Hanging With Celebrities in D.C.

I just had an interesting weekend.

On Thursday I found out that one of my favorite political organizations, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, was having a little meet-up for bloggers in Washington D.C. Washington? Gosh, that's just a short ride from my digs in Harrisonburg.

So on Saturday afternoon I hopped into the Jasonmobile and made tracks for Vienna, VA. Got through one more CD of the audiobook version of John Grisham's The Appeal, which I had started during a recent long drive to Kentucky. One of Grisham's better efforts, I must say. I look forward to listening to the rest when I drive back to NJ for Thanksgiving.

Anyway, ditched the car at the Metro stop and took the train into DC. Had a most excellent dinner at Sushi Taro, one of my favorite haunts any time I'm in the city. Then it was back on the Metro and over to Union Station, which I had cleverly determined was the closest stop to the big blogger meet-up. And that's when things got interesting.

You see, it was when I was detraining that it dawned on me that all I knew about the meet-up was that it was being held (a) at a Hyatt hotel, (b) that this hotel was located at 400 New Jersey Ave. and (c) that this address was a scant three blocks from Union Station. Sadly, “three blocks from Union Station” actually defines a circle, and I had no idea which radius would take me to my destination.

Quite a pickle, but I am a highly trained math professional, well versed in problem solving techniques of all kinds. This was solvable. It was doable. Asking for directions was an option, but I'm a guy and therefore don't do such things. Besides, where's the fun in that?

I opted for Plan B. I knew the Capitol was very close to the hotel, and I could see the Capitol from Union Station. So I started walking towards the Capitol, keeping my eyes peeled for any sign of New Jersey Avenue. As I got close I found one of those little tourist maps, and promptly located NJ Ave relative to my current location. Whoo hoo! But it was on the other side of the Capitol. D'oh!

So I walked around the Capitol plaza, no small feat let me tell you. The Capitol is big, and you have to go around it, as opposed to in a straight line through it. Picked up NJ Ave on the other side, hastened my step to number 400, got there, and discovered to my chagrin that there was no hotel.

Have I been put on this Earth to suffer?

Took off my backpack and pulled out the sheet of paper on which I had jotted down all the important information about the meet-up. Checked the address. Number 400? Check. New Jersey Ave? Check. Wait a minute, hello, what's this NW next to NJ Ave? You've gotta be kidding. Looked at the street sign. NJ Ave SE. Insert profanity here.

Found another tourist map and discovered that while NJ Ave was only labeled on the SE side of the Capitol, it actually continued on the other side. About ten feet to the right of where I found that original map. Insert more profanity. Recommenced walking, completed my circumnavigation of the Capitol, and picked up NJ Ave on the other side.

Happily, I had left ample time for this sort of diversion, so I was still fifteen minutes early for the big meet-up. Eventually other folks started arriving, and I recognized my SciBling Ed Brayton (he of Dispatches from the Culture Wars.) We chatted a bit then went inside.

That was when I met Barry Lynn, who has been one of my idols for quite some time. No doubt you have seen him on various television news chat shows; he's the one not only defending the separation of church and state, but doing so convincingly, and with great eloquence. This was a great thrill for me.

They had a pretty nice spread, serving up dessert and beverages. Let's sample the offerings. Fresh fruit? Tasty! Cheesecake? Yuck! Pecan Pie? Score! Life is good.

Barry Lynn started speaking to a small crowd of bloggers, most of whom I did not recognize. Obviously my blogroll is sadly in need of updating. Later PZ Myers turned up. He had been speaking at George Mason University that evening, but was able to catch the latter part of the big meet-up. Impressive company I'm keeping.

After the meet-up, Ed, PZ, myself, and fellow Panda's Thumber Skip Evans joined up with some of PZ's fans at the Dubliner, near the hotel. I was flattered that so many people seemed to want my picture, until it dawned on me that I was sitting next to PZ, and he's like famous and stuff.

Anyway, spent a pleasant few hours there chatting about politics and evolution and other things, met a whole bunch of cool people, and all in all had an enjoyable evening. By now it was well after midnight, and we headed back to the hotel. Back on Thursday when I first found out about this little gathering, PZ had graciously offered me the spare bed in his hotel room, and I took him up on his offer.

This morning PZ left early to catch his plane, and Ed disappeared to explore the nation's capitol with some friends. Skip and I attended a session analyzing the recent election results. Short version: The Religious Right are still alive and kicking, and Democrats, while generally far preferable to Republicans, are not always reliable on these issues. Oy! Tell me something I don't know!

Then it was lunch at Eli's Kosher Deli (on 20th Street near Dupont Circle), thirty minutes of browsing at Second Story Books (also on 20th street, even closer to Dupont Circle) and then it was back on the train and out of town.

Considering that as of Thursday I expected to be spending another weekend grading and doing math, a rather exciting weekend. I would love to show you all the pictures I took of the big event, but in a final cruel trick of fate my camera had somehow gotten turned on in the case, and the battery was dead, dead, dead. Oh well. I notice, however, that Ed has a post up about his trip to DC. This post includes a photo of him and PZ, and I took that picture! I really did!!


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I was flattered that so many people seemed to want my picture, until it dawned on me that I was sitting next to PZ, and he's like famous and stuff.

Now you know what TAM 6 was like!

Well, except for the part which we still can't write about because nobody will believe it and Ben Goldacre is sitting on the photographic evidence. . . .

Aliens revealed themselves to TAM 6 attendees, and the skeptics are Hiding the Truth(tm)!

And I thought I was the only person in the world who doesn't like cheesecake! (I'm with you on the pecan pie as well...)

Ed and PZ got along just fine.

I don't like cheese in general, and cheesecake seems like a big waste of perfectly good sugar and graham crackers. Pecan pie, by contrast, is a marvelous thing.

Hi Jason - We didn't get to chat much, but I was glad to see you there and hope to see you there next year, too, if your GPS is working!

I got there Friday night with no reservation found, and no mention of AU - I thought I was at the wrong hotel. But it all worked out, and the pecan pie does most assuredly rock! It's so cool to hang out with the smart folks!

Alicia -

The feeling is mutual. If the meet-up next year is at the same hotel then I'm all set. And thank you for writing your book The Price of Right. I'm enjoying reading it.