Take a bike ride with me through Washington DC; it is the early 1990s, and we’ll start at 1209 North Fort Myer Drive in Arlington, Virginia and ride from there to Capitol Hill and back again. This will be urban mountain biking because potholes, curbs, traffic, and pedestrians are abundant. A racing bike will not do. Get a thermos of water, padded gloves, stylish shades and a colorful bandana on your head.
The first leg out of the garage is a glide because Fort Myer Drive is a short, steep downhill ride. You then hit the Route 50 frontage road and then go left on Lynn Street. The Iwo Jima Memorial is just to your right, no more than 50 yards away. Lynn Street takes you through the busy streets and high rise buildings of Rosslyn to the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and across it you take a right on M Street into Georgetown. This is the same Georgetown that hosts elite-level DC area cocktail parties. Never did go to any such parties, but it was weirdly satisfying to pedal through those elite preserves.
M Street is a crowded, bustling road. An Ethiopian restaurant over here, an upscale grocery store over there (Dean & DeLuca), and many, many walking locals and tourists. Some of the tourists eagerly speak English as a second language, but even the ones who do not are clearly happy to be there. Wide-eyed, happy gawking is hard to miss.
Cross over the hump in the road at New Hampshire Avenue and M Street gradually descends from commercial blocks into more residential neighborhoods, mostly apartment buildings.
And then you hit Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House is just to your right, a stone’s throw away. It is oddly small, although its symbolic largeness is unmistakable. It is the White House after all. The Treasury Building is the next white marble structure to the east. You hit 15th Street and then turn right for a short stretch back to Pennsylvania Avenue. Go left and you see the Capitol Building in all its majesty, a straight shot just a couple miles away.
Capitol Hill is a long, slow, rolling hill. You pass the solemn Navy Memorial and the huge Canadian Embassy along the way, and then you are on the Capitol grounds. This is the pre-9/11 era, so a shaggy looking cyclist is nothing to the random Capitol Hill police officer once he/she determines that you are not a crank or a thief. Take a short water break on the west steps of the Capitol and look down the Mall past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. It is majestic.
It is easy to have short, pleasant conversations with Hill cops, and it is evident they appreciate the majesty as much as the shaggy cyclist does. The Mall is flat, so the ride from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is leisurely and smooth. Make sure to stop on the east steps of the Lincoln Memorial and imagine being there when Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963. Your shaggy cyclist did this more than a few times. Dr. King delivered his speech from these very steps. This is one of the best places of American history, and it is good just to be here.
From the Lincoln Memorial it is a hundred-yard ride to the Memorial Bridge, and once across the Potomac River you see the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery straight ahead. The Iwo Jima Memorial is a quarter-mile to your right, and you are almost home.
Such a ride is not possible now. You can still ride through DC, but the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue just off the White House is closed. You would need to throw a stone a half-dozen times to get to the White House, and all over DC there are hundreds of big, ugly concrete flower pots meant to deter truck bombs. These defenses were put in place to defend against an enemy from beyond our borders; this is the aftermath of 9/11.
But the bigger and uglier fences around Capitol Hill are worse. These fences surround the Capitol, so you can no longer sit on the west steps of the Capitol and look toward the Lincoln Memorial. It is profoundly saddening that these defenses were put in place to defend against an enemy from within our borders.
Darrell M. Allen is an employment and criminal defense attorney. He lives with two nice Republican ladies north of I-40, where they run two head each of dog and cat.