General

Where in the World Have I Been???

I don’t mean in the traveling sense (although I do need to catch you up on that). I am referring to my absence in the blogosphere! It has been almost 20 months since my last post. So where the heck have I been? Well, I am excited to report that I have embarked on my greatest adventure yet…..MOTHERHOOD!

My lack of blogging does not mean I have not been traveling. Let’s just say that becoming a parent was allconsuming for quite some time. From the moment I knew I was pregnant, all of my focus revolved around my baby and keeping her safe. I simply didn’t have the mental capacity to keep up with this blog. Maybe it was the hormones? I don’t think I am too off the mark in admitting pregnancy-brain probably wouldn’t have permitted me to write coherently anyway. (Pregnancy-brain is a real thing!) Needless to say, after our daughter was born things just got worse, as far as this blog was concerned. Pregnancy-brain promptly turned into Mommy-brain (also real) and no matter how much I wanted to keep this blog updated, I just couldn’t make it happen. But Ella is about to celebrate her first birthday and I am finally feeling like I might just be able to do this thing again. So bear with me while I try to learn how to blog again.

Back to traveling – people always say that traveling is a dream instead of a reality once you have children. Clearly those people have never met me. I am determined to prove them wrong and continue my quest to see the world! And so far, I think it is safe to say that I am actually making it happen. When Ella was just 2 months old we took a road trip to Bar Harbor, Maine to hike in Acadia National Park. When Ella was 6 months old she took her first flight and she traveled like a champ! More recently, we traveled to Chicago and I was even brave enough to fly one leg of that trip with an infant, by myself.

Ella's very first flight

Ella’s very first flight – 6 months

Our solo flight home from Chicago

Our solo flight home from Chicago – 11 months

This summer we have lots of travel plans on the books. In just a couple of days Ella will get her first passport stamp when we fly to Canada to go hiking in Banff National Park. Later in July, we are taking a road trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Finally, in August we are going to Aruba. And we might actually be a bit crazy for this last one, but we are in the early planning stages for a trip to INDIA next winter! So stay tuned to hear about our upcoming travels and hopefully I will even get around to catching you up on these last couple of years.  And maybe I can inspire others with children to travel too!

Categories: General | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

Help Me Name My Kitten!

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Tomorrow I will be adopting this adorable little kitten from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. The only problem is that Rob and I can’t come to an agreement on the perfect name. I really want a feminine name that captures her personality. She is a tortoiseshell cat, commonly referred to as a “tortie.” In addition to their unique markings, torties also have very unique personalities. They are usually fiercely independent, strong-willed, and incredibly feisty. These traits are affectionately referred to as tortitude!

Do you have any great feminine kitten name suggestions that really embody tortitude? Please share!

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , | 14 Comments

Honor Flight 101

Last month, I wrote about inspiration after seeing the Honor Flight documentary. I had never heard of the Honor Flight Network prior to that point, but I immediately knew it was an organization that I would be proud to get involved with. And this past weekend, I escorted my very first group of Honor Flight WWII veterans!

I arrived at DCA on Saturday morning and obtained my Gate Access Pass (permits entry to the gates for personnel not actually travelling). Once at the gate, I met the 4 other local volunteers that would be escorting the Honor Flight for the day. In addition to myself, there were 3 active duty military members and one other military veteran.

As the plane approached the gate, the Washington Airport Authority Fire Department “saluted” the plane with their fire hoses!

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Then, an announcement was made in the terminal about the incoming WWII veterans and asked the surrounding travelers to stand and greet the veterans as they came off the plane. The immediate wave of support was overwhelming! Everyone gathered around the gate and cheered on the veterans as they made their way into the terminal. It was very emotional and I was extremely choked up the whole time. Since I absolutely hate for people to see me cry, it took every shred of energy I had to fight back the tears. What can I say….patriotism makes me sappy. Even this tough girl has an Achilles heel.

We had two busloads of veterans, guardians and other volunteers that were all part of the SW Florida Honor Flight hub. Once we got everyone loaded up, it was time to visit the memorials. Our first stop was the WWII Memorial. The veterans all seemed in awe of how grand and beautiful the memorial was. I heard one veteran comment, “Something like this… I don’t mind our government spending my money on!” There were local groups of volunteers that were standing by to cheer for these veterans and welcome them to their memorial as they got off the bus.

While at the memorial, I walked around and offered to take their pictures. Some of the feisty veterans said they preferred to have a “pretty girl” in their pictures so they asked for me to be in their pictures instead, to which I happily obliged. A few of the veterans were even more flirtatious. I spent some time talking to a veteran named Lionel and when I mentioned my husband, he said, “You’re married? What am I doing wasting my time talking to you?” I told him I would let him know if things didn’t work out with my marriage.

In addition to visiting the WWII Memorial, we also visited the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery to watch the Changing of the Guard. It was a lot for these senior veterans to do all in one day. It was enough to wear out even the young volunteers! But the veterans didn’t complain about being tired because for them, this was the opportunity of a lifetime and they didn’t want to miss a thing!

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Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive, and almost 900 of them die every single day! The Honor Flight Network is committed to flying as many of the surviving WWII veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late. If you live in the DC area and you would like to volunteer, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/ to view the schedule of when volunteers are needed. If you are outside of the DC area, you can still get involved by volunteering with your local Honor Flight hub.

Editor’s note: I had volunteered with the expectation of being assigned to one veteran as his guardian with hopes of interacting with that veteran for the entire day. However, the 50 veterans that flew to DC from SW Florida were already assigned their personal guardians for the day. Their guardians assisted them in getting to the airport and made the journey with them from Florida. The role of the local volunteers was more of a floater/general escort. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get the one-on-one interaction that I was hoping for, but I was still proud to participate in such a worthy cause.

Categories: General, Military | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

US National Arboretum (April’s New Experience)

This past weekend, my friend Bonnie and I went to the National Arboretum for the first time. It was a glorious day and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to check out our nation’s living museum. It’s hard to imagine that within a big city like Washington, DC, there lies 446 acres of lush grounds dedicated to conserving and showcasing thousands of varieties of plants. The arboretum is “in bloom” all year long, so no matter what time of year you visit, there will be plenty for you to see. To find out which plants will be in bloom during your visit, see the arboretum’s bloom schedule.

We happened to go on a very busy weekend and it was difficult to find a place to park. We finally managed to find a spot alongside a field of lilac shrubs. As soon as we stepped out of the car we were overwhelmed by the smell of fresh lilac. (Side note: I had been thinking about planting a lilac shrub in our back yard and after seeing this magnificent field of lilacs I went out and bought one the very next day!)

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What we stumbled upon next was like something out of Ancient Rome or Ancient Greece. It’s not every day that you see free-standing columns amidst a meadow in the United States!

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But the columns are of course, not ancient. These Corinthian columns were originally on the East Portico of the US Capitol. But due to an oversight in design, the columns didn’t appear to adequately support the Capitol dome which was completed in 1864. The columns were removed and an addition was built on the east side of the Capitol in 1958. In the 1980s, the Capitol Columns found their new home at the National Arboretum. The columns overlook 20 acres known as the Ellipse Meadow. They are set on a foundation of stones that also used to be on the east side of the Capitol. And nothing is complete in DC without a reflecting pool!

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The current showstoppers in bloom at the arboretum are the azaleas. The area known as Mount Hamilton is ablaze with color from the all of the azaleas that flood the hillside. There are literally thousands of azalea shrubs in every variety and color imaginable and visitors can walk along footpaths to get a good view of them all.

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With over 9 miles of winding roads within the arboretum, we barely scratched the surface during our visit. We spent most of our time looking at the azaleas, but here are a few other plant varieties we enjoyed.

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I especially loved this Lace Bark Pine whose trunks look like army camo!

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We even got to see some wildlife. In addition to the frogs below, we also spotted a fox.

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This is definitely one DC landmark that I intend to revisit!

Categories: General, Goals | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Trust the Turtle

Since I recently bought a shiny new camera, I also had to buy a new camera bag to keep her cozy and warm. Luckily, this purchase didn’t require any research (very much unlike my camera purchase) because I knew immediately what brand I would buy! About a year ago I discovered Pacsafe products and they are now my go-to brand for all of my travel baggage needs. Pacsafe offers high-quality travel gear with a boat load of built-in anti-theft technology. Most of their products include features such as: slash-proof straps, RFID blocking pockets, locking zippers, & exomesh slash-guards.

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photo from google images

Have you ever had your gear stolen? If it has never happened to you personally, I’m sure you have at least heard stories from friends or family about getting ripped off while traveling. Having your passport or credit cards stolen can really ruin your vacation. Becoming a victim of identity theft could cause you to freeze all of your accounts while still in a foreign country. And those amazing photographs you shot, well they could be gone forever because of someone with sticky fingers! I like to think that I am a savvy traveler and I try to always maintain my situational awareness. Hauling my gear in a Pacsafe bag does not mean that I get to completely let my guard down while traveling, but it does provide added peace of mind. I am by no means suggesting that Pacsafe products will guarantee the security of your belongings, but I will say they add a few more barriers between your precious cargo and those pesky thieves.

The newest addition to my Pacsafe arsenal is the Camsafe 100 Camera Shoulder Bag.

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photo from amazon.com

This bag has plenty of padding, as well as anti-theft features that will keep my camera well protected. This bag also has lots of separate gadget pockets that are perfect for battery chargers, spare batteries, memory cards, cell phones, even a water bottle. This bag has enough room to carry all of my essentials while day tripping, thereby eliminating the need to also carry a purse. Score!

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photo from amazon.com

I also own (and love!) the Pacsafe Slingsafe 300 Gii Backpack and Slingsafe 250 Gii Handbag.

Why the turtle? Pacsafe’s products were initially inspired by the independent global wanderings of the sea turtle. They now have their own turtle foundation to help the dwindling turtle population. And we all know how much I love to help the turtles! If you don’t know…click here and here.

Categories: General, Random | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Travel Junkie Scores Her Latest Fix (a.k.a. Camera Upgrade)

As mentioned in a previous post, I was jonesing for a camera upgrade, but choosing the right camera for me was no easy task. After diligently researching every last detail (along with helpful input from others), I finally selected the camera that will (I hope) exceed my expectations as I trot around the globe.

The Canon PowerShot SX40 and the Nikon CoolPix P510 were among my top 4 finalists, but in the end, they didn’t make the cut. Canon and Nikon are both well respected brands in the photography community, but the reviews I read led me to believe I would have been disappointed with these cameras based on shutter speed, battery life, and possibly even image quality. Both of these cameras had amazing optical zoom capabilities, but I was looking for more than just a good zoom. I was in search of a well-rounded camera that would suit all of my needs, not just a one-trick pony.

I then went back and forth (for days!) between the Sony CyberShot HX200V and the Panasonic Lumix FZ200. They each had certain specifications that outdid the other, making it difficult to pick a clear winner. For example, the Sony had more megapixels, but the Lumix was slightly faster. The Sony had a GPS function, while the Lumix had a longer battery life. The Sony had a longer zoom, but the Lumix had better image quality. The Sony was cheaper and more within my price range, but the Lumix had a sharper lens. I agonized over these details trying to figure out which specifications were most important for my travel needs.

And the winner is………………

The Panasonic Lumix FZ200

The Lumix was more expensive, but in the long run, I think I’m sure it is the better camera. The deciding factor was the Lumix’s amazing zoom lens that has a constant f2.8 aperture through its entire zoom range! This is an amazing feature and it is the first camera in its class that has been able to accomplish this. What does all of that even mean, you ask?  It means this camera is pretty stinkin’ awesome!  In order to keep the size and the cost of a camera down, most super zoom lenses must decrease the aperture size as the lens zooms in.  This lets in less light, which in turn can affect image quality.  But not the Lumix FZ200.  This super zoom lens lets in the same amount of light even when the lens is fully extended!

I originally ordered this camera through an online website that I had never heard of before because it was listed $75 cheaper than on Amazon.com.  Ten days later and my camera had not even been shipped yet.  I called the shady website (with an even shadier Customer Service Rep) and learned that my camera wouldn’t arrive for another week!  I decided the $75 savings wasn’t worth it, so I cancelled my order.  Amazon shipped the camera immediately and it arrived two days later.  Lesson learned….I heart Amazon!

Because of my little ordering snafu, I have only had the chance to use the camera once.  I used the camera on our recent trip to Norfolk and you can see those pictures here.  So far I am extremely happy with my choice and I can’t wait to play with it more.

Do you know a lot about cameras?  Do you think I made the right choice?

Categories: General, Random | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

USS Arlington LPD 24

This past weekend, Rob and I took a day trip to Norfolk, VA for a very special military ceremony. The US Navy commissioned the USS Arlington on Saturday, April 6th. The USS Arlington is one of three namesake ships to commemorate the victims and heroes of 9/11. The USS New York was commissioned in 2009 and the USS Somerset is scheduled to be commissioned next year. The USS Arlington LPD 24 (landing platform/dock) will transport troops into war zones around the world and will be a constant reminder that the American spirit cannot be broken.

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The ship’s name plate was made out of steel recovered from the Pentagon after the attack (top left picture below).

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Members of the Arlington County Fire Department, Arlington County Police Department, and families of the victims that died at the Pentagon were invited to attend the ceremony. Rob was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11, so it was very special for us to attend such a meaningful ceremony honoring all of the heroes and victims. Members of the ACFD attended the event looking sharp!

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The Commissioning Ceremony

The commissioning of a naval ship is a time honored tradition hundreds of years old. The ceremony marks the transition of the ship into active duty. The national anthem was played and then a representative read the commissioning directive. The American flag and commissioning pennant were then raised and the ship officially became a member of our naval fleet. The commissioning pennant is the very thin one at the top (center) of the picture below.

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And seen again in the bottom right of the picture below (look closely, it’s as thin as the ropes that raise it!).

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The prospective commanding officer read his orders, officially assumed command, and set the first watch. Then the ship’s sponsor (Joyce Rumsfeld) gave the first order: “Man our ship and bring her to life!”

At that point the crew rushed on board the ship and lined up along the railings.

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The ship’s engines were turned on and they sounded the mighty horn!

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Then the crew saluted as the colors were retired.

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The Tour

After the ceremony concluded, we were allowed to tour certain parts of the ship.

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Rob in control of the bridge.

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Four types of aircraft on the deck.

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Although we didn’t get to see it, the ship has a “tribute room” to honor the 184 people killed at the Pentagon as well as the emergency personnel that responded to the attack.

I’m sure many of you are wondering if they smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship. No, wrong ceremony. But that did in fact happen at a different ceremony! The christening took place in March of 2011 and Joyce Rumsfeld had the honor of smashing the champagne bottle.

Categories: General, Military, United States, Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Inspiration Incarnate

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A couple of weeks ago, Rob and I went out for dinner and a movie. I didn’t know much about the movie we were about to see. I only knew that it was a documentary and that it involved veterans. I walked into the theater blind, not knowing what to expect. But I left knowing exactly what I needed to do! It was absolutely the most amazing feeling to watch this movie and feel truly inspired. I have felt inspiration before, but not quite like this. It was the kind of feeling that became more than a feeling, because it demanded action. I left the movie theater knowing that I needed to get involved with this project immediately!

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(BTW – Our local movie theater has these sweet, plush recliners!)

The movie is called Honor Flight and it documents a non-profit organization that flies WWII veterans to Washington, DC so they can visit their memorials. Of the 16 million WWII veterans, only about 2 million are still alive. But, almost 900 of them die every single day! And most of them have never been to Washington, DC to see the memorials erected in their honor. The Honor Flight Network has made it their mission to fly as many of the surviving veterans as they possibly can to Washington, DC so they can visit and reflect at their memorials before it is too late.

As a veteran myself, I have the utmost respect for ALL of our nation’s veterans. But, I am ashamed to admit that I had never really given much thought about our WWII veterans. Why is that? Maybe it is because that generation never talked about their experiences during the war. They came home, put their duffle bags in the basement, and acted as if they had never been gone to begin with. Both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans. I was very young when one of them died, but I was always close with my paternal grandfather. I knew he was a veteran and I knew he was a recipient of the Purple Heart. But other than that, I knew nothing of his experiences. I recently asked my dad if my grandfather ever spoke of the war to him. No, he hadn’t. His memories remained locked up in those duffle bags that were banished to the basement.

I am an Iraqi War veteran and watching this movie made me realize that my grandfather and I might have been able to bond with each other telling our war stories. He might have been willing to unlock those duffle bags and open up to me about his experiences if I was willing to share my stories with him as well. Sadly, we never got the chance. My grandfather passed away while I was still deployed to Iraq. His stories will remain untold.

While the opportunity has passed for me to learn about my grandfather’s experiences, I still have the chance to make a difference in the lives of other WWII veterans. The Honor Flight Network covers all of the expenses to fly veterans to Washington, DC, as well as arrange their meals and transportation around the city. But, they still need volunteers to help the veterans get around. Given their age, most of them are either in wheelchairs or need assistance walking. That is where I come in. I have volunteered to become a guardian for upcoming Honor Flight missions. Each veteran gets assigned to their own guardian that will remain with them throughout the day. It is the guardian’s responsibility to help the veteran get around, take care of his general well-being, and basically treat him like a VIP for the day. Living so close to Washington, DC, getting involved with this program was a no-brainer for me. I am currently signed up for my first guardian-ship on Saturday, May 4th and I look forward to sharing my experience with you all. Please stay tuned. But in the meantime, please watch the Honor Flight movie trailers below and help spread the word about this worthy program. If you would like to volunteer to be a guardian (all-day commitment) or an airport greeter (not an all-day commitment), please email DCA.Honorflight@gmail.com. To view the schedules for needed volunteers, please visit http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com/. If you would like to donate money rather than your time, please visit the Honor Flight Network.

What inspires you? Has the feeling of inspiration ever taken such a hold on you that it turned into more than a feeling? What inspires you to actually step up and get involved or to try to make a difference?

Of all the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation – and as a culturally diverse, free society.” ~ Honor Flight Network


Categories: General, Military | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Things I Learned at the NY International Car Show

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This past weekend, I visited my family in New Jersey during Zombie Jesus Weekend. (That’s what you might call Easter.) While there, I went to the International Car Show at the Javits Center in New York City with my Dad and my sister, Amanda. Here is what I learned:

1. I don’t handle crowds well (ok, maybe I already knew this)

2. I really don’t like children (ok, I definitely already knew that)

3. Some people are way too fertile (please see item# 2)

4. Apparently consumers like comic book themed Kias.

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5. Apparently my Dad gets very excited about Corvettes hanging on the wall! (Sorry Dad. I couldn’t resist)

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6. The all new Mazdas might be something like the Starship Enterprise? Regardless, my dad was very bummed that they wouldn’t let him sit in the chair and say something like, “Take us to warp speed!”

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7. A ticket to the Mercedes-Benz VIP Lounge scores you a cup of soda and a miniature bag of M&M’s.

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8. There is a new trend to paint cars in a matte finish…and I like it!

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9. Buying any one of these cars would mean I would never ever be able to travel again. $$$ Hence, why I will never buy any one of these cars.

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10. And most important…it was a really fun way to spend the day with my Dad and Amanda!

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Categories: Events, General | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

March’s New Experience – Ben’s Chili Bowl

Ok, normally trying out a new restaurant wouldn’t technically fit into the “new experience” category I was going for in my list of goals for 2013. But, Ben’s Chili Bowl is literally considered a Washington, DC landmark. Therefore, I felt the exception could easily be made. So last weekend my dear friend Renee was visiting and we worked up our appetites while doing some sightseeing in DC. After getting our fill of the DC monuments, it was time to fill our gullets.

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Food

Ben’s signature dish is the “Original Chili Half-Smoke,” which is a ¼ pound half-pork/half-beef sausage, topped with mustard, onions and spicy homemade chili. I normally do not eat meat unless I know it was humanely raised on a responsible free roaming farm (what I refer to as happy meat), but I made an exception to my rule in order to try one of DC’s most famous dishes. Pictured below is the Chili Half-Smoke, but I topped mine with their veggie chili, rather than their original chili, because it is less spicy (and I am an extreme sissy when it comes to spicy food!). One of Ben’s most famous customers is Bill Cosby and the Half-Smoke is his favorite dish. So much so that he is known to eat up to six of them at one time!

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History

Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded in 1958 by Ben Ali in the District’s U Street corridor. At that time, Washington, DC was officially segregated and U Street was known as “Black Broadway.” Famous jazz greats, such as Miles Davis and Nat King Cole, used to eat at Ben’s after they performed at U Street clubs. During the riots of 1968 after the assassination of MLK, Jr., Ben obtained permission to keep his restaurant open past curfew so he could feed both the police and firefighters working the riots, as well as the activists. Decades later, the construction of the U Street Metro Station forced many businesses to close, but Ben was determined to stay open and he fed the construction workers working on the Metro project. According to the Washington Post, Ben’s “is probably the only business on this strip that survived both the 1968 riots and the construction phase of the Metro Green Line.” Ben and Virginia Ali were later inducted into the DC Hall of Fame.

Ben’s Chili Bowl appears in movies, such as The Pelican Brief and State of Play, as well as dozens of TV shows. It was also featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. Ben’s Chili Bowl has also found a home in many novels, setting the stage as a meeting location for fictional characters.

In addition to Bill Cosby and the jazz legends mentioned earlier, many other celebrities have also been to Ben’s Chili Bowl. Chris Tucker, Bono, and President Obama, just to name a few. Many celebrities may have expected the royal treatment at Ben’s, but there was always a sign on display that said, “List of who eats free at Ben’s: Bill Cosby, NO ONE ELSE.” The sign was later updated in 2008 to include the Obama family.

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Categories: General, Goals | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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