A Look on the Lighter Side: Signs of a pointless journey


If you want to be the life of the party, it helps to tell a good story which means getting sooner or later to the point. But last weekend I really couldn’t!

My husband and I were in Alexandria, Va., looking for Jones Point. Finally able to visit family outside of New York, we had an hour or two to fill, but we didn’t want to go into any enclosed spaces if we could help it.

“There’s a park somewhere around here we could visit,” said my spouse. “It’s called Jones Point Park and it’s where the very first stone was placed to mark the boundaries of the District of Columbia.”

“What if it rains?” I asked him.

“It’s not going to rain,” he answered. “There might be a bit of a windstorm later, but right now it’s perfect weather.”

So we set out to get to the Point.

The park, itself, is not the first thing you notice. Instead, the place is completely dominated by a gigantic roadway soaring over most of the area. Two roadways, actually, which turned out to be the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, carrying the Washington area Beltway over the Potomac River from Maryland. Underneath the spans we found a lovely low-key space, with asphalt bike trails, car parking, restrooms, and numerous informational signs about the Point leading to a grassy area south of the bridge.

Signs! I have always been a fan of signs like these. Or perhaps a better term would be “a captive.” Whether in an art gallery, a museum or this kind of historic site, I feel required to read every sign from start to finish. I’m able to learn a lot.

What I can’t seem able to do is just walk past them.

When I was a kid visiting places with my family, this made for a tense dynamic. Everyone else was at least one room or location ahead of me, with my mom waiting, tapping her foot, for me to finish whatever sign I was reading and catch up.

Which meant that I NEVER got to finish them all. So frustrating! Like having to walk past a fabulous buffet.

It turns out my brother feels the same way — he’s just a faster reader. But even he confessed recently that he found museums in foreign countries much more relaxing since he can’t even try to read the signs.

Only once in my life was I able to walk past all the signs that were begging to be read.

Several years after college, my boyfriend and I had decided it was finally time for my parents to meet his mom (his father had passed away). Knowing that they all enjoyed art and museums, it seemed only natural to arrange for “The Great Meeting of the Parental Units” to take place at the Whitney Museum of Art.

“But you have to promise to ignore all the signs,” my Significant Other warned me sternly. “The point of this trip is making sure our parents have a good time — nothing else matters!”

“But, but…”

“Nothing else!”

I reluctantly agreed. The rest is all a blur, but I guess it went well. At least no one objected when we announced our engagement the following evening.

Now here we were, my sweetie and I, with time enough for reading every sign and marker. We read about what bear tracks and deer tracks look like; who the native Americans were who lived here first; how the colonists planted tobacco; and how a white Quaker, Major Andrew Ellicott, and a free Black man, Benjamin Banneker, came here in 1791 to place the very first stone marker for the outline of the brand-new District of Columbia.

We turned around, finally ready to find that boundary stone. But just as we spotted a likely stone about a hundred yards down the path to the Point, we heard a tremendous “CRACK!”

We jumped and looked up. It couldn’t be lightning, not from the clear blue sky.

That’s when a gust of wind whipped through all the trees near us, and we suddenly remembered the “strong wind” warning from the morning’s forecast.

“We’d better get out of here!”

My husband and I went as fast as our pandemic-weakened legs would take us to the car.

For just the second time in my life, we sped past all the signs without stopping—and we never got to that Point!

“Let’s just say there was a sign,” said my husband, “that sometimes it’s better if you DON’T get all the way to the point!”


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