While I had been to the big D.C. exhibits on previous trips, I had a bucket list I wanted to experience or re-experience while I was living there. Smithsonian, monuments, museums; I was going to do it all. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of starting with the National Archives.
The National Archives’ rotunda houses “The Charters of Freedom”: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.
If you have ever seen pictures of these documents, please save yourself the trouble of going to see them in person. They look exactly the same as the copy on the bulletin board of your sixth-grade social studies class.
It’s not comparable in discovering, that in person, the picture in your textbook doesn’t do justice to a great piece of artwork. Here, instead of being captivated, you become captive.
Now you are stuck in a queue only to see some faded ink on paper that looks like it’s been soiled by a used tea bag.
I thought it distasteful to leave right away, so I picked up on the appropriate time to marvel at each by using social cues from other visitors. Ultimately, you can’t spend more than a minute feigning interest. Luckily, I came up with a little game while looking at the Declaration of Independence: “Find John Hancock’s Signature!” It only ate up about five seconds.
I walked around the other exhibits quickly. I stumbled around to the Magna Carta. Damn it. What was this again? It was definitely something having to do with Spain… But what?
I felt like a failure; as an American, a student, and a government major. I left feeling stupid. Not only because I couldn’t remember what the Magna Carta was, but that I wasted any time in there at all.
Next was a trip to the Library of Congress. I wanted to sit in the main reading room in one of the circular desks and flip through a copy of Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” I saw someone in a movie do that. Granted it was Melanie Griffith.
Just like her character in the ‘Born Yesterday’ remake, I am an idiot and couldn’t find my way into the reading room. I found a window looking into it, but never found out how to get down there. Frankly, I stopped caring and left without asking the guard for directions.
I needed to be more selective and organized when it came to my bucket list, and clearly, I couldn’t be trusted to do it alone.