Monday, April 12, 2010

Stop the Train! Our plans have changed.

The Metro is a great way to get around the D.C. metro area. The cars are clean, the riders are polite, the stations feel safe and many of the outer lines are above ground. It's usually pretty reliable. Usually. But I'll think twice the next time I gamble the success of a date night on the reliability of its service.

Hiring a babysitter is a rare occasion for my wife and me. At $15/per hour, we choose our nights carefully. So when our train crawled out of the Springfield station slower than a sunburned drunkard on a Jersey beach, we began to doubt our chosen mode of transportation. The conductor's voice crackled over our car's speakers. It was hard to make out what he said, but it sure sounded like he said all Blue and Yellow trains were terminating at Crystal City due to police action at the Pentagon City station. Though the cherry blossom trees ringing the Tidal Basin across the Potomac River were merely a couple miles away, they might as well have been in Japan. This train wasn't going to D.C.

Our plans had been fairly modest but had promised to forge some new memories. We were going to experience the cherry blossoms at dusk on the final weekend of the festival, and then walk to The Pour House on Capitol Hill to find out who the true Skeeball champ was. Now we were trapped one stop from where we'd started, the clock was ticking, the frustration was mounting and the train wasn't moving.

The night could have been ruined before it even began, but we decided to take control of the situation. A quick look at my iPhone revealed that there was indeed a police situation ahead and it was a bomb threat. After living in New York City for four years and around the D.C. area for five, we knew that this wasn't going to be resolved quickly. Suspicious packages aren't taken lightly, especially ones near the Pentagon. So we bailed on our D.C. plan and hopped out to catch the next train to Old Town Alexandria.

Just across the street from the King Street station we saw a Hilton Hotel with an attached bar called Seagar's. We needed to regroup, relax and relaunch our date night. Upscale hotel bars are always fun. The bartenders are always professional and the wine and beer options are plentiful. Well, almost always. We should have recognized the impending disaster when a large vase full of cut cherry tree branches greeted us in the lobby. Slap! Thanks for the reminder, Hilton!

So we bellied up to the posh bar on comfy stools and admired the back-lit bottles of expensive booze and exotic wines. I ordered a bottle of beer an Angie chose a nice red. I don't know what ever happened to my beer, but the bartender returned to tell us that Angie's wine was out of stock. This was not a short process. We sat there for ten minutes empty-handed, our night teetering on the brink of disaster, and we began to wonder why we had left the house to begin with. The barman finally returned (without my beer) and asked Angie for a second choice. We politely declined and told him we'd try another watering hole.

Luckily, O'Shaughnessy's, a true drinker's pub, was only a block away. The bar is located above a deli on King Street and seemed like the answer to our prayers. Unfortunately, the bar was one of the few that still allows smoking, but the windows were open and a good breeze was keeping the air fresh. The portly barman said he was doing me a favor when he discouraged my attempt to order the house ale. A game of pool would have been nice, but an almost comical "Out of Order" placard informed us that pool would not be played this evening.

We looked at the Washington Post's Going Out Guide application on my iPhone to locate a good restaurant. We were surrounded by options, so we knocked back our Sierra Nevadas and joined the throngs of early evening revelers on the street below.

We popped into Tiffany's Tavern for a quick one and asked if anyone had heard of The PX, a modern speakeasy we'd just read about. The first woman hadn't heard of it, but her coworker had. With loose directions to look for the blue light on South Columbus Street, we headed down the road.

After a firm rap on the door, a well-dressed woman opened the door a crack and I told her we were there for The PX. She opened the door and allowed us to enter, but I was disappointed she didn't use the traditional sliding window to check us out first. She escorted us up steep stairs past a hardwood bar to a small sitting room. An ornate chandelier dangled from the high ceiling. A smartly dressed couple sipped cocktails on one couch. A pair of women chatted quietly on another sofa. Angie and I settled in for some nice red wine. The atmosphere reminded me of some of the eastern European lounges in Astoria, Queens we used to frequent.

After being escorted back down the stairs, we headed to the Overwood for dinner. The wood-fired kitchen is off the normal tourist route by a couple blocks. I appreciated the large glass facade and enjoyed a potent pint of Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and some spinach artichoke dip before my steak arrived. Our meal provided a nice cap on an evening that nearly never started. The episode reminded me that good food, good drinks and good company can rescue a date night from the ashes. And I'll ride Metro again, but if our plans begin in D.C., our vehicle may be parked there too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ragin' Against the Machine in the Man-Van

My one-year-old is now a punch dancer. Oh, you're not familiar with punch dancing? Punch dancing is simply headbanging from the safety of a car seat. Shoulder harnesses and lap belts seriously restrict spontaneous physical reactions to heavy metal. But the punch dance channels the driving double bass beats of hard-hitting bands through clenched fists. My sons have taken Dad's lead, pumping their little fists like mini-pistons in a powerful V-8 engine to the rocking tunes blasting over our humble man-van's Infinity surround sound system.

Now that my one-year-old is facing forward and has joined our rolling party, he's interacting with his older brother and learning the nuances of the man-van. I'm always revved up to finally get my boys buckled in for the short ride home from daycare after a long day of work. Hanging out with these two is always a blast and helps keep me young. I miss their enthusiasm for life as I navigate the sad, stale office life of adults. And I could play with X-men characters and Matchbox cars all day, everyday.

So when my three-year-old asked for a jam, I changed the station from NPR to the rock station faster than guitarist Kerry King picks out crushing chords for Slayer. A glazed look fell over his face as he found the beat and started punching the air to Rage Against The Machine's Killing in the Name. I know, the song title is a tad inappropriate for young kids, but lead singer Zach de la Rocha growls most of the lyrics. Don't judge me. Ever seen the fight scene at Toad Hall in the finale of Disney's Wind in the Willows? Spoiler alert: Pistols, battle axes, throwing knives and murderous weasels. Yeah, 1949 was a boom year for quality kids' programming. Barney would've been hunted to extinction.

Headbangin' dads out there, let me tell you there's nothing more special than hearing your oldest son say, "He's doing the punch dance! He's punching!" Their combined laughter was like super premium fuel for my punching fist, and I bashed the air and nodded my head to Rage's beat with unbridled pride.