By Cody Beers for County10.com.
(Riverton, Wyo.) – Opportunity and May 12, 2014, were on my side in Washington, D.C.
I was invited by friend Big John Smith to attend his “Champions of Change” transportation awards ceremony in our nation’s capital. My plane arrived at Reagan National Airport in the mid-afternoon hours May 12.
I caught the hotel shuttle to Crystal City, Va., at the doorstep of the Pentagon, quickly checked into my room, changed shoes, and left to explore. Several hours later, I boarded the Metro train and headed into the heart of Washington.
Washington Monument at night. (Cody Beers)
My goal was to stand surrounded by flags at the foot of the Washington Monument on its proud reopening day to visitors, nearly three years after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake had damaged the monument.
Helped by friendly residents and tourists, I arrived at 8:30 p.m. — albeit after exiting at the wrong train stop and walking a mile — and found the only public restroom in the area, then walked the final quarter-mile to the bottom of the monument that I’d been admiring from afar for nearly an hour.
I admired the views of the U.S. Capitol, the White House, the new World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Monument, the National Mall, and the many marble buildings. I couldn’t help but have that feeling of awe and pride about our country, and even smile about “that” being where Forrest Gump gave his famous sound-free speech in the 1994 movie.
I walked to the monument honoring George Washington — the 555-foot marble obelisk that towers over Washington, D.C. I touched her. I looked up. I looked around. Others were doing the same thing. I walked around her, nearly walking head-first into a tired-looking National Park Service ranger.
What the heck, I thought. “Sir,” I said, pointing upward. “I’m here all the way from Wyoming. Is there a chance I could get up there tonight?”
His matter-of-fact answer, “See those people? That’s the last tour of the day to the top. Less than half of them are here. Follow them inside.”
“Thank you,” I said, shaking his hand.
“You’re the only one who’s asked,” he said. “Enjoy yourself.”
Wow! My heart leaped. I followed the line inside, the people with tickets that had been gone for weeks. I walked through security, stood outside the elevator that malfunctioned two days later, and thought about my first trip to the top of the monument at age 14 with my grandparents.
Looking up from the base. (Cody Beers)
Thirty-four years later, I listened to the Park Service tour guide explain the great monument’s history, the architecture, the story … and my heart swelled with pride in my country, its diversity, and this magnificent place.
In the few days that followed, my faith in our America was restored. A visit to the many memorials ensued into every evening with good friends, including barbecue, seafood, and brick oven-fired pizza. I stood beside MLK’s likeness at his memorial, watched the changing of the guard at Arlington, touched the stars at the WWII Memorial, walked among the American soldiers at the Korean Memorial, read the Gettysburg Address in marble while standing by Lincoln, etched Elmer Lauck’s name in pencil at the Vietnam Wall, met with my U.S. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso during Wyoming Wednesday, cheered for my friend at The White House, toured the U.S. Capitol, and enjoyed a visit to Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian.
My memories of those places will remain during my life, but what makes me smile today is the enduring kindness of the tired park ranger, the friendly people of Washington, D.C., throughout my visit, time spent with friends, the Washington Monument’s first new day, and good luck.