend a few of those $900 on a guidebook and you’re all set.

Heck, I even found the website for you.

Annapolis - Travel - Local Guides

I think I finally got the message that the Straight Dope is my Dodge City, a place that maybe I should never have heard of let alone considered as a holiday destination. But, while I’m waiting for the stage, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you, Sofa King, what you do for a living and why at once you seem so well-educated and intelligent yet so poor, pathetic and atypically American. I thought I was aware enough of how hard a country America can be to survive in. But I don’t understand your situation because I remember that somewhere you said you worked 80 hours a week. Thank you for your answer should I get one or just for reading this post should you decide to go on teasing.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean pathetic in the way you think. Or at all.

G. Nome, you’re a dumb cunt. Go away, or answer the damn OP.

Sorry about that, folks. She’s just REALLY getting on my nerves lately.

Uh, G. Nome? Where the F*UCK did THAT come from??

No, don’t answer here - go on over to the Pit where I can lay it on you.

What this? I suspect Sofa may be pretty in unisex sort of way.

Ok, that was submit not preview, you get my point I’m sure.

Well, I’m still technically on vacation, but I’m back in front of a computer.

First of all, let me address G. Nome: hey, I don’t think you’re asking a bad question, here, such as I understand it. However, I don’t think it’s going to be particularly illuminating to go into the particular details of my life.

Briefly stated, I do legal, general, and most importantly, historical research for a small law firm that represents American Indian tribes. It is the best job in the world, for me. I throw myself at it, with relish, and with a sense of extreme urgency. The fragile soveregnty of Indian tribes in America is constantly under seige, and exists solely at the pleasure of an ignorant and often malicious Congress.

There are people in Congress who actively seek to destroy this unique and anomalous sovereignty, every year.

In many cases, there is no statute of limitations in Indian law. Hence the historical end of the job.

Recently, I made the cardinal mistake of allowing my job to absorb my private life, to the point where the lease expired on my place, and late in the month of August, I came to the realization that I was going to have to couch it for the next month. However, by working 80-hour weeks, I got some very important things accomplished, and helped bring some particular tribes through a situation that threatened their very existence. They live to fight another day. I have to live on my wits for a month. Small price to pay, I thought.

But the stress of not having a place to call my own has proven worse than I thought. It is a strange metaphor: I now exist at the pleasure of my friends and co-workers. My sovereignty is impinged as a result of my mistake, and I discovered firsthand that the promises of friends don’t always materialize. I’ve spent a lot of my savings living in cheap dives on nights where things just didn’t pan out the way I wanted. I’ve slept more than once at the office. I’m salaried: all those hours I’ve put in only pay me in terms of accomplishment and satisfaction. Sometimes payment in money is more practicable.

Hey, I’m not whining here–I’m a disorganized guy, and I take the hand I’ve dealt for myself. But I reached a point where I couldn’t perform on the job anymore. It was like “Flowers for Algernon.” The intuition, the intellectual leaps, all gone. I had burned out, and I was angry about it, because I had nobody to blame but myself.

So that’s where I was last week. Stressed, burnt, angry, unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was told in no uncertain terms to go away, see the real world, get some perspective.

I considered the suggestions above, but in the end, I was drawn like a moth to flame to the one place I could easily get to where history lays like a heavy down blanket on a hot summer night: Petersburg, VA.

Petersburg. The last railroad junction connecting Richmond with the rest of the Confederacy in 1864. Here is where modern American warfare was born. For nine months, Union forces beseiged the junction, bled the Lee’s army dry, and always, always, extended the line of fortifications west, until there was one starving Confederate soldier for every six feet of ditch. Next stop, Appomatox and defeat.

Friday afternoon. I arrived by train in Ettrick, VA, across the river from Petersburg. A typical proud Virginia village, trapped in irrelevance. Decaying mansion-like houses line the main street with condemnation notices on their doors, cancered relics of another age desperately hanging on in the hope that elated carpetbagging telecommuters will someday soon make them homes again. Row-house grocery stores with improbably outdated names like “Bi-Rite.” Virginia State University, peeping up like a game-cock over the defile of the road as it stoops to the river.

Then Petersburg itself. Knowing it was going to rain the following day, I searched in vain for a drug store so I get some Scotch-Brite for my less-than-waterproof hat and overcoat. Something for my jock itch would be nice, too. I learned that the last drug store in town had closed down.

More decaying mansions. Some of the brick buildings still show signs of “new” brickwork, where they had been repaired from the damage of the nine-month seige 135 years ago. I turn down Wythe Street, dragging my travelbag behind me. I march to the constant 80 KiloHertz thump of a thousand overpowered car stereos. Past a stone at a street corner commemorating a Petersburg resident who became the first President of Liberia.

I finally become aware of two things. First, people are watching me, curiously, I think. Yells from the one-way traffic coming in my direction, unabashed stares from people in doorways across the street. Those ahead of me do not stare, but put their heads down and look away. Second, I have an escort. A police escort. I’m walking down a one way street, toward my hotel on the other side of I-95. Three police cars appear again and again, passing me slowly, holding up traffic. I am afraid to jaywalk. I’m a little bit ashamed.

The sidewalk becomes a crunchy path of broken glass as I pass under I-95. Familiar old friends stare up at me: St. Ides, Old English 800, The Bull, fading and wrinkled, dressed in fluttering videotape.

I arrive at my hotel, the Econolodge “Historic District.” There is nothing historic about the district I am staying in, except the undefinable air of repression and anger, and perhaps futility. I walk to the gas station next door to pick up a twelve of High Life. I’m asked for money on the way there, for a beer on the way back. I don’t give either. I don’t know why.

The bedcover in my room is stained with the victory of a thousand conquests; there is pubic hair on the bedsheets. There is blood on the shower curtain. A cockroach beside the toilet lies prone on its back and waves one leg repeatedly in defiance–“I’m still here, you bastard.” I leave him alone, vaguely hoping he’ll get away.

As darkness descends, a line of thumping, nondescript cars makes its way to my part of the motel, obstructed from view from Crater Road. They honk, someone comes out to visit them, then they move on. Sometimes, they park, and people in tank-tops emerge and walk into a room on the floor below me. Bottles break in the parking lot. I draw the curtains. I realize that while I was observing this phenomenon, C-SPAN had been blaring in the background on my television. I had tuned it there out of habit. I’m a world away, and yet still trapped inside the Beltway. I turn the television off and begin to drunkenly devour Robert Harris’ latest paperback. About one a.m., a fight breaks out. No police come to break it up. It resolves itself about ten minutes later. Car alarms go off periodically in the parking lot throughout the night.

Morning comes at one the next afternoon, gray and drizzled, hung over, like me. I bathe and walk, up Crater road, toward the exit of the battlefield. Here, 276 rednecks were vaporized under four tons of gunpowder, carefully positioned in galleries after weeks of undermining by Pennsylvania soldiers. The resultant Union attack failed in part because the soldiers trained for the assault–black soldiers–were pulled from the operation for political considerations. When they did attack, too late to exploit their success, they were pushed back into the enormous crater, and were shot to death like fish in a barrel. I want to run back to my motel, bang on the door of the rooms below me, and yell, “can’t you see? You’re the fucking fish! You’re in the barrel! Get out now, while you can!” I know I won’t.

I walk, and I walk, and I walk. I’m alone, save for the occasional SUV or minivan, and within each Dad has scored a small domestic victory by getting off the highway and blowing through the tour route at 25 mph before darting back onto the freeway and home.

In the forests, the trees have done their work. They weren’t there when the seige began, but now they have rooted into the ubiqutous earthworks, preserving some of the features. Here a picket line, there a bombproof, a few still deep holes might be latrines, or the work of relic-hunters. The soil here is sandy and about as easy to shovel as one can imagine. I understand now why Freeman says that noone will ever know where the lines were precicely drawn. A fort could be dug in a night with a regiment, and there were two hundred thousand soldiers with nine months of nothing to do except dig deeper to avoid the snipers. It is hell, grown over.

I’m tired, and miles from home. I find the old Prince William Courthouse road, and realize that it will take me to 36, if I’m not mistaken. I emerge on a paved street, the trenchline still tracing the road. Matchbox houses dot the right side of the street. A school is on the left. A group of kids are playing with a BB gun and a long strip of leather, which they are cracking like a whip. One of them suggests that they “shoot the white boy.” I stop, and give them my best Dashiell Hammett leer, what with my overcoat and fedora and all. It’s enough to make them turn away and scratch in the dirt until I pass. Hell, I would have wanted to shoot at me, too.

Just outside of the school grounds is what is obviously a fort, part of the line, overgrown with trees and brush, but obviously well traversed with trails. I wonder if the kids know what this is, and wonder if they ever play war on the site. A trail of beer bottles and cigarette butts tells me it is at least used for something today. But the gaggle of children are still watching me from up the street, and I decide to move along.

That night plays out similarly to the night before. I witness yet another injustice as the Fighting Illini have victory stolen from them by arbitrary calls from the referees. A feeling of acceptance washes over me. I cannot help these people, today. There are forces at work here that I do not understand and cannot name.

The phone rings. A girl I know. She wants to come visit. She arrives the next day, and we hike the battlefield. Every trail is criss-crossed by abutments put up by desperate men who probably didn’t understand why they were there and who didn’t know that their stalemate would echo so far into the future.

We ate at a barbecue place, returned to my room, and added one more notch to a worn-out hotel bed. The cockroach was still waving his “fuck you” when I turned out the lights and left. I cut my “vacation” short, and returned that night, with her. Fuck the train, fuck Petersburg, fuck history. We all wear it like a turban on our heads, but so many people don’t have a name for it. I call it history, for lack of a better name.

I come back to my uncertain version of reality with this one thing: I will change what I can.

I’m ready to work again. And I will. Thanks for indulging me with this long, irrelevant observation.

Why me, why noir? I am not worthy.

A literary accomplishment unihibited by repetition or reservations. I enjoyed it immensely.

Thank you very much.