Last month my father wrote a guest post about his life in India and now I've hit up my sibling for a contribution.
My younger brother Luke is a third-year law student at George Mason University and is married to the most wonderful sister-in-law a woman could want: Becca, originally from Utah who now works as a statistician in Virginia.
Luke lived in Japan for a couple years and not only are he and Becca avid travelers overseas but they seem to be able to find the quirky, off-the-beaten path activities in metropolitan Washington D.C.
My children pretty much think Uncle Luke is the greatest guy on the planet--if he's not taking them fishing or hiking he's teaching them to build squirrel traps for the back yard (they easily caught one with some peanut butter and let me tell you, Rabid Squirrel-in-a-Box ain't pretty).
You'd have to know Luke to appreciate his unique brand of genius, he's Leonardo DaVinci-meets-Grizzly Adams and Alaska's answer to the modern Renaissance man. If he's not busy carving totem poles or off on an all-night fishing expedition he's coming up with bizarre-yet-oddly-interesting activities such as his recent decision to take up cheese making when he discovered the storage unit in his parking garage was the perfect temperature and humidity for a cheese cave. The next thing I heard he was buying cultures, cheese molds and cheese presses online and making trips out to the country for milk.
You just never know what to expect with Luke.
Anyway, after a recent conversation this week I begged him to write up a list of his favorite activities for his area. I believe his response was "Because I have nothing better to do in law school?" (strangely similar to my father's response when I begged him) but here it is, a day later and I've got his list to present to you. After reading you'll understand why he's so popular with my children. Maybe Sarah Palin, should she ever find herself living in the Washington, D.C. area, might find a few activities that appeal to her.
Washington, D.C., perhaps not unlike your home town, is a misunderstood city. Millions of people drink deeply of the vast culture and history of this town without ever truly appreciating what makes it great--sadly, D.C. is a Mecca of adventure wrapped in a sissy fondant.
While my wife is happiest among the museums, concerts, and art galleries this hive of metrosexuality is not my natural environment but before you shed a tear for the poor Alaskan man trapped in a paisley city, let me tell you that every place has its share of adventure for those crazy enough to find it. So without further ado let me present my top ten things to do in D.C.
1. Throw a Tank Party
Okay, we all saw James Bond in Golden Eye and what man wasn’t changed forever the moment he saw Pierce Bronson tearing down the streets of Moscow in a tank? The same part of my soul that yearns to rip off my shirt like Captain Kirk inexplicably desires to run something over with a tank. I say to all men far and wide: “You are not alone and you are not without recourse!”
Last year my sweet wife introduced me to tankstogo.com located in Manassas, Virginia which operates an extensive armored vehicle outdoor museum and rents dozens of tanks to movie production companies for use in films.
As a law student I can sympathize with those of you who may not have the budget to rent your own tank, but DO NOT FEAR! . . . There is a way.
For $150-$200 a person you can host a tank party. I recommend renting the British Vicker Abbott Self Propelled Artillery because it is the biggest, newest tank you can rent without special training. An additional $300 will cover the cost of transporting a couple stripped cars from a local wrecking yard so that your guests will have something to run over (you can often negotiate a much lower price if you let the tow truck driver have a turn on the tank). I also recommend arranging a pot-luck style event where guests bring items such as broken TVs, couches, or old armoires to run over.
2. Go Fossil Hunting
The summer after my first year of law school I planned on working at the White House. After completing the application and submitting the requisite essays on “Why I voted for President Bush” and “Which Bush policy is my favorite and why?” I was disappointed to later stumble at the finish line when I was unable to name more than one Supreme Court justice during my final interview.
With my whole summer suddenly freed-up a fellow law student and mother of 14, recommended I try fossil hunting. Despite what you might have heard fossil hunting is not at all boring, after three short months I have run into half a dozen water moccasins, been chased from a nuclear power plant and have wrestled a 30 pound rabid beaver that attacked my wife. Fossil hunting is pure adventure and I have nearly 200 pounds of fossils sitting in my apartment to prove it.
There are many wonderful fossil hunting opportunities all along the east coast. I highly recommend Fossil Collecting in the Mid-Atlantic States, by Jasper Burns and the website The Fossil Guy as a great starting point. If you want more guidance and access to the best locations, I also recommend taking a guided fossil-hunting tour with the Virginia Museum of Natural History. For about $25 a person you and the ones you love can hunt in some of the richest fossil-beds in North America while being accompanied by Dr. Ward, the museum’s resident paleontologist.
3. Noodle for Catfish
I heard about noodling my first day in D.C. and it was love at first sight. Noodling, also called grabbling, is a method of hand-fishing for large catfish. The intrepid noodler enters a muddy river or lake, feeling along the bottom and banks for holes in mud. When he or she finds a good-sized hole the noodler sticks his or her hand down into the hole to feel around for catfish.
If the lucky noodler finds the hole occupied by a big catfish, they wiggle their fingers to entice the catfish to bite their hand. With one’s hand on the inside of the fish, one can then grab it by the jaw and wrestle the cat to the surface.
Noodling needs no embellishment, this is the sport of champions and it speaks for itself. If you want to learn more about noodling for instructional value or entertainment I highly recommend the documentary Okie Noodling by Brad Beesley. When you have gleaned all you can from the DVD I recommend a guided noodling tour and a trip to the National Noodling Tournament in Oklahoma.
4. Have Dinner and an Uzi
Nothing kills romance like monotony. My wife and I have made it a point not to let D.C.’s many fine restaurants, museums and performing arts events lure us into a rut, sometimes you just need to go do something different and when that time comes I'd recommend dinner and an uzi.
For about $40, you and a special someone can spend a lovely evening at the Indoor Shooting Facility in Stafford, Virginia strengthening your relationship over white-hot lead. Kalashnikovs, AR-15’s, MP-5’s and even the Israeli Uzi (an excellent choice for the ladies) can be rented and fired at our local neighborhood shooting range at a very reasonable cost.
5. Enjoy a Demolition Derby
While the demolition derby continues to grow in popularity, I am constantly surprised by how many people are under the mistaken belief that entering a demolition derby is reserved for society’s elite. With the heartland of Virginia within easy reach of the D.C. metro area there are many opportunities and resources available to a novice derby entree.
All you need is access to some rudimentary tools plus a little help from your local mechanic and that $400 beauty you’ve seen on the side of the highway can become your ticket to glory.
Virginia, like most states, offers several demolition events each year. While there are governing bodies that dictate the rules of demolition derby the regulations are generally the same, you must:
* Remove the gas tank
* Replace it with a 5 gallon gas can in the back seat
* Remove all the glass
* Weld reinforcements to the driver’s side door.
Just don’t let your excitement for the big show overshadow the simple pleasure of the journey. Modifying a demolition derby car together can be a great way to draw closer to the ones you love. For more information check out the International Demolition Derby Associations’ website.
6. Create a Do-it-Yourself Drive-in Theater
If you are looking for something fun and different to do on a weekend evening, Becca and I would like to suggest a DIY drive-in. While my wife and I were previously content to invite our neighbors to watch a movie on our front lawn, all it took was it one instance of forgetting to turn off the sprinkler timers and our wet, fleeing guests being attacked by a swarm of angry wasps for us to decide that a drive-in movie would be better.
Even in the big city, you can enjoy the ole’ timey flavor of a drive-in, all you need is a television projector, an FM transmitter with a headphone jack input (the same type as the ones you use to listen to your ipod on the car radio) and a DVD player.
Simply find a parking lot next to a large flat white surface, such as the side of a building, to use as a projector screen. Set up the projector attached to the DVD player, plug the FM transmitter into the DVD player and you're good to go. Most transmitters have about a 40-foot transmitting radius so as long as your guests park close, you’re set. Add a sunset tail-gate party and you’ll be the talk of the town.
7. Go Pawn Shopping: the Urban Yard Sale
If you haven’t shopped at a pawn shop yet, stop what you are doing and go right now! Just go! Pawn shops are the greatest stores on earth. They are the urban equivalent of the yard sale only BETTER. One pawn shops motto sums it up the best: “We screw the other guy and pass the savings on to you!”
Its not uncommon to get DVDs for $2-$3 or video games for $10. Is your kid taking up an instrument? You can get it dirt cheap at a pawn shop. How about tools? Yep, pawn shops have those too. Whether you want a replica Lord of the Rings sword or a piece of gold nugget jewelry the size of a walnut you can find it at a pawn shop and D.C. has some good pawn shops.
The key to making smart pawn shop purchases is finding the right store for the right product. If you want a good deal on common goods such as DVDs, basic tools or beginner instruments go to the larger pawn shops that move a lot of merchandise. If you are looking for an unusual item at an insanely low price go to the most ghetto pawn shop you can find. The key is finding a shop owner who has what you want but doesn’t realize what it is or how much it costs (don’t forget to barter too). For a list of pawn shops in the D.C. metro area click here.
8. Be “Da’ Man” for a Day
In D.C. some people complain about the crime but when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In addition to the many well known government building tours in the D.C. area don’t forget to tour the local penitentiaries and get a first-hand look at the criminal justice system in action.
But if being a tourist in the judicial system isn’t enough, I highly recommend taking part in the area's many wonderful cop ride-along programs. Yes, if you’re over 21 and have an unquenchable passion for the television show Cops you are only one waiver away from fulfilling your dreams.
Also, much popularized by recent reality-tv shows, bounty hunting is not just for professionals anymore. In half of the states anyone can take up the art of bounty hunting without any licensing or training. Unfortunately, my wife’s rules on the matter are not as liberal as our government’s and my dreams of moonlighting as a bounty hunter to pay for school were squashed about the time I was pricing body armor. For all your bail bond recovery agent needs click here.
9. Go Camping with Two Million Horseshoe Crabs
I remember as a child watching a nature show on horseshoe crabs and thinking that they were the coolest creatures on earth. These giant crustaceans look like an evil mutant helmet but with a dozen legs and an 18-inch spike coming out of their rear end.
If you ever find yourself near Delaware in spring then you don’t want to miss the chance of a lifetime. With the first new moon and high tide of June each year about two million horseshoe crabs climb out of the bay and onto the beach to lay their eggs.
Simply sign up as a volunteer with the Delaware Department of Wildlife Resources and you can spend the night camping on the beach and doing crab surveys while these two-foot long crabs have a midnight orgy. Even my wife who hates anything even remotely similar to a spider has to admit that it would be kinda cool (as long as we kept the tent zipped tightly shut).
10. Do Some City Fishing
If you live in the heart of a big city don’t let that stop you from fishing! I didn’t and I live two blocks from the Pentagon. While I love catching 50+ lb catfish and sand sharks, there is something unique about fishing in downtown Washington, D.C.
Unlike more traditional sportsman, fishermen usually don’t get to experience the roar of the crowd but not so in D.C. While Washington may not have the biggest fish in the world there is nothing like catching a three-pound bass straight out of the Jefferson Memorial Tidal Basin.
I can’t count the times that I've pulled in a big fish to the deafening applause of 30 or more Asian tourists, each of whom want my picture with their baby and my bass.
There is nothing like it in the world.
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