November 13, 2009 / 2009 Fall JEA/NSPA / Walsworth Live

The rewards of sightseeing

Written by Tim Shedor

Sightseeing sucks.

Sure it’s great to see history come alive and walk where Washington’s greats trod and to feel the power that runs through D.C.’s electrifying air. But it’s also a drag. Why?

My tour guide was named Fran. She wore a beret and fumbled her microphone. She pulled out the knock-knock jokes in-between sites. My American History teacher would have corrected every other trivia tid-bit Fran threw at us. She was sweet and senile, but before I get carried away on her faults, I do owe her the compliment of bringing us to the Library of Congress, a Library that breathes knowledge into the visitors that are waiting for that refreshing air.

Sightseeing has sold-out. At the end of every exhibit, every memorial, there’s a gift shop and cheap kiosk with overpriced pens and postcards that are destined to linger in suitcases long after the return flight. It’s embarrassing to see a country’s colorful history and then to see it commercialized for the sake of profit. God bless capitalism and the freedom to sell, but don’t abuse those first 10 Amendments.

But like every good journalism story, there are two sides to the coin. Sightseeing provides a hit or miss balance that can be vastly rewarding.

On Wednesday, our group weathered 40-degree temperatures with a chilling drizzle and gusty wind for two hours while we waited for Obama to speak. And then we had to walk two miles back to the hotel. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes for the larger part of the afternoon, but I could feel the strength that came from the President’s voice. CSPAN, CNN and NPR don’t do his voice justice. There is trembling emotion and confidence that the President can deliver to his country and the world when he speaks personally to an audience of 500.

Three days later, my sweater is still drying from our trek to Arlington National Cemetery, but I get goose bumps at the memory of the energy that came to the crowd when Obama mounted his podium.

There’s also a terrific phenomena that exists beyond those tiny plaques. When I visited the National Archives and saw first-hand the Declaration of Independence and read about the revolutions it inspired around the world, I heard foreign jabbering. Reading the same plaque around me where Russians, Japanese and German people. They were the Declaration. They were the Constitution.

American History doesn’t end in America. It’s a shot heard round the world. And to hear those shots still ringing was a bone-chilling feeling that far out-weighed the screech of Fran’s microphone or the gift shop bonanza at the end of the day.

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Tim Shedor