The following was written last night after pulling out of DC on the Amtrak Crescent. The trip was primarily to attend, for the first time, the MDP Member Event at DuPont Circle in Washington DC. But I never do anything half way, so I managed to work in a tour to Fool HQ, a tour of our Nation's Capitol, and a very special visit to the Space Shuttle Discovery. Here is the recap of an amazing 4 days.-----It's been a busy weekend, but the train back to Atlanta is under way, so I now have about 13 hours to catch up.To recap, the train was 90 minutes late originating out of Atlanta Wednesday night due to a mechanical problem with a freight train occupying the track at the station. We made up 30 minutes overnight and pulled into Alexandria, VA about 10:30 AM. Dinner the night before was steak and potato, and I had an omelette for breakfast since it would be a long day and I didn't know when I would have time for lunch.The Mötley Fool HQ is right around the corner from the King Street Station, so it was a cold but quick walk. Literally, you can see the name on the building from the moment you step off the train. While many of of the analysts were at a conference for another service, I still got a tour to see how the operation is run, and its a bit unconventional to say the least. The Gardners both have cubicles with all the other analysts. The employees don't have vacation time; as long as you meet your deadlines, you can take the rest of your time off. Everyone seemed to know of me and was glad to meet me in person after 13 years on the web site.After the tour, I purchased a Smartpass for the metro, then to the train into DC and up to DuPont Circle where I checked into my hotel a couple blocks from the train station. I swear the building felt like it was was tilted, the stairs listing, making me feel off balance the first two nights. But it was simple and cheap - three nights there for the same price as one night at the host hotel for the conference. The bed was comfortable, the shower hot and the room smoke free. That's all I needed, though CNN would have been nice.After dropping off my bag, I headed back to Union Station and walked (I did a lot of walking over the 4 days) to the United States Supreme Court building for a scheduled tour. We got to go inside the courtroom for about 30m with the docent who provided a history of the court and the building and how the court works. I learned a few things I probably had forgot I once knew and a few new things, which was kind of the story the whole weekend. It's been many years since AP American History.For dinner, I had let other Fools know I would be at the ShopHouse Kitchen on DuPont Circle at a specified time and invited them to join me. I had just met a young Air Force officer (I think, I met so many Fools and am afraid I lost track of names) who was taking language training (he's multi-lingual) in the area and made the trip in for the event, when a large crowd of Fools from the One conference invaded the restaurant. Turns out Tom G bought dinner for us all, and I shared the meal and conversation with his brother, David G.Friday was the Million Dollar Portfolio conference, and while I don't have a million dollars (yet), I do try to follow along with this real money portfolio. It was really cool to meet so many people who were excited to meet the person behind all the discussion board posts. A few even asked if my screen name, Fuskie, was related to Daufuskie Island. It is. During the morning session, I participated in a new product discussion, then after lunch, a presentation on the state of the portfolio.The service had launched back in November, 2007 and our portfolio value had tanked along with the market. But we are in the black now, and two of our companies had just announced terrific earnings reports that were rewarded with run-ups in the market. The keynote was from a professor of economics who acknowledged that economists don't know anything about investing, but that doesn't stop them from theorizing. Afterwards, each of the tables did battle in some games of mental agility and out table won (I helped us get the Disney question right, of course) and our team each received autographed copies of the keynote's book. Congratulates again to my tablemates.Then it was time for closing remarks from Tom Gardner, who provided some insight into some Foolish things to look for in the upcoming year. Next was the cocktail party where I got to meet more Fools. I later learned that one lady Fool had said she was "excited" to learn that I was in my 40's (her assumption since I told no one my age) instead of an old man in his 70's with grey hair and a paunch. I am not quite sure how to take that but think it was a compliment. I also had some time to talk with Tom G to swap some stories and pick his brain a bit. After the cocktail party, a smaller group of Fools headed to a Turkish Mediterranean restaurant for dinner. A long day but a good one.Saturday opened with wind chills in the high teens as I left the hotel for a 9:30 AM tour. Despite the bone crushing cold, I was half an hour ahead of schedule and got in an earlier tour. As I said, I learned and relearned a few things. I was especially interested in how it was the Senate investigation that discovered the truth about Watergate. Especially after Woodward and Bernstein laid out a trail of breadcrumbs. I also learned that there are actually two domes in the Capitol: the outer dome is taller and more round, fitting the exterior architecture for the iconic image we all know. The inner dome is less bulbous, providing a flatter canvas upon which the ceiling fresco in the rotunda is painted. And if there was a light on under the statue of the Lady Freedom, it meant a member of Congress was on site and working.After lunch in the Capitol Building Cafeteria, I hopped aboard the Old Town Trolley for my hop on/off tour of the National Mall, monuments and memorials. Despite the frigid cold, I had to whittle down my wish list to outdoor sites, because I knew I would not have time to do the museums justice, as much as I wanted to visit the air & space museum, natural history museum and the Holocaust museum and memorial. I was unable to get a spot for a White House tour, and the Washington Monument remains closed due to repairs from the earthquake a few years go. You have to leave something for next time. My first stop was the Jefferson Memorial, where the 25 mph wind kept the tidal basin particularly choppy, and the wind tunnel through the columns limited the time you could spend admiring the 19' sculpture of the man whose ideas became the bedrock for a country. But the museum below the monument was warm and educational.Next I headed over to the Lincoln Memorial, climbing the steps to visit Honest Abe, stopping repeatedly to aim my iPhone across the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument. Although closed, all the repair work is internal, making the views irresistible to photograph. And while I wasn't able to get a White House tour, I was able to get some pictures from outside the fence in front of the National Mall. Earlier, I thought I had seen Marine One pass over, but it could have just been a helicopter. Does anyone know if the President traveled to or from his residence on the 9th?By this time, the Tour Trolley made its last pickup, dropping me off at Union Station. After a quick trip back to the hotel to recharge my iPhone (the camera got quite a workout), I returned to Union Station for a quick dinner and then a Moonlight Tour. In addition to seeing the Lincoln Memorial in a whole new light (as well as the Washington Monument), we visited the Korean War memorial, ghostly illuminated in the night. Unfortunately, the Vietnam Memorial was not lit for night viewing, despite being on the tour itinerary.We also drove across the river into Virginia to see the Iwo Jima memorial before heading to the new MLK Jr. Memorial. While many enter from the side and go directly to the carving of Reverend King popping in relief out of the rock, the memorial is supposed to be visited from the street, walking between the two mountains of despair, only to come upon the rock of hope. It is very well done, plus some great views of the Jefferson Memorial from across the tidal basin. As it turned out, the weather was not much of an issue Saturday night as I had feared.All the objectives for this trip save one had been met. Sunday morning I checked out of the hotel, said goodbye to DuPont Circle, then headed down to Union Station and checked my bags onto the Crescent with Amtrak for that evening. I headed out to Dulles and the Smithsonian Air & Space museum satellite hanger by way of MetroTrain. Due to construction delays on the Metro Rail, I missed the $6 once-an-hour bus connection, so I bit the bullet and took a cab the rest of the way. It was really expensive but worth it. The planes were cool and nice and all that, but Discovery is a beautiful bird and I spent as much time with her as I could, taking photos and video. I even taught the docents a few things learned off Nasa TV. The tail and wings spread over the security railing, so if I had been 7' tall and could jump (and wasn't afraid of being tackled by security), I would have been able to touch the thermal protection tiles. Discovery is the only Shuttle (Endeavor is in LA, Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center in Florida) that is being displayed on her wheels, feet down as it were, so we got to see into the undercarriage a bit which was neat. The shuttle hadn't been refurbished for display, so you could still see the scorching around the engines. Ironically, she seemed bigger on TV, even though I know 90% of the craft was cargo space. Unfortunately, the cargo bay doors were closed so we could not see inside. Nor was there any display or presentation of the crew cabin. I think as an educational feature, there is a lot more the Smithsonian could be doing to showcase Discovery, things I have heard about being done at the other shuttles new homes, but Discovery has only been there since last Spring and hopefully the exhibit will grow into the great potential it has ahead.There were a couple of other interesting things on display there. An Apollo (I think the sign said 11) capsule with all the flotation balloons inflated, items from Spacelab (where I first became fascinated with space exploration) and LMP James Irwin's space suit from Apollo 15, the launch of which, when I was a kid, my family took the Winnibagel down to KSC to see. They also had a Pegasus rocket and mock satellite stack from Orbital Sciences, a company I own shares of (And am the Ticker Guide for on Rule Breakers) that will hopefully complete a demonstration mission this April to launch and dock a cargo vehicle to the International Space Station.Alas, all good things must come to an end and this Fool and Discovery were soon parted. A short cab ride to Dulles airport, MetroBus then MetroRail back to Union Station where my train was delayed out of New York by 25 minutes. You could see the caked snow from New York that had fallen off the bottom of the train. But the conductor assured me we would make that up overnight and still make our 8:13 AM arrival time. In fact, we pulled into the station in Atlanta right at 8 AM.Ironically, after all the cold and wind in DC, The forecast is cold and rain in Atlanta while Washington will be 60 degrees and sunny. Sometimes life ain't fair. I don't know when I'll make it out to Washington again, but I'm glad I sacrificed the cash for this trip. FuskieWho now looks forward to the delivery of his new refrigerator next week, over a month after his old one died...
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