Our second day in Washington began slowly, after realising that we were long overdue a lie in. Eventually leaving the motel at about noon, we ate lunch in the massive food hall of Union Station. The station is more like an out of town shopping centre than a railway terminal: it has countless restaurants, shops and even a multiplex cinema. It was here that we left Neil and Leo to watch Harry Potter 5, while we wandered towards the Capitol in order to find out what the city was like on a weekday.
We saw that the Supreme Court was open to visitors, so wandered inside and took in the surroundings. The chamber at the rear of the building that we got to peer inside has been the scene of many dramatic rulings, including the effective legalisation of abortion in 1973 and a decision that arguably awarded the Presidential election to George W Bush in 2000. Downstairs were portraits of various justices of the Supreme Court, most of whom had lived surprisingly long lives – perhaps making constitutional rulings has a similar effect to doing a daily crossword.
The Congressional Library was also open (and very worried about security – only one person at a time was allowed in the security area just beyond the main doors, and the guard would get very excitable if anybody held the door open for a second longer than necessary), so we went inside and had a wander around. The walls of the building were covered in deep philosophical statements about how important libraries and science are to the world, but unfortunately these were pretty much the most interesting things in the building. They even beat the exhibition about Bob Hope that was on downstairs, which spectacularly failed to explain why anybody ever found him entertaining.
That evening, we ate dinner in a restaurant that claimed to be a brewery. On the way there, we came across a Chevrolet concept car, accompanied by a demonstrator and a security guard (”look but don’t touch”). It was an electric-hybrid car, but instead of being accompanied by any vital statistics or interesting facts, was entirely described by print-out quotes from the media. One of these claimed that the car could do up to 525 miles per gallon of petrol, which is massive compared to the shameful 17.8 mpg that the monster truck is managing (car adverts here brag about efficiencies of 25mpg – the bar is really very very low). As interested engineers, we decided to ask the demonstrator how the car could achieve these claims; immediately, he went on the defensive (up until this point, he’d been fielding questions about whether the car comes with 22in wheels as standard, and whether the fancy lights are just for the demonstration) and started to deny that Chevrolet had ever claimed it could do 525mpg. Apparently, the Chicago Tribune had pulled these figures out of the air. To cut a long (and boring, if you’re not an engineer) story short, the demonstrator knew almost literally nothing about the key selling point of the concept car he was standing in front of.
The fancy lights were only for the demonstration, in case you were wondering.