29 Jan

Washington DC continued

Well, I came back from Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting 90 (TRB) and we watched Black Swan with Natalie Portman. Very intense film, quite scary and very good. Upset both of us quite  bit and we had a long and good talk about sad things, sometimes you just need to have sad moments and reaffirm our mutual love and care for each other and the kids, both with us and gone.

Wednesday. Another day at TRB, and the snow starting to fall, although preceded by rain, which has a role to play later. Dewan and I did our poster session, and I had some good chats with other researchers, most of whom were also posters! TRB is very odd about presentations and posters. At most scientific and engineering conferences being a poster means you’re not quite as good as a conference presentation. TRB has a different criteria. At TRB presentations are for topical issues, and usually don’t have an academic peer reviewed journal associated with them (as I can confirm having spent quite a while on the TRB site trying to find them); poster sessions are for complex pieces of research that are better suited for one-to-one explanation. Most of the peer reviewed papers for publication in the Transportation Research Record come from the poster sessions, not the conference sessions. I got this from several senior members of various committees, one of whom at a get together shortly afterwards..

As we did the poster and I was talking to a lovely lady from IFSTTAR about research consortia and Talleyrand I noticed that the rain had become heavy snow. I got a text from Ann saying that "all sorts of snow and gridlock had broken out in the centre of Downtown" and she’d not be joining me for dinner. I then went to a session on City Logistics where the delightful Laetitia DaBlanc and the charming Robert Govaers were presenting, along with a guy from Chicago whose name I’ve forgotten since the record here only shows the first author, but I enjoyed the presentation and the use of SODA etc. [Ok, this is a reminder for me..] Then I left and discovered that D.C. is even more susceptible to snow than the UK! Ok.. it was quite a bit of snow.. but it was melting even as it fell, but in short, the buses stopped at 9pm, I ended waiting for a train for 45 minutes, 400,000 people lost their power, and the next day no-one came to work, the buses were on weekend schedules and everyone you talked to said how awful it had been. Now what do I know? What it reminded me of was the hysteria in the UK when some serious big cold snow came and we stopped as we tried to cope. This was slushy and not very deep snow, and the world ended. I am not criticising the DC people/systems.. just reminding UK people that lots of other countries have problems when it snows as well!

Ignoring all this I went the Lebanese Taverna and had a very pleasant hour and a bit chatting with Roberta W and 4 of her friends (most senior TRB people) about this and that and the other, especially to Mary from Canada about all and everything. Then off home through the world-ending snowstorm (pah!)..

Thursday was Washington Monument and Vietnam War memorial day. Washington Monument is a 500ft obelisk in the centre of the National Mall. Slowly built to honour George Washington, interrupted by the Civil War, it’s a perfectly fine piece of pointy phallic Egyptian like construction. The views, however, are excellent, the city is laid out perfectly at your feet. It’s free and I have to say is compulsory to my mind, maybe after you’ve seen the rest from the ground or maybe before, it works both ways in my mind. The Vietnam War memorial is the long black wall with every dead or missing combatant engraved on it. It’s understated, poignant and again carefully aligned with the Washington Monument. There are also 2 bronze statues, one to the soliders and one to the women who served. Then off to Union Stations which is a great shopping place as well as the terminus/hub for Amtrak. Nice food at Thunder grill and a great chair massage later.

Friday we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History and did the Americans at War exhibition which was well done, interactive for kids, quite even handed and used up all our time. We Brits got a fair hearing in the War of Independence, and 1812 War. The Civil War section was very good, as was the WW2 one and the Vietnam one. The genocidal wars against the Native Americans were not detailed, altho they did talk of the Trail of Tears when the USA ethnically cleansed the Cherokee people from their lands in the East and the Spanish-American Wars were missing. Vietnam was done well, but no mention of the Vietnamese view of things, and Iraq and Afghanistan were tokenistic.. but since they’re not really history yet it’d be difficult to do much more at this stage. Didn’t really do the rest of the Museum so can’t comment. That night we went to Ollies Trolley which is a greasy burger joint full of old fairground antiques/junk that makes wonderful burgers and we enjoyed a guilty feast. Read lots more of Life by Keith Richards on the Kindle and slept like a log.. Ann slept badly. I dreamt I was in some kind of Midsomer Murder thing set in semi-rural Yorkshire with rain and grime and abandoned houses, with Mick Jagger as the detective.. useless I might add.. Huge laugh.

Now we are going to have a late breakfast, pack and fly home.. ooh goodie.. Club World again..


Washington, D.C. Flickr Set

25 Jan

Washington DC 2011

Travelled to Heathrow Friday, flew Club World to Washington Dulles. Wow, wow, personal cubicle with seat/bed and wonderful service:- awesome. We booked economy and then blew all of Ann’s BA miles accumulated over the years to upgrade to Club World. Spoilt me forever, how could I fly long haul in a normal seat now? Well, given the price I’ll have to somehow!

Arrived and after the usual interminable wait for US Immigration (hey we only need 2 people working, just wait), travelled to Hamilton (Crowne Plaza) hotel on 14th and K and crashed out and slept our way thru’ the time difference quite well. Large room, nicely appointed but basic amenities all 1960s in origin, e.g. air con, bath, shower. Obviously very modern furniture, beds, carpets etc., but like in many US cities they’re slightly behind the current level of EU hotels which have been built or refurbished more recently. (I exclude London and Paris which are also often also a little tired)

On Saturday got up. Gosh it’s cold, very cold, around -6 deg Celcius, with wind chill coming in around -12 C. But it’s got space, the blocks are small, the streets are very very wide, but also there is a huge expanse of open parkland in the centre of the city next to the Potomac river. This is the National Mall and full of museums (and gosh there’s a lot of really impressive Smithsonian museums), memorials and at one end Capitol Hill and the White House off to one side. As we find the double decker bus we usually use the acquaint ourselves with cities we realise that even with thermal underwear we are not really equipped for the cold and wind. The bus is not heated and so we freeze whether on the bus or on the ground. [We therefore suggest that if you come here that you consider Tourmobile tours which have heated buses, or Gray Line or the Trolley bus tours, the converted London double deckers don’t work in this weather.]

As we tour I begin to understand this crucial capitol of the USA, of the walkable distances between the White House (which is charming and understated), the different federal buildings, Congress and also the cultural highpoints and symbols of the development of this young nation. We get out and visit the Jefferson Memorial, my favourite founding father, the Lincoln Memorial, the Great Emacipator, the Korean, and WW2 memorial. Ann is so cold that she gets a very bad headache and we retire hurt but having seen a lot.

On Sunday we have a great run of synchronicity. We walk to the bus stop near the White House and the correct route bus arrives. We arrive at the Arlington National Cemetery, and immediately board a Tourmobile bus that take around the cemetery and drops us at the Kennedy graves, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and back at the Visitors Centre just in time to immediately board our (cold) bus and move onto the shopping centre at Pentagon City, having just passed the Pentagon. I didn’t realise that the Pentagon is just over the river from DC, the White House and Capitol Hill are a heart beat away from there by plane.. suddenly I realise just how shocked the government in DC must have been on 9/11.. the plan that hit the Pentagon was seconds from taking out the legislature or executive of the USA. New York was the shocker but the hit in DC must have really been as shocking in implication for the country. My understanding of Virginia, Maryland and DC geography has improved in leaps and bounds and the cultural impact of that as well.

Shopping was fun, but the mall was smaller than Meadowhall in Sheffield or the Metro Centre in Tyne and Wear or Brent Cross in London. Again the impression I got was how much Europe has caught up with the USA in much that we view as essentially North American. We take the Metro Rail back to the hotel, and here the USA has leapfrogged the UK, having built this underground light rail so much later than ours it’s head and shoulders above London or Paris, with fast wide trains running with a pace as good as the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in Germany. Drivers need to go easy on the brakes tho’, they’ll be breaking some elderly bones if they keep jolting the trains as they decelerate. Noticeably the fare structure is unnecessarily complex, but most US government systems and tariffs seem to be so. It’s a very good metro light rail system tho’

Monday I turn up at the Transportation Research Board nice and early using the Metro Rail. It’s different than the events I am used to. It’s bigger, and very disciplined with regard to start times, speaker durations and general event etiquette. It’s also hands off with regard to food, drink, wifi, etc. Essentially if you want a drink you buy it, if you want to eat you can buy a sandwich or pay for a full meal, but it’s down to you. There is no conference organised wifi, you can use the hotel wireless in the lobby for free (as can anyone.. it’s quite poor) or if you have a room then you can use the wireless in the event rooms. It’s typical of the hands off, make your own choices mindset that applies here. I don’t mind, but it is slightly impersonal and unwelcoming, and I know it’d go down like a lead balloon at the events I organise in the EU…

The talks and presentations are good, my interest rises, I meet some old friends and colleagues (Laetitia D, Robert G, Mike B etc.). I decide that Tuesday will be a full day and go back the hotel and go out for a great meal on the Waterfront where the cold is so sharp that the fountains have become giant slushie machines full of ice mountains and yet still pumping more water around to freeze some more. I wish I understood thermodynamics, does a spray make the water freeze faster? The food is good, I have a steak so good that I suspect that I’ll have to have another before I go home.

Tuesday. Up early since I have a full schedule of sessions to attend. Starts well with a session that consists of US and international people reviewing the EU freight policies. Eerie feeling as you hear how others see us. Robert Govaers and I compare notes about how the US and EU differ, both charmed and puzzled alternately. I meet my friend Roberta W whose husband has recently passed on, she’s very upbeat and busy, but I feel deeply sad.

Washington, D.C. Flickr Set