Dispatches from the capital wasteland

April 9, 2009

I’m unsettled. I’ve never traveled for work before, but I like that it’s a thing — “traveling for work.”

“Do you get to do any traveling?” people ask when you tell them you’re considering a job.

“Two or three times a year,” in this case.

“That’s great!” they respond, as if it’s somehow a de facto vacation.

I suppose it is in some ways, but mostly I feel the weighty responsibility to be the sole representative for my company while speaking with customers, and to avoid overspending my per diem. I also feel like it’s my job not to get swallowed up by this city with which I am absolutely unfamiliar.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

I am familiar with Washington, D.C., but not from any practical experience. I just lived here (virtually) for about two hundred hours in Fallout 3.

Of one thing I’m certain: I was completely unprepared to ride the escalator out of the metro station this morning. As I made the long and steep ascent, that distinctive concrete ceiling curving all the way around me, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I used to think that was just an expression, but I actually reached back there and felt the little downy buggers standing at attention. Then Ron Perlman’s voice intoned somewhere inside the back of my head: “War. War never changes.”

So, UNSETTLED. I am it.


April 10, 2009

The conference I’m attending hasn’t been too busy, which is fine by me, since I’m pretty much flying by the seat of my pants over here. Fortunately I speak fluent Shakespeare Geek, so even if I can’t answer an academic’s question about the varying introductions to different editions, I can at least end the conversation with a genial quote-off.

I didn’t want to venture too far out for lunch, since I’m the only one working the booth. D.C. favorite Five Guys Burgers and Fries is near the conference hotel. The Washington Post says they’re the “Willie Wonkas of burgercraft,” so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Side note: who spells “Willy Wonka” incorrectly? Where was your childhood, o nameless journalist? Know you not Roald Dahl? Gene Wilder? Have you eaten nary a Nerd?!

On the way to lunch today I saw a dog tied up outside a Chinatown gift shop. I’m not sure what breed it was. Some kind of smallish terrier, I think. No blue heeler, to be sure, but I couldn’t help thinking of my beloved Dogmeat from Fallout 3. It was definitely friendly, so I gave it a pat on the head and almost involuntarily said, “You know, I think you’re the first dog I’ve met that didn’t try to eat me.”

Once again I got the neck hair prickles. Once again I ruminated over the popular idea that video games aren’t able to affect us as deeply as other art forms, and furthermore, won’t ever be able to do so.

I am unconvinced.

On the way back from the burger joint, the dog was still outside the shop, lounging in a patch of sidewalk sun. I still had half a brown sack of fries because seriously, they give you way too many. The dog lifted its head at my approach. Maybe it was because of the earlier head pat, but I had a feeling it had more to do with the aroma of the peanut oil fried potatoes in my possession. In a different (virtual) time and different (virtual) place, this might have been my chance to gain a permanent companion. So I slipped it a fry.

So sorry anonymous dog parent, but the cat will mew, and dog will have his day!

the monument

April 11, 2009

Today was the last day of the conference. Farewell, English professor who lurked around my booth the whole time! You had a face as gaunt as Charon’s with a personality to match. That is to say, I liked you.

I scheduled an evening train back to New York, but the conference exhibits closed at 12:30, so that means someone got the whole afternoon to herself. I knew exactly what to do. I popped in the earbuds to my iPod, queued up my Galaxy News Radio playlist, and headed out to the National Mall. Why fight it? I’m finding my way around D.C. via my intimate knowledge of a video game. True story.

I was a little disappointed to find traveling from The Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial took about a hundred years longer than it took me in-game. Not to mention I don’t have anywhere near the endurance of my avatar. Can you imagine what kind of great shape you’d be in, carrying 150+ pounds of wasteland crap around at any given time? I didn’t mind the long walk, though. Time flies when you’ve got The Ink Spots’ “Maybe” in your ear.

I was pleased to see the Museum of American History and Museum of Technology (er, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) were exactly where I left them, and in better condition, to boot!

By the time I reached the Washington Monument and Danny Kaye was refusing to leave the Congo, a woman stopped me to ask for directions. Wearing iPod earbuds is apparently a sign for “I know where I’m going,” even in D.C. It means the same thing in New York, but there I like to pretend it really means “leave me the hell alone.” I was happy to oblige this woman’s request, though. It was a beautiful day in the Capital Wasteland.

“Do you know the way to the Lincoln Memorial?” she queried.

“It’s a straight shot thataway,” I pointed west. “But don’t go straight down the middle. I mean, unless you want the experience.”

She laughed because she thought I was making a joke about wading through the reflecting pool. I smiled because I knew it really was about leveling up. And super mutants.

That’s right, lady, I thought, I’m the Lone Wanderer, and this is real life.

Sara Clemens is an ad copywriter for a book publisher, so every single day she pretends she’s in an episode of Mad Men. You can follow her on twitter at @TheSaraClemens, and find all the things she’s ever written for the internet at saraclemens.com.

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  1. […] and it’s part of my attempt to tackle the second of my Nerd Year Resolutions. Check out my first piece here. I’ll be putting something up over there every other Friday, so feel free to visit […]

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