Thursday, July 13, 2006

Science Club Reunion

I'm a bit vague about the dates here but the story goes that in 1944 my dad, his best friend George and a few other guys in the Woodrow Wilson High School science club fielded a slate of candidates that dominated the student government elections. They accomplished this by developing a strategy for managing the nominations. Whenever a very popular candidate was nominated someone from the science club would pop up and enthusiastically nominate the popular candidate's best friend -- to split the vote. The teacher who was monitoring the nominations caught on right away and was glaring at the science club members, more and more ominously as the nominations proceeded, but the other students never had a clue. By the time the nominations were over the fix was in -- and the science club candidates won almost every seat.

Part three in the "How to Stuff a Long Weekend" series features the events of Monday which was mostly spent in Arlington, Va and Washington DC. [The other parts are here and here.] It started with George and his wife coming over for breakfast with dad, the wife and daughter, and me at our motel restaurant. It was over breakfast that we heard of the electorial victory of the science club sixty-two years ago. They recalled their surprise several years later, after graduating and going their separate ways to find themselves together again in medical school at George Washington University in 1947.


The Science Club Reunion 2006. The original members, dad and George, are in the middle.

It was a wonderful conversation. Dad ang George have been friends forever and there was lots to catch up on -- whatever happened to so-and-so and who wound up marrying whom -- but they are busy guys -- doctors seldom stop working when they "retire" -- and there was lots of new material to talk about as well. Dad is just back from a trip to Haiti with a team of medical missionaries trying to improve the care at a Catholic clinic there and George is on the board of the American Council of Pediatrics which involves quite a bit of traveling. Much of the talk was medical (I will spare you the details of dad's finding the biggest prostate he ever felt in Haiti) but it was all interesting.

One medical bit that is worth mentioning, since it ties in with the occasional satisfactions of being an older doctor, is the problems the team in Haiti had in trying to find a way to treat diabetes. A young doctor said that she suspected that one of the patients she had seen was diabetic but that there was no way that the patient could be diagnosed, much less treated, in an environment with no electricity, no running water and no way to do a blood test for glucose. Dad suggested that when he was a young intern at GW they had successfully treated diabetes with urine samples and dip sticks. This idea was very exciting to the team. Monitoring blood sugar with a urine dip stick is old technology and is not much used any more but it is much better than nothing. They still make the testing dip sticks and it is clearly the right technology for use in rural Haiti. Sometimes you can teach a new doc old tricks.

We paid the bill and a tip and kept on talking until breakfast time was over and the restaurant was setting up for lunch and finally George had to leave for another meeting across town. The rest of us checked out of the motel, verified that it would be OK to leave our car there while we did a bit of sightseeing, and headed for nearby Metro station.

Our first stop was Arlington Cemetery where we visited the graves of my grandparents and of my mother who passed away a few years ago. Grandfather Haslup, who died when I was one year old, was a career Marine officer and had at one time briefly been the military governor of Haiti during the US occupation that started in 1915. Funny how things come back around.

Our family graves are just down the hill from the Tomb of the Unknowns so we hiked up to watch the changing of the guard and then headed back to the Metro station to catch a train downtown.


Since we had a six hour drive back to North Carolina before bed we didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing. We only had time to see part of one of the buildings of the Smithsonian. We thought about seeing one of the new parts -- possibly the American Indian Museum -- but in the end we decided to go to the Natural History building. It was my favorite when I was a kid -- with the dinoraur bones and the huge stuffed elephant in the central hall -- and it's still my favorite. They have a new exhibit for "mammals" to serve as a counterpoint to the dinosaurs and it is well worth seeing but my favorite part has always been the minerals. I love the big crystals and the nickel-iron meteorites. After seeing the mammals we decided that we just had time for the fossil exhibit but I snuck off to walk through the mineral exhibit, just quickly, and to touch the meteorites one more time. I managed to catch up with the family in the fossels after only a few million years and was barely missed.

Natural History Staircase

My lovely daughter on the stairs outside the Imax theater in the Smithsonian Natural History building.


We left Arlington a little before seven, after the heavy rush-hour traffic, and started looking for supper when we were well out of town. We weren't particularly hungry so we were rather picky at first. I was tormented by the vague memory of a rather nice place to eat that we had found on a previous trip when we found ourselves in the same situation. On that previous occasion we found a little restaurant in the downtown part of a historic town on a river. We ate in a very nice little restaurant in an older (possibly brick) building. I remember thinking that the place was a "find" and we would have to remember it for future trips. And, of course, I forgot where it was. I remembered that it was on the west side of I-95 shortly after we crossed a river. When we were 20 miles south of Richmond I decided that I had missed it and since it was getting late and we were hungry now we decided to become less picky. We wound up eating in run-down seafood restaurant where my daughter and I both ordered the "crab soup" that turned out to be Campbell's Chunky Cream of Mushroon soup with a few bits of crab (or at least crab shells) thrown in. I rather like mushroom soup so this was ok with me but the daughter wound up going next door to Wendy's for a salad.

A review of the map suggests Petersburg, VA as the most likely place for my lost restaurant. Petersburg is an older town on the Appomattox River and it is much more historic than it is given credit for being. The fall of Petersburg was the point where the south had unarguably lost the war and Southern historians tend to overlook it because the subject is too depressing. Petersburg is a bit further south than I was thinking -- I was looking for something nearer to Arlington -- but the notion of driving all the way through Richmond on the Interstate and still not finding supper seems familiar.

If the little town along the way on that previous trip was Petersburg then the place we ate was most likely on of these: and probably this one: . The name of the domain for those web pages -- Crater Road -- is a reference to one of the events of the Civil War when union troops tunneled under a southern fort and blew it up. Crater Road runs north and south about two blocks east of I-95.

Update: I found the little lost restaurant, or at least I know the town. The town is Occoquan, Va. (See That Cute Place to Eat I Can Never Find.)

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