I am getting ready to release the second book of my trilogy, “Love Triangles” (“Firehouse 101” was released ten years ago and will be celebrating its 10th Anniversary on September 25th). Since a section of the book takes place in Washington DC and I had to run an errand in the nation’s capital, I decided to get some research in as well since I wanted to update that section of the book.
To put it bluntly, DC has changed tremendously since I started writing the book in 1989. When I first started to write “Love Triangles”, Washington DC was falling apart. I had just graduated from college and had visited DC several times since the eighth grade and decided to set the book at Garfinckel’s Department Store when I visited it in the summer my father took my brother and I down to DC for a business trip. Those were the days when you could let a 13 and 11 year old roam the city by themselves. We were staying at a hotel close to F Street and my dad trusted us while he was working.
I knew at a young age what I wanted to do when I grew up and since I has just been in Washington DC with my eighth grade class a few months before, my brother and I roamed downtown DC and spent the day roaming the department stores on F Street. This was the heyday before the shopping district went downhill. We roamed around the Willard Hotel, Hecht & Company, Woodward & Lothrop and finally spent the afternoon at Garfinckel’s shopping for gifts for our parents before hitting the Smithsonian .
I remember buying my father a bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ for a thank you gift and getting my mother a decorative candle because we could not afford the silver salad server by a dollar when we were at Garfinckel’s. Looking back on customer service, it must have been unusual to see two teenage kids shopping by themselves in DC but the woman never blinked an eye and as friendly and professional as I remember her being, she wouldn’t give us a break on the salad server. So we settled on the candle. I still remember having a snack in the Greenbrier Room, the restaurant in the store and my dad had that bottle of ‘Grey Flannel’ until I moved back in with him in 2001 from Guam. I believe that I was the one that finished it up. It is funny how one afternoon can inspire a book considering the store closed over twenty five years ago.
Once I finished some work I had to do in the city, I took a special trip and walked all over the downtown area that had inspired the book so long ago. The buildings for the most part are still there. Hecht & Company converted to Macy’s years ago and they had closed the old store on F Street back in the 90’s, Woodies closed in the 90’s too when merged with John Wanamaker from Philly and both stores which needed massive renovations fell under the weight of a bad economy and Garfinckel’s closed when it was spun off to Hooker Real Estate Company and all the stores owned by Hooker that included Altman’s and Bonwit Teller closed for lack of business. The early 90’s were dark days in retail as many old-line and carriage trade department stores that had survived the Depression and years of consolidations finally closed their doors for good. The closing of Garfinckel’s came about the same time I started to write “Love Triangles”.
To keep the updates on the book fresh, I walked down to F Street to see the old buildings. Hecht & Company was now another retailer but the building is still beautiful and a testament to when shopping wasn’t a chore but a leisure activity. Woodies still keeps its name plates and pictures of the old store in its heyday in the lobby which is still polished oak and marble. Occasionally an old timer like myself will walk the lobby and still look at the old pictures and have good memories of a store long forgotten by a newer generation of shoppers. My next part of the F Street tour was the old Garfinckel’s building which is now been renovated, reopened and renamed the Hamilton Square Building housing what was once Clyde’s of Tyson’s Corner and now the Hamilton Grill. You can still see the Julius Garfinckel nameplate above the doors of the building hidden behind the awning. That is all that is left of the store that I bought those gifts so many years ago. It’s still an elegant building.
After the department store tour, I made my way across the street to the Willard Hotel, still considered one of the Grand Dames of the city which has been now overshadowed by Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton Hotels plus a slew of others that have opened in the last thirty years. It’s still a beautiful old hotel but it could really use a spruce up when you look closely at it. The one nice added feature was the outdoor café that they put in the back of the hotel facing the Mall. That was packed to the gills with tourists looking for some shade.
I walked around the Mall and towards the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue and the security was out in full force. I have never seen so many policemen and security before but since people have jumped the fence and landed in the yard lately, it is better that way. The tourists acted like tourists in front of the building but I always felt that I was being watched.
I walked back around the downtown and walked down to Chinatown, which at this point has been reduced to one block and about a dozen restaurants in which some are still living on their reputations from years ago. I went to Chinatown Express (746 6th Street SW), a noodle and dumpling house that I had eaten at back in 2010 with my dad when we took a trip to DC to see the White House Christmas tree. Back then, the restaurant was introducing fresh dumplings and noodles made in front of you which not many places were doing in New York City yet. How New York has caught up and done better. The food went downhill in six years (See review on TripAdvisor).
The soup dumplings were dried out, the shrimp dumplings were under cooked and over pan-fried and the noodles were good but not great. The service was lackluster. Ever since they built the Verizon Center, they pretty much destroyed what was left of Chinatown. It is now down to about a block and most of the restaurants look like tired old relics of bygone era. The area has gentrified itself out of character.
I was able to walk back down E Street towards Ford Theater. The modern section of the building really showcases the times but the old building is a step back in time. The scary part is when you walk across the street to the doctor’s house where they took the body after the shooting. They still have the blood soaked pillow in the display case. The exhibition is a real eye opener and this should not be missed. It is one of the tours that is a must do when in DC (See review on TripAdvisor).
My last part of the tour was a walk around the Mall and a tour of the Natural History Museum off Constitutional Avenue NW. This is one of the museums I still remember from my eighth grade trip to DC. I still have a fascination with the Hope Diamond and it is something to see it. The whole Gem exhibition should not be missed as some of the most famous gems are located here as well as the stones in their raw state. The animal exhibitions are good but do not have the same effect as in the Museum of Natural History in New York.
By the end of the day, the humidity was a killer. I was exhausted from all the walking and the heat was no help. I walked back to Union Station and cooled down. They have fully renovated the station and it is much more than just a train station. It is a destination of shopping and restaurants and has the most impressive lobby to walk around. The station is the true hub of the city with both the trains and subways to take you to all parts of the city. Make sure to visit the McDonalds in the station. The service is excellent and for a McDonalds the food is really good (See review on TripAdvisor).
I don’t care what people say about travelling by train, it is the best way to go. If I drove this trip, it would have taken me four hours and we got down to DC in two and a half hours by Acela and it is the best way to travel. It is so relaxing and peaceful in the Quiet Car. You just relax and watch the cities and towns pass you by. Even Trenton looks pretty good from the train.
Be on the look out for the release of “Love Triangles” as an Ebook as well as read my first book, “Firehouse 101”, the first book in the trilogy. You will see how they tie in a moment in time and show New York City in a unique light. Enjoy the reading and take a train ride down to DC. With so many things to see and places to visit, it is well worth the trip.