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Posted: August 25, 2009

Traveling to our nation’s capital

It could use some sprucing up

Robert Polk

I recently went to our nation’s capital to attend meetings sponsored by The American Society of Travel Agents.  Our agency has been asked to be part of the Corporate Advisory Council that ASTA formed.  The council, made up of the nation’s largest brick and mortar and online travel agencies, helps agencies have a voice on the direction of ASTA and on current issues affecting the entire travel industry — from airlines to hotels to individual travelers.

Very honestly, in years past ASTA has not been a very effective group. It lacked direction and had little or no influence on what laws Congress passed. This has absolutely changed. This was the first meeting I have attended, and I came away impressed with the direction and influence ASTA is now taking and exerting. 

The long and short of this is I believe that ASTA is fighting a strong battle on behalf of travel agencies, our employees and our customers. As I become more involved with this group, I will keep you posted on our progress.  

Another good thing about this meeting was that it was held in Washington, D.C., where I had not been for several years. I nearly forget how moved I can become when visiting our nation’s capital. I arrived to Dulles at 5 pm. My hotel was downtown, and the cab ride was $52 and about an hour long. (And people complain about how far DIA is from downtown Denver!)

I had planned to just have dinner in the hotel, finish up some work and get a good night’s sleep. But as I rode through downtown Washington, I decided it was just silly to not get out and see some of my favorite sights. I found a nice place to eat and had a good dinner. My waiter said it was about a 20-minute walk to the Lincoln Memorial, and about 40 minutes later I decided he must be a much faster walker than I am.

Of all of the monuments in Washington, I really think Lincoln got the best one by a long shot.  I think every citizen of our great country should be required to visit this amazing site at least once in their lifetime.    

I first visited Washington when I was 5 years old. One very warm June, my parents, one brother, four sisters and myself all packed into a non air-conditioned station wagon for the 18-hour drive from Baton Rouge, La.  At the time it was undoubtedly the farthest I had been from home. I remember it being very hot and very crowded for the two days it took to reach Washington, and I am sure we looked like The Beverly Hillbillies visiting the big city, but it was a great adventure. I will remember that first visit to the Lincoln Memorial even if I live to be 100.

Since that first visit I have been back to Washington numerous times. Each time I manage to find time to visit Mr. Lincoln. Once I was there in the winter, and after dinner my host said we should go visit the Lincoln Memorial. It was very cold and had just started to snow as we made our way up the steps. The snow was light; it was peaceful and made the visit very memorable.

On this visit, after my brisk 40-minute walk I made my way up the steps to the giant Lincoln right at dusk. No matter what your political persuasion happens to be, you just have to feel moved when you look at Lincoln and then turn around and look down the National Mall. It is an amazing sight as the sun was setting and the lights of the city and the reflection pool were just coming on. It made me really proud to be an American.     

That is the good news. I think of the National Mall as our nation’s front yard. The bad news I have to tell you is that our nation’s front yard is currently an embarrassment. If it were my front yard, the HOA would force me to plow it up and start over. 

I know our nation does not have a lot of extra money right now. And I am not sure the grass on our front yard should be a high priority, but it sure looks bad when you see our National Mall looking so dreadfully brown. 

I have no idea how much it would cost to put in a sprinkler system and some new sod, but I think it is something we should pass the hat for.  I would donate. Would you?   

Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at

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