Wax on, wax off …

Anyone familiar with the 1984 film Karate Kid, which starred Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita will remember that line. Pat “Mister Miyagi” Morita resuces Ralph “Daniel Laruso” Macchio from a group of karate students from a local dojo and through chores, teaches him the basics of this martial art.

There are moments in the film where you will laugh, cry and sit on the edge of your seat to see if ‘Daniel San’ can prove himself and in doing so, teach a lesson to the youth and even many adults around the globe that fell in love with this film. The lesson, I hear you ask … well, actually, there are a few lessons, but the main one would have to be, never give up.

It was the summer of 1993, my late partner was away for 8 months and I decided to take my son to the US for the summer. It would be his last summer vacation prior to starting his final year of school and I planned for it to be a summer he would not forget easily.

We flew from Bristol to Amsterdam and from there on to Washington DC. The plan was to stay for 2 weeks with my cousin and do some historical sight-seeing. The various Smithsonian Museums were up high on the agenda, closely followed by a pre-arranged tour of the US Capitol, during which we caught a glimpse of Julia Roberts as she was filming a scene from ‘The Pelican Brief’ . Did you know that the White House and the Capitol are linked by an underground transport system?

We visited the Vietnam Wall, ate sushi in the Old Post Office the clock tower of which proudly houses the official United States Bells of Congress, a bicentennial gift from England celebrating the end of the Revolutionary War and cast from the same moulds as the bells in the Houses of Parliament. We went to Alexandria, Virginia to visit Christ Church and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

The time we spent in Washington was memorable but a couple of things really stand out. You see, my son was born in America, but grew up in the United Kingdom so the study of American History in the classroom was not a given. Some details are seen from the British viewpoint and differ from what I learned in school and college, but that is a different story.

Imagine if you will, the two of us standing at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, many people gathered there for the same reason we are … being tourists *winks*. We begin slowly walking up the great stone steps leading to the column fronted Greek Doric build that houses the statue of our 16th President. About half-way up, my son looks at me and says “Do you know who stood here?” Now, knowing my son’s warped sense of humour, one can never know what titbit will pass his lips, so I replied, “Nope, but you are, right now!” He got a look of sheer disgust on his face and mumbled something that vaguely sounded like, but could not possibly have been, “Geez, and you studied history?”

I tried to back pedal quickly but he would have none of it and asked his question again, this time not waiting for an answer. He turned his back to the Lincoln Memorial so that he was facing towards the Washington Monument and the Capitol and took a deep breath. Then in a voice so very much unlike his, he said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I stood there on those steps and was speechless for what seemed an eternity. This was my son, born in America but having lived all but 2 months of his life in Britain quoting a speech given almost 30 years to the day by Martin Luther King Jr., and I didn’t even realise he knew who the great man was. Not only that, but he was doing it with such aplomb that I had a serious case of goosebumps. He turned around and began to walk up the steps again as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened then paused to wait for me.

Now as many will know, when I need to do a voice check on a microphone, I tend to quote another great American. That man was depicted ahead of us at this monument and inscribed on the walls were the words of two of his well-known speeches, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. I placed my hand on my son’s shoulder and smiled. Then I asked him if he knew who Abraham Lincoln was and if he realised the irony of Martin Luther King Jr. making his famous and oft-quoted speech here. He shook his head and I explained that Lincoln was known as ‘The Great Emancipator’ largely in part to his two-parted Emancipation Proclamation and his promoting the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which when enacted on December 18th, 1865, eight months after his assassination, made slavery illegal.

… Sorry I got off on a tangent, didn’t I? Well, anyway, the next day was July 4th and the plan was to go to Arlington National Cemetery including Robert E Lee’s home Arlington House, followed by something to eat and then attending the firework display. As you will read, this is where the real adventure would begin for my son … and I was soon to find out, for me too.

Woke up to the smell of fresh perked coffee and bacon, jumped into the shower and dressed while son and cousin finished cooking. We all ate a huge breakfast since we didn’t know how long our wander around Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) and the House would take, good thing we did as you will see later. *winks* Then we were on our way, multiple cameras, small pad of paper, pens, packs of smokes all collected in my ever-present backpack.

This was not only my son’s first trip to Washington, but mine as well and I was loving it. I studied history avidly and still do to this day and there was so much here. It is worth noting that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened its doors for the first time to the public in April 1993. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit, something I regret having missed.

As we pulled into the parking lot at ANC, a feeling of serenity and calm drifted over us. We slowly made our way to the information area and took our time reading signs, looking at maps, etc. My son noticed on the map that there was a memorial to the Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts and I have never wanted the ground to open up and swallow me like I did as he proceeded to “tell the NASA joke” that had made the rounds. If anyone overheard, no one said but I could have easily throttled him.

Making our way out in to the “Gardens of Stone”, we ‘visited’ The Lockerbie Cairn, dedicated to the 270 people tragically killed when Pan Am flight 103 crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland. We also glimpsed the eternal flame which bears testament to President John F Kennedy, who was assassinated November 22, 1963. We then made our way to the Tombs of the Unknowns and watched and listened as the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (“The Old Guard”) made their presentation and changed the guard. This ceremony brought a rash of goosebumps to my skin.

Following the ceremony, my son walked over to where a couple of The Old Guard soldiers were standing and asked a few questions. He told them that while born in the US he lived in England and they took him into the area set aside for their preparation and showed him around. I am certain this is not something normally done, but he was very impressed by the spit and polish and regimentation.

We continued our wanders, basking in the solemnity of the grounds. All of a sudden my son quietly stated that he was thirsty and that we needed to find a water fountain. Not meaning any disrespect, I revenged his sick joke by saying that I doubted he would find a water fountain unless he walked all the way back to the information center. He looked at me with furrowed brow and innocently asked why not. I couldn’t resist my premeditated answer of “I’ve never seen a dead person need a drink before.” I duly gave him a lifesaver, albeit a sour one and on we walked.

All of a sudden he squeaked, well not so much a squeak as an EEP, really. He has spotted a semi, the proverbial Kenworth and he could not fathom why on earth there was this huge truck in ANC. Before he could crack another of his warped jokes, my cousin and I steered him towards it based on the theory that “perhaps the driver has a thermos”.

Imagine our surprise when we got over to the site and saw a huge gathering of people. Thinking it was a funeral, I whispered that we shouldn’t intrude and needed to be quiet. It was about that time that we all noticed the film cameras, outdoor lighting and heard someone call out for silence then ACTION! We stopped, for want of a better phrase, dead in our tracks. Someone was shooting a film … in ANC no less. They finished filming the scene and we had no idea who was being filmed until a youngish woman stomped over and announced, quite rudely, that we were not allowed to be here. I apologized and explained that we were on vacation from England and we would leave. As we turned to walk away, a gentleman called out for us to come back and as he did, my son recognized the voice and his eyes nearly popped out. “Mister Miyagi!”, he cried “Wow, its Mister Miyagi!” He invited us to watch (quietly) as they were about to do another take and said he would be right back.

My son had picked his jaw up off the ground and was literally twitching with excitement. It only got worse when Pat Morita came back and started talking to us. He said he was about to have a coffee break over at his trailer and pointed towards a small hillock as he said, “if you head that way, you’ll come to it and I’ll be there in a moment.” I was impressed by his welcoming attitude, since many artistes don’t remember their roots and can be very rude to people who observe as we did. We made our way to the trailer and while we were waiting, my son couldn’t contain himself and was demonstrating the “Crane technique”. Imagine his shock when Pat Morita walked around the side of the trailer and caught him “in the act”.

He spent quite a bit of time with my son and I, signed autographs and posed for pictures, then in his soft spoken voice said “You know your friends are going to be jealous.” My son grinned and nodded and Pat Morita tousled his hair and disappeared into the trailer only to return with several autographed pictures for my son to give his friends. Having taken up more than enough of his time, we excused ourselves amid a hail of goodbyes and thank you’s.

The tour of Arlington House and its grounds was uneventful and we made our way back to the car to go in search of food. Nourishment came in the form of the house special hamburgers on the balcony of The Willard Hotel, within sight of the White House and known as ‘America’s Hotel’. Built in 1850, the term “Lobbyist” was coined by President US Grant because he loved the Lobby and people would often approach him there to discuss individual causes. Lunch was delicious and as we were taking our leave, we were fortunate enough to see President Clinton out for a jog with his Secret Service.

We went back to the apartment from there to rest before the fireworks. It was decided that we would park at my cousin’s office and walk to Capitol Hill from there. We briefly called in at Union Station before making our way to a spot at the Capitol Reflecting Pool, situated in front of the Capitol as you face the Washington Monument. Please do bear in mind that while I grew up in the US and knew what to expect firework-wise, my son had only seen firework demonstrations in the UK and they don’t tend to last longer than perhaps 30 minutes. Sort of a flash, bang, boom, oohs and aahs and it is over.

Fourth of July, in the nation’s capitol no less and after about an hour, there was a pause and my son turned to leave. I burst out laughing and told him it wasn’t over yet. He didn’t believe me, but by the time the fireworks had finished, he was not only amazed, but busy trying to sell me on the idea of moving back to the US and living in Washington. *chuckles*

We had a hire car reserved for the next morning and left Washington headed for Richmond and then on to several stops in North Carolina. I believe that in all honesty, it was one of our best summers and I know my son discovered a lot about himself.
We finally drove back up to Washington to fly home via Schipol and unbeknown to us, yet another adventure.

Schipol Airport outside of Amsterdam is, in my opinion one of the better airports. One thing that surprised me was that while they have floor to almost ceiling windows, there is an opening between window and roof so that birds can shelter. Apparently, this helps keep our feathered friends off the runways, thereby avoiding what can be fatal (for humans) accidents that would definitely be kamikaze for the avian species.

We were scheduled for about a 2 hour layover which turned into approximately 9 hours. KLM, bless their little wooden shoes, provided meal tickets for everyone on the flight. They tried 4 aircraft before finally finding one that didn’t have a fault, which considering they kept telling us what the fault was, was more than a little nerve-wracking.

Anyway, we wandered the airport and my son managed to collect all the passport stamps they had. *laughs* They teamed up with him to try and fill up his passport. Having said that, even though his passport is an American one, they facilitated in gladly doing the same. During our search for food, my son took off in a thunder of sneakered footfalls towards a group of people stood in line to change money. The next thing I heard was an excited yelp of “It IS you !!!” and him shouting for me.

I made my way over in the general direction of his bellow just intime to see someone that looked like a offensive linesman from a professional NFL squad grab my son’s shirt collar and heave him back. I ran … FAST !!!, only to find out that this was someone’s bodyguard … and not just anyone’s … but none other than Will Smith’s.
The bodyguard was told to put him down. Not by me, I hasten to add, but Will Smith, who decided it would be great fun, after he changed his money, to spend some time yapping with one of his biggest fans.

We finally said our goodbyes when our flight was called in possession of an autograph, some pictures and a baseball cap. OH, did I mention the baseball cap before? No? Well … when my son ran over to the person he then suspected of being Will Smith, he reached up and lifted the baseball cap so he could better see the person’s face only to be greeted by that grin Will has along with the grasp of the bodyguard.

So there you have it. The adventures of Piglet and I in the summer of 1993. Oh yeah … Piglet used to be his nickname, because when he was all bundled up to brave the British winters, he looked like a little fat piglet.

I don’t really know why I rambled on so much just to say that I am really looking forward to seeing the recent remake of Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, except perhaps that as you can see, it all tied in, in the end. *grins*

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