Back in 2000, my wife Chrisie and I were visiting friends in Virginia for spring break. We decided to go to Washington, D.C. because Chrisie hadn’t been there since she was very young (and all she remembered was rushing from one place to the next). We traveled with a dear friend named Grant, his father, and Grant’s friend Stephen. Stephen had actually interned on Capitol Hill the summer before and recommended a great place to eat around lunch time. When asked where it was he replied, “It’s not far at all.” He lied.
Even before our lunch excursion, Stephen had amused with his passion. In addition to being a Capitol Hill intern, he was also an art student. We weren’t allowed to merely tour the National Art Gallery earlier in the day, Stephen was determined that we would learn something as well. At every painting, he would point out specific features and explain a particular concept. Also at every painting, he would stop turn to all of us and ask, “What is the focus of this painting?” He usually gestured inches away from them when he asked this. He made the guards a little nervous.
When we wouldn’t answer, he would occasionally call on us by name. “Leighton, what’s the focus of this painting?”
“Um, what?” I wasn’t really paying attention. He was not to be deterred.
“What’s the focus of this painting?”
I looked at it for a moment and replied, “Um, the boat?”
“Yes! Exactly! You must have noticed how all the lines draw your eye toward it. Very good!”
“Actually, I said that ’cause it was in the center.” He affixed me with the type of stare usually reserved for willfully stupid children.
Before lunch, our small group had walked to the Lincoln memorial. We made out way from it to the Washington Monument. We were disappointed because it was closed for repairs. We were still half a block east of it when we began discussing lunch.
“I know a great place,” said Stephen, “it’s where all the interns ate. Sometimes you see senators and such and it’s not far from here.”
We obviously couldn’t resist and we asked him to “Lead away.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “it’s just around the corner.”
We weren’t worried. It was a cloudy day and not too hot. A short walk would be nice right before lunch. Along the way we would occasionally ask how much farther. Stephen would always reply, “Not much, it’s just around the corner.”
We had been walking for a while and were approaching the Air and Space Museum. Since we were roughly 25 minutes in to our journey, I felt the need to clarify its length. I looked up to Stephen and asked, “Dude, is it much farther from here?”
“No, it’s just around the corner.”
“You said that a half hour ago.”
“Well, it’s just around the corner.”
“But we keep walking in a straight line. When are we going to turn the corner?”
“Right past the Air and Space Museum.”
“OOOh, can I get astronaut ice cream?”
“What are you, five?”
The funny thing about cloudy days is that they can quickly become rainy days. Or possibly torrential downpour days. Which is, of course, what happened. We took shelter under the overhang of the Air and Space Museum. While we were waiting one of us asked, “Isn’t there somewhere closer to eat?”
“Well, yeah, ” Stephen replied, “but it’s not as good. Besides, it’s right around the corner.”
When the rain let up, we turned just after the Air and Space Museum and walked a block to Independence Avenue. Then we started walking west again.
“I thought you said it was just around the corner.”
“Not that corner. It’s just around the corner. A different corner.”
We kept walking, our hunger increasing. When we neared the Capitol Building, we started to get a little tense. “I thought you said it wasn’t far!”
“It’s not. It;s just behind the Capitol.”
“I thought it was just around the corner?”
“It’s around the corner behind the Capitol.
We kept following him for some reason. Once the Capitol was at our backs, we became seriously impatient.
“I thought you said it was right behind the Capitol?”
“Not much farther now. It’s right around the corner.”
We were exasperated but, having come so far, couldn’t give up now. We walked a couple of blocks past the Capitol. At this point someone would still ask how much farther it was, but before Stephen could answer we would say, “Just around the corner!” in unison.
We found the restaurant almost four blocks behind the Capitol Building. We were sweaty, wet from rain, and exhausted when we finally turned the corner from Independence towards Pennsylvania Avenue and set foot before the Hawk ‘n’ Dove.
We had walked a little over two miles (most of it in the rain). We stared incredulously at Stephen until the oldest of our group asked, “You knew where this was, right? Why didn’t you tell us how far it was?”
Stephen looked back innocently and replied, “Because you wouldn’t have come if you had know how far it was.”
He was right. We never would have. But we would have been deprived. Not of the food from that establishment (which, while good, hardly seemed worth it), but of the journey, which was far more important than the destination. In fact, that miserable, wet, two plus mile journey is my favorite memory of that day. It was a shared experience that we have laughed about many times over.
We never would have gone that far, but, in retrospect, I’m glad we did.