My Daughter’s College Town (Part 2 in the Series on Traveling to See Loved Ones)

The “Duck Tour” ended. We felt cool and relaxed in the middle of the Potomac with a gentle breeze blowing across our faces. But as the amphibious truck motored to the shore, drove up the landing and back to the official assembly area, the triple digit heat and near triple digit humidity smacked us hard. I searched for an air conditioned place within a short walk before we collapsed.

We were touring the city my daughter had chosen for her college experience. The museums beckoned, and while we each had expressed interest in several exhibits, they did not fall within the now self-imposed five minute maximum walk. There was this one option in view that we had not considered and we headed there. Walking in that miserable heat, I couldn’t help but ponder that with only one day to tour our nation’s capital, we were choosing our experience based on convenience. It reminded me of a humorous sign that once beckoned customers in front of a local restaurant: “Let’s eat here before we both starve.”  

When I was a kid I tried my hand at stamp-collecting. I had watched my older brother soak stamps in a tub of water in the kitchen sink to pull the thumb-sized rectangles and squares off envelopes. When dried, my brother flipped through the pages of a large important book with imprinted images of hundreds of stamps in it. I remember he used these little folded clear sticky tabs to affix the stamp to just the right spot on just the right page. The stamps would not be glued against the page because of the folded tab; instead, they would be mounted a tiny bit off the page. As an adult, I knew that people also collected sheets of stamps as a hobby, but my knowledge of philately was weak.

The National Postal Museum was a good choice. It was close by and air conditioned. What we hadn’t expected was the level of enjoyment; these displays and activities held our attention for hours. One particular exhibit surprised us because we would have expected it in a different museum; it was beautifully and sensitively designed for an audience of children. To explain the Holocaust, the postal museum offered a series of letters written by a family attempting to flee to the United States. It wasn’t just the youngest visitors who were captivated by the story in these letters. And another poignant exhibit showcased the postal service amidst the September 11 tragedy. There were postal artifacts from the World Trade Center found in the wreckage, and mail retrieved from the crash of United Airlines flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Then there was the history of the letter carrying trade, and the dangers to the early riders on horseback who delivered the mail. Of course, there were stamps. These included many themed exhibits, and this one table in the open that was covered with them. As we watched people sort through hundreds of U.S. and international canceled stamps, the docents invited us to participate. We were given cards and each encouraged to make a personal collection. People floated their picks in the nearest bowl of water to soften the adhesive and peel the stamps from envelopes. I felt like a kid back in the kitchen with my big brother, culling vivid flowers and famous faces and works of art.

Having stayed in hotels near my daughter’s university, I felt confident moving around by foot and using the transit system. When I inquired which supermarket was closest to my hotel so I could plan my route, one local’s response was, “Social Safeway.” Social Safeway? My daughter may have been the one in college, but I was in for quite an education. The woman I spoke with took a minute to explain Washington’s supermarket nomenclature, and later that afternoon, my daughter and her friends confirmed it. Social Safeway is “where all the singles in Georgetown go to look cute, and buy booze for their parties and pick people up.” Now I don’t know if the “pick people up” part is accurate, but there were plenty of surprisingly well-dressed college and graduate students and young professionals buying groceries and beer in line while I stocked up on Diet Coke, shampoo, granola bars, boxes of tea and other staples on my college kid’s list. But that’s not all. Near my daughter’s university in D.C.’s Tenleytown neighborhood is the store referred to as Secret Safeway, so named because it’s not visible from the main road. Then there’s the Not-So-Safeway in a tougher and undisclosed neighborhood, and my apologetically favorite — Soviet Safeway near Dupont Circle. Why Soviet Safeway? Usually the shelves are empty and the lines are long. 

It seems that many of my visits to D.C. include beating the scorching heat on summer days. On one such toasty morning we headed to the Metro station, rode down the deep escalator well and boarded a train for Old Town Alexandria. A long-time friend of mine had enjoyed living there years before and suggested we check out her old stomping ground. The kids and I strolled down the street and chose a quaint eatery for lunch. The historical restaurant’s walls were brick-lined and beautiful. Afterwards, we ambled in the shops, and then toured one of the many private historic homes turned museum. We were in a history buff’s paradise. To cap off our outing we popped into a cupcake shop and feasted. Instead of taking the Metro back, we bought tickets for the water taxi. It’s brilliant. For twenty minutes we rode on the Potomac to Georgetown, this time without the duck calls. Some people nodded off while others took in the passing sights from the seats and railing, everyone looking quite comfortable with the light breeze blowing across the water. My daughter and I moved around the vessel, photographing the bridges and buildings and other boats, and pointing things out to my son as he relaxed, all the while listening to the narrated tour. It was a memorable day.

I enjoy attending live sporting events. I have seen the Capitals play ice hockey in the Verizon Center, and the Washington Nationals play baseball at Washington Park. One huge thrill was when my daughter, a member of her college women’s ice hockey team, played an annual game against a rival collegiate team in the Verizon Center, and I was in town. I was staying with her and her two college apartment mates. As she prepared her gear for the big game, my daughter explained that a teammate would be picking her and several other teammates up in one of the dedicated vans the sports teams use at school. She reluctantly warned me that there may not be room for me in the van, and if need be, could I get to the Center by myself? “No worries,” I told her. I could either hail a taxi, or walk down the street and hop on the Metro that would take me right to the Verizon Center. Easy. Besides, it was still a few hours before the game so I had loads of time.

The van arrived and I was informed there was room for an extra person. On the drive downtown, one of the girls casually said that she had a bit of a headache and wished she had taken a Tylenol before leaving her apartment. I opened my purse, grabbed the little bottle and handed it over. She took two tabs with a gulp from her water bottle. A minute later another player said she wished she had had time to eat as she was getting hungry. I opened my purse, found the granola bars and handed them over. The girls were chuckling, thinking that having a mom in the van wasn’t such a bad thing. A few minutes later a third player said she craved an orange. Yes, I even had citrus in my purse. I took out the sandwich bag holding two tangerines and handed it over. Now I was chuckling; we moms live for this kind of thing.

We parked in the vacant underground garage and even met the opposing team there; everyone smiled and greeted each other. It was a nice start. Team members had explained to me that security would be tight and authorities may not let me in with the team. I could wait at the outside entrance for other family members and fans, and we would be allowed into the arena at a given time. “Okay,” I said. I made a snap decision. “Girls, give me your sticks.” So I carried a large bundle of tall hockey sticks (players carry more than one stick) through the garage to the outside door where the team would enter. Allow me to interject here that while hockey players carry a lot of gear in that big bag of theirs, unless they are little kids with parents helping to lug the equipment, players each carry their bag with one hand and grab their sticks with the other hand.

An NHL practice for that evening’s game was running a bit late. Nobody seemed to mind waiting outside; it was a beautiful cool autumn afternoon with a bright warming sun. Finally, the door opened and the team streamed into the building. We waited in a small area while the girls were asked to unzip their hockey bags. Uniformed security guards peered inside them. Then, they led the girls to their locker room, and I just grabbed all the sticks and followed. Nobody said anything to me and nobody tried to stop me. Success! With multiple locker rooms in this large professional facility, the college teams weren’t assigned the space designed for the Capitals or their NHL rivals, but still, I was there with my daughter and her teammates at the Verizon Center. I can’t tell you how excited I was! We entered the locker room, I handed the sticks back to their owners, wished my daughter and the team luck, and was personally escorted through the building to the section where the teams’ fans were taking their seats, getting a little tour along the way.

The two college women’s hockey teams were announced, player by player, by the booming voice of the announcer. The large score board lit up. I sat in the lowest section, the one next to the Plexiglas where you can see the players’ faces and hear what they are saying, and I cheered for my daughter and her friends. Some parents wore college team jerseys with their daughter’s name printed on the back of them. Throughout the game, I texted updates to my husband and son at home. There was a row of guys in this section from my daughter’s school who stood and yelled enthusiastically, waving signs and providing much amusement to both teams and all the fans.

Frankly, I don’t remember the score or who won. I do remember the thrill. My daughter took up the sport in college, so I hadn’t spent time driving her to the rink and carrying her gear and lacing her skates and trying to stay warm with a thermos of coffee when she was little. Here I was, 3,000 miles away from home, living a dream I never knew I would have. My daughter played college hockey on NHL ice in our nation’s capital. You can’t beat that! See what happens when you travel to visit friends and family?

Kathy Galgano

September 28, 2013

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