Hello, Washington, DC!
The crackling sound of the airplane’s intercom filled the air, waking twelve-year-old Tara Lander from a dream.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and of course, all beloved pets,” the captain announced, “if you look out your left window, you’ll now be able to catch your first glimpse of the White House. As we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full, upright position, and your seat belts are securely fastened. We know you have a choice in air travel and thank you for flying Pet Jet Airlines. Whether you call Washington, DC home, or are just here to see the sights, we hope you enjoy your stay in our nation’s capital.”
Tara blinked and stretched. “Ew, Sumo,” she said, looking down at the content Labrador who was still asleep beside her, tongue lolling. “I’m glad Pet Jet lets you ride with us and all, but you’re drooling on my leggings.”
On the other side of her, in the window seat, Tara’s ten-year-old brother Neil was trying to bounce a football on his knee. Tara gently pushed Sumo’s head off her lap and leaned over Neil. “Do you see anything?” she asked.
Neil turned and pressed his nose against the glass. “Nope. Just clouds. Guess the right wasn’t right, after all. Get it? Right side? Right decision?”
Tara rolled her eyes at her brother’s corny sense of humor. That was one thing he definitely got from their father, Dr. Phineas Lander. Papa was a brilliant scientist and inventor, but his jokes tended to be on the lame side. Luckily, he made up for it with his incredible inventions and trips. When Papa wasn’t cooped up in his lab, working on his next discovery, he was usually traveling the world—giving talks and presentations at various conferences. That worked out quite well for his family, who often managed to go along with him.
“I can’t wait to explore Washington, DC,” Tara sighed. “The National Gallery of Art is supposed to have an amazing collection. And the Library of Congress. I mean, there are libraries, and then there are libraries. Do you know there are more than 168 million items there?”
It was Neil’s turn to roll his eyes. He’d never met anyone who liked to read as much as Tara. Her bedroom was stacked so high with books, he sometimes tripped on them coming in. She’d even formed a book club back home just so she could find people to read and discuss books with!
Neil liked to read as much as the next kid, but he’d much rather be outside playing with his prized possession—his football. Just two years apart, he and his older sister were nearly opposites. Neil never hesitated to charge into an adventure or face challenges as they came—unlike Tara, who sometimes thought things through a little too much.
“Of course, the top of my list is the National Geographic Museum,” Tara continued. “Their photography exhibits are meant to be awesome.”
In addition to her love of books, Tara had recently started experimenting with photography. So far, it was just a hobby on her phone, but she hoped to get some real equipment soon and learn how to take the perfect shot.
“I only want to see the Spy Museum! Everything else sounds boring,” said Neil.
“There’s going to be plenty to see. It is the capital of the United States, after all!” Mama said, looking up from the guidebook she had been reading. “For a country that’s only about 200 years old, it’s done an amazing job of preserving its history. And I, personally, can’t wait to learn about it.”
Ignoring Neil’s clearly fake yawn, she continued, “Although, I’m most excited about exploring the food. There are so many things I want to try.” Mama held up her guidebook. “I had no idea that Ethiopian food was so popular here. Apparently, DC is home to the largest Ethiopian community in the US, so it’s actually quite a big deal! I’m hoping to get some new culinary inspiration here.”
Amy Lander’s enthusiasm for food was understandable. She was an extremely popular chef and food influencer. Her cooking shows had millions of followers on social media, and she frequently traveled around the world to launch restaurants, run workshops, and judge cooking competitions. Between her work and Papa’s travels, the family had visited dozens of countries, and she never missed an opportunity to fully immerse herself in a city’s cuisine.
Mama set down her guidebook. “Let’s not forget why we’re here, though. Speaking at the Smithsonian is quite an honor for Papa!”
Papa beamed, his hair sticking out at unusual angles after the long plane ride. “Why, thank you, Mama. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about my lecture tomorrow. Scientists and engineers from across the country will be there, and I don’t know how they will react to my idea of 3-D printing life-size statues for future national monuments. But it will be a fantastic place to discuss new ideas!”
“Of course it will, dear.” Mama patted his arm reassuringly. “You’ll do great.”
“Thank you. But I promise this trip won’t be all work. We’ll have plenty of time to do other things, too. It will be nice to finally meet my old friend Dr. Berryfield. I believe she’s now a big shot at the National Zoo. And we have to stop over at Great Uncle Eu—”
“Oh, look!” Neil shouted, glancing back towards the window. “We’re coming below the clouds now.”
Leaning over, Tara peered out. “Hey, there’s a river! And what’s that tall pointy statue?”
“That’s the Potomac River. It runs right through the city. And I think you probably see the Washington Monument,” the ever-efficient Mama answered without even looking out. She had probably memorized her guidebook. “That’s the heart of Washington, DC. The large green lawn is the National Mall. Most of the important buildings and monuments are right there, or nearby.”
Tara and Neil gazed out, catching glimpses of the city as the plane descended. An enormous expanse of green grass, spotted with mirror-like surfaces of fountains and pools, stretched out below them. All around the National Mall, white buildings sat clustered together, bright sunlight glinting off their domed roofs.
Tara grinned as the plane touched down. DC looked amazing. She couldn’t wait to see what adventure awaited them there.