6:05 a.m. came and passed, and somehow I was still alive.
I knew I did not have much time to spare for sleep, especially if I was going to stop anywhere before Baltimore. So, I stopped at a rest area in North Carolina to catch a nighttime nap. At daybreak I was up and moving again.
I drove up I-85 and I-95, through a canyon of trees. A single tree, examined closely, can be interesting. A landscape covered with trees can be interesting, if seen from the top of a hill or mountain or cliff.
A wall of trees moving by at highway speeds for a few hundred miles is not very interesting. All it does is block your view of any roadside attractions or towns, so the only thing you have to look at is the pavement ahead and the wall of trees on each side.
At least it was the right time of year for the drive. The leaves had turned to their autumn colors, which at least added some visual variety to the drive. Instead of just green, I also saw blobs of red, orange, yellow, and brown speed by. Ooo-rah.
As I drove through northern Virginia, I saw an exit sign for Quantico.
That name seemed familiar, for some reason. Suddenly I realized the connection: Quantico was the name of the marine base where my friend Clint was in Officer Candidate School. And it’s right there, along my path!
I took the exit and followed the signs toward the base. I figured they would not let me in, and I knew there was no way I would be able to see Clint while he was in basic training. But, I thought I might take some pictures of the base entrance, and send those to his family.
Then I realized what I was saying: take photographs of a U.S. military base? They might frown upon me for doing that, and by “frown upon” I mean “shoot at”.
I quickly reached the main gate, though, and parked at a small paved area about 100 yards from the entrance. A sign beside the road said that “unauthorized photography” was prohibited.
Well, all I wanted was a photograph of the exterior of the gate. It was simply a 2-lane highway with a guard house in the middle. And if I got permission, then it would be authorized photography, right?
I grabbed my disposable camera, put it in my coat pocket, and walked up toward the gate. I crossed over to the center median, where the guard station was located, as a steady stream of cars drove by and gained admittance.
With about 50 yards to go, I realized it would be wise to take my hands out of my pockets.
As I approached the guards at the gate, one of them pointed at me and told me to “stop there”. I did exactly that, since I instantly came to a halt. He then motioned for the other guard to take care of me.
The camouflaged man was pretty nice about it. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I just wanted to know, is it illegal to take a photograph of the outside of the gate?”
“Yes, it is illegal.”
“Only authorized family members are allowed inside.”
“That’s fine. Thank you for your help, and keep up the good work.”
I didn’t want to take more than just those few seconds of their time. And I certainly did not want to tangle with the U.S. Marine Corps.
As I drove away, though, I wondered what Clint was doing inside at that moment. Clint is someone I met at church not long after moving to Dallas. We are about the same age, and at about the same time, we each decided to make a change in our lives. We even both started on our personal journeys at about the same time, in the first week of October.
For Clint, his journey involved leaving his engineering job and seeking adventure, discipline, and leadership as a Marine officer. Mine was the much less honorable, but more personally fitting, act of leaving my job in business to take some chances in life and try to do what God has designed me to do.
I would not make a good Marine. I just wouldn’t. But Clint will make a very good Marine. And I wish him well, just on the other side of that gate, in a completely different world.
Just minutes after leaving the Quantico base entrance, I saw something alien sticking up above the trees that still surrounded the interstate.
It was huge. It looked to me like either an artist’s life-size rendering of a battleship’s prow, or a steeple on the most mega of the modern mega-churches.
I took the next exit to try to find it, and figure out what it was.
Driving to what I thought was the general area of the monster, I saw an entrance, newly constructed, for the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
There were no guards at this entrance, and no indicators that I would not be welcomed inside. So I pulled into the driveway and into the mostly-empty parking lot.
I saw some temporary bleachers and a stage, which had a group of important-looking but cheerful people in military and business suits having some sort of planning meeting for whatever was about to happen here.
I saw construction workers putting the finishing touches on the landscaping and parking, with the competent calm that comes from knowing you are essentially done with a project, and are ahead of schedule.
And, at the center of long buttresses that looked like thick bunker walls, I saw the tower that had drawn me to this place.
This was the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a place that I did not even know existed. I walked through the long courtyard to the entrance, and went inside.
A security guard stood next to a row of metal detectors, but the place seemed otherwise empty.
“We open on November 13th”, the guard said. He had no problem with me being there; I was just 10 days early.
“Beautiful place,” I commented.
“Thanks,” he said.
It was strangely beautiful. I can imagine the steering committee gave some basic instructions to the designer. Something along the lines of: Make it powerful. Make it reverent. Make it Marine.
The designer, in my opinion, did an exceptional job. A cross between a battleship and a church? Sounds about right.
I was on track to get to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 2 ½ hours before my flight took off.
Then I hit Washington traffic, and became a little nervous that I would make it at all.
Flying doesn’t bother me, but I am always overly concerned with getting there early. If something happens, and you get there late, the plane still takes off without you. And that is a headache I do not want to deal with.
I did finally make it there, found parking, and checked in. At security, though I did not set off any alarms, I was still chosen for a pat-down search. Perhaps the Marines had identified me as a security risk, and had phoned ahead.
I made my flight, though; AirTran 482 back to Dallas.
It seems that a lot of people have been having a hard time understanding why I drove to Baltimore, and then flew back to Dallas for a wedding. I guess that I am not explaining it well enough.
Let me try to clarify.
Though I might not have any specific destinations on this trip, there are some general things I want to accomplish. For example, I long ago set a goal of visiting all 50 states before I die. I had been to 29 states before this trip, and 11 of those remaining are in the Northeast. So, I at least wanted to visit each of those states on my trip.
There were also a couple of events that I refused to miss: a wedding in Dallas on November 4, and Thanksgiving on November 23 in Oklahoma.
I made some general estimates of how long it would take me to visit the areas I wanted, and came up with 3 weeks. 21 days.
There are only 18 days between November 4 and November 23.
Now, I could have just cut my trip short by a few days, but if I did that, the areas I would miss would be the places farthest away from Dallas and Oklahoma. Which means, to visit those areas, I would have to make another trip, that would also have to be about 3 weeks long. And each time, I would be passing through the area around Oklahoma and Texas that I am already pretty familiar with, since I have lived there my whole life.
If I had simply waited another month, I would have had a remarkably similar problem: a wedding the first weekend in December, and Christmas in Oklahoma.
But, by leaving 4 days before the wedding, flying back for the weekend, and then flying back to Maryland, I was able to get in my 21 days. My starting point after the wedding would be Maryland, instead of Texas, which means I would be able to visit the Northeast and the upper Midwest and still make it back in time for Thanksgiving.
So, that is why I did things that way, and why it really made sense to me. When I looked at airline prices, for some reason the BWI – DFW route was much cheaper than any of the other options I thought would work—cheaper than flying back from Atlanta, or the Carolinas, or Philadelphia, or wherever else I checked. Plus, I had friends in the DC area.
So, I drove from Dallas to Baltimore to catch a flight back to Dallas. Make sense?