Man In A Suitcase

My U.S. pictures all used to fit on one web page. But with so many locations and so many pictures, the time had to come to break things up, first a little and then a lot. I've indexed everything here by state. The ordering is neither alphabetic nor strictly geographical; it's based on some bizarre aesthetic sense of each location's relation to the others.
* Washington, DC
* New York
* Pennsylvania
* Massachusetts
* Maine
* New Hampshire
* Vermont
* Michigan
* Illinois
* Minnesota
* Iowa
* Wisconsin
* Wyoming
* Colorado
* New Mexico
* Utah
* Arizona
* Nevada
* California
* Oregon
* Washington
* Hawaii
* Florida
* Georgia
* South Carolina
* North Carolina
* Tennessee
* Missouri
* Alabama
* Louisiana
* Texas

Washington, DC

I used to find myself in Washington at least a couple of times a year. (At one point when I was at Borland I did two trade shows there in the same month.) On one trip I finally took advantage of what the city has to offer: making the rounds of the Mint, the Smithsonian and, in this picture, the Vietnam Memorial. Having come too close the draft for comfort, I felt a strong connection to the names enscribed on the wall and an anger at the incredible waste of it all.

As I get older I become more and more fascinated by history. Perhaps that's because I don't have to learn it just to satisfy a teacher. But it's also the discovery that history is never as neat and orderly as we're led to believe. A small example: what possessed a 18th century Englishman named James Smithson to leave his fortune to found a museum in a place he'd never seen? From that curious beginning grew the Smithsonian Institution, surely the most wonderful collection of museums on the planet. Even the buildings are a marvel, from the castle where the collection began (now a visitor center) to the building that houses industrial exhibits from the museum's centennial. Every part of the Smithsonian calls forth a different time and gives the merest hint of the treasures within.

The Air & Space Museum speaks to me in a way museums rarely do. After all, I grew up with the space program, watching each Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launch with bated breath while taking in a steady diet of the most fanciful science fiction. But I love Air & Space at least as much for its collection of aircraft as for its rockets. They're all here: The Wright Brothers 1903 flyer; The Spirit of St. Louis that took Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic (the real one, not some movie prop); the X-1 that broke the sound barrier for Chuck Yeager; the Voyager that went round the world on a single tank of gas; and this plane that made commercial aviation possible by making it practical: the Douglas DC-3. From these humble beginnings came the fast and only moderately uncomfortable jets that can take me to London in ten hours and my luggage somewhere else entirely.

One wonders what they were thinking when our Founding Fathers decided to put the nation's capital in this swamp between Maryland and Virginia. Hot, humid and miserable in summer, it becomes positively Nordic in winter. Which makes photography an interesting challenge, as I remove my gloves just long enough to maneuver the camera in place. I suppose the Capitol is worth the discomfort, even if I don't feel the same way about its inhabitants. More to my liking is the Library of Congress across the street, whose staid and solid exterior hides the kind of beauty and grace usually limited to houses of worship.

Then again, what in life is more worthy of veneration than the country's greatest collection of words: written, spoken and displayed? I dream of wandering through the stacks, reading dime novels from the wild west and comic books from the golden age, along with all the great works with which they share space. Sadly, that magnificent reading room I first saw in All The President's Men is closed away from visitors; we can only watch from behind plexiglas and envy the researchers their access to our literary history.

It was almost exactly a year after the attacks of September 11th that I found myself back in New York and then in Washington. Flying out of National Airport (I refuse to call it Reagan), you are required to stay in your seat for the first half hour of the flight. At left is part of the reason. The Pentagon makes a dramatic sight as we leave northern Virginia, looking strong and forceful and no worse off for the horror it witnessed. In fact, at this distance it's impossible to tell that an attack ever took place. Which raises the question of which would be the more effective image: A fortress that has survived a massive attack? Or repairs so perfect that they deny that the unthinkable has indeed happened?

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California