Wednesday, September 28, 2005

manassas - the darker side of hell

everything was looking very promising for our first trip out to crockett park, in fauquier county, with chris from the washingtonian magazine, to get some first-hand observing experience with us for a piece he's writing about amateur astronomy in the dc metro area.

we were running a bit late and doing a lot of stuff at the last minute that we ought to have taken care of earlier, such as getting gas, going to hudson trail outfitters for handwarmers to keep dew from forming on the finderscope, etc.

we got back to dc just before 4pm. chris was waiting for us in the lobby of our apartment building. rebecca made a flask of coffee and we hurriedly took all the gear downstairs. chris and myself staged everything outside the entrance while rebecca went and got the car. ten minutes later we were all packed up and heading out. a quick stop-off at starbucks for coffee, water and a juice, and we on the road by around a quarter to five..

traffic was worse than expected. a curiously high number of state police stopping traffic didn't help. we had directions to the observing site, and the weather looked extremely promising. we chatted with chris as he sat in the rear. i asked him if he had ever been in a situation in which he thought he was with some wackos. he replied "yes. you guys"....

rebecca saw a sign to take an hov lane. that was the beginning of the ordeal. the hov lane turned out to be a clever ploy to drive past walmart very slowly a few times from different directions, as we tried to get back onto route 66. ten minutes later, we were lost and had no idea where 66was, but eventually after taking a lot of left turns, we hit route 28 to take us to manassas. signs that boasted $1.00 sushi didn't do much to help us feel any better about where we were. manassas is a big, big place. it has to be. there are about 450 signs telling you you are in manassas, even when you're doing everything possible trying to leave. i had a panicked vision of being stopped by the police, like some twilight zone scene.. "sir, you're not trying to leave manassas, are you...?

two hours later... we finally get to crockett park. everything was looking much better. we parked up next to the observing area and quickly unpacked the telescope along with all the other stuff necessary for standing in a field for a few hours. i set the tripod up and asked rebecca for the blue dj bag, that i knew i'd put the spirit level in, something very helpful when setting up the telescope. she replied that she couldn't see a blue bag. i came over to the car, and sure enough, no blue bag. disaster! the blue bag contained not only the spirit level, but the eyepieces, filters, the diagonal,... in other words, we would be unable to use the telescope at all! i walked across the parking lot to have a look at a few cows. two very young calfs along with their mums softened the blow of being so stupid as to forget something so vital. when you observe, there are a lot of bags. never, ever, rush...i'm quite sure that most observers have felt this sinking, horrible feeling. i was also quite sure that most didn't have a writer form a magazine with them at the time.....

i looked up at the sky. an absolutely textbook perfect evening weather-wise for observing was cruelly mocking me. i then looked down at the ground, knowing my fate. in our haste to leave dc, we had left behind the one vital bag necessary. i was pretty sure we had left it in the lobby. there was nothing else for it, but to put our stuff back in the car and head home. we offered to treat chris to a curry for his trouble. on the way home, rebecca and i were eating some celery sticks. even they didn't taste right. very bitter. i'm sure the driver of the car behind increased his distance from us as he saw me hurl the remaing celery out of my passenger side window into the environment for the critters to eat.

luckily, we managed to avoid manassas completely on the return journey. i don't think any of us would have been able to take any more of that place. we got back in a little less than 45 mins and unloaded the car. sure enough, the blue bag had been put behind the front desk,along with my star atlas....

we chucked everything off and opened a red stripe and recounted our nightmare, vowing to have another go soon. i switched on the tv to check on the baseball. just in time to see the orioles pitcher, bruce chen give up a grand slam home run to gary sheffield of the new york yankees.

with that added doom, we all set off on foot for the taj mahal, on connecticut ave. as expected, six people were dining in ethereal silence, as we took our table. for dining room, think of a scene from the hotel in the film 'the shining', but in pink.

we ordered our food. we were suspiciously wary of the chinese girl getting our order correct. and we were not disappointed. they brought out two wrong dishes. nothing for it, but to order another round of kingfisher beer for the three of us. eventually, we received the correct dishes and ate our fill. upon leaving, we all agreed to have another bash after this upcoming weekend, where rebecca and myself are heading to spruce knob in west virginia (eyepieces included).

rebecca and i walked back to the apartment, having said goodnight to chris - can't wait to read the final article :( we walked into our place and put the game back on. the orioles had somehow managed to put some runs (a lot of runs) on the board. the final score was 17-9.

the great victory was somehow not the celebration it should have been. a nine game losing streak accompanied by red sox and cleveland losses meant everything remained the same at the top of the american league east.

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