Since the last post, Maryland, was a bit morbid, I will double down and start Virginia on the same note. It is the state in which I have had the most near-death experiences. The most spectacular was having AA Flight 77 crash through the second floor of the Five-Sided Funny Farm when I was on the fourth boarding an elevator, but I also had a pretty frightening car crash (right by the same building about a decade later) and was almost knocked off the deck of USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) while stationed in Norfolk.

Despite its penchant for attempting my demise, I really like Virginia. I lived there three times, both in Norfolk and in Arlington. Interesting trivia: the Pentagon is in Arlington but has a DC mailing address, either to dissuade mail bombs or as concealment from irritated citizenry and servicemembers fighting assignment to its five-fold corridors of power. (I suspect the latter.)

What’s there to like about Virginia? It is a state that has everything: big cities and quaint towns, ocean and mountains, farms and forests. In one day you can visit Virginia Beach’s crowded shore and step back in time to the village of Waterford. Colonial Williamsburg and a Busch Gardens are co-located. And Californians take note: Virginia makes some pretty mean whites at vineyards like Tarara.

VA skyline drive

Billion-year-old rock on the old, old crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Let me move from south to north discussing “my” Virginia. First, the Norfolk/VA Beach area. I recommend VA Beach in the off season, as it is a concrete boardwalk with the usual blocks of haunted houses and seafood buffets. At its north end is this pre-Depression grand old lady that once had its own rail cars running from Chicago, New York, and DC. Interested in the metaphysical? Check out the Edgar Cayce Foundation complex. You can take a test to see if you have ESP (apparently, I do not) and even coordinate to earn a MA in Transpersonal Psychology.

VA flowstoneIn Norfolk, I like the Chrysler Museum and its surrounding neighborhood of Ghent. You can take a ferry to the nearby Portsmouth Bier Garden. Fort Story has the beautiful Cape Henry Lighthouse. If you are a DoD cardholder, you can rent one of the MWR cottages in Dam Neck, on prime beach front without paying top dollar. For day trips, I recommend Skyline Drive and Luray Caverns, where you can have an underground wedding complete with a stalactite organ. Another hotel pushing a century of service is the charming Mimslyn Inn.

Now, many people do not consider the National Capital Region (NCR) as authentic Virginia, and I understand that some Southerners don’t even consider it the South. As a Westerner by birth and a Mid-Westerner by education, I don’t have a dog in that fight. I spent most of my Virginia residency in the Arlington area, so that’s what I will write about.

VA view from apt

View from my apartment in 2010 or so. The Marine Corps Marathon is going by on the street below, and if you squint you can see the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, the Old Post Office, and the Capitol Building. When the trees were bare in winter, I could kind of see the White House. As you can see from the photo, the narrative is more impressive than the visual.

I suppose everyone who’s ever worked at the Pentagon has a good anecdote. I don’t have any thrilling claims to fame besides once seeing Donald Rumsfeld at the POAC, but it is an interesting building. Built quickly during WWII (ground broken September 11, 1941), it is filled with odd hallways and “you can’t get there from here” routes that seem to change monthly. Think the E Ring is the outermost edge of the building? The loading dock nicknamed “The Hall of the Mountain King” is actually R Ring, and you can access it underground.

On the night shift in 2003, a coworker found a third sub-basement –with an all night cafe. You passed through dim hallways with unmarked and padlocked doors to reach, at 0300, a bright little cafeteria where an old gent told you happily that his “aigs” were the best in DC. I think he had come with the building and been there ever since, and I am also convinced that behind one of the doors is that room where they put the Ark of the Covenant in the last scene of the first Indiana Jones movie.

In better known Pentagon trivia, no one has ever confirmed (nor denied) that Soviet ICBMs were actually trained on Ground Zero Cafe. It did not, however, survive capitalism as they tore down the little shack that was a decent greasy spoon –and put in one of the large vendors serving sandwiches that came in frozen on a truck. I’m not bitter or anything though. The aigs were in fact better down by the Ark of the Covenant.

If you don’t have Pentagon access, you can still find a good place to eat in Arlington, an area that fast-forwarded from farms to WWII expansion to  Baby Boom bedroom community to crowded and franchised –but with some lacunae of interesting spots. Check out  Arlington Cinema and Draft House to watch a show while you eat. Further south in Shirlington Village: Carlyle Grand Cafe and Capitol Brewing Company. Pentagon City is home to a particularly bland “Irish pub” that is used as the site of countless office gatherings … but Lebanese Taverna doesn’t disappoint. If you are staying in that area, check out the Americana Hotel, a legacy motor court now surrounded by tall Marriotts and Doubletrees.

VA Pentagon City Mall

Pentagon City Mall in its inaugural festivity, January 2009.

Crystal City has an underground shopping complex connected with tunnels. It looks like something out of Logan’s Run and is oddly disconcerting at night. The shops close but the tunnels stay open to allow transit between offices, apartment buildings, and the Metro. The florescent lights and piped in music stay on, too. The effect really is something out of a 1970’s view of the future, when we all live underground and wear bright colored jumpsuits, there is no war, and everyone is named Michelle.

VA Logans Run Crystal City

Other highlights in the Arlington area are the Mount Vernon Trail, Mount Vernon itself (go during Christmas, when they recreate the Christmas of 1787), and of course Arlington Cemetery. I have left this for last as it is Memorial Day weekend.

VA Arlington cemetery lenfant

Recently people have drawn attention to the distinction between Memorial Day (to remember the war dead) and Veteran’s Day (to remember all who served), and some have stated they do not like the phrase “Happy Memorial Day.” I get it, and I understand the irritation with those assuming this federal holiday exists solely to celebrate opening the pool, grilling some burgers, and cracking a beverage. But I suspect the dead don’t want to be remembered in a wholly solemn manner 24/7/365. The fallen servicemembers I knew would certainly have wanted you to have that beer and enjoy the pool (maybe not in that order). So this Memorial Day, let’s remember our dead, and let’s enjoy the time we have living. I know if I were the one under the lawns and stones of Arlington, that’s what I would want you to do.

VA cavingCorey is not quite an international woman of mystery, but is hard at work becoming a regional person of interest. Previously both a Classics Major and an Army Major, she is currently travelling where the road will take her and leaving digital footprints at Upcoming reports may include improving trails in Muir Woods, diving from a liveaboard in the Bahamas, flying military Space-A across the Pacific Ocean, and taking a month long cruise to Antarctica on a refitted Russian research ship. You may also check out some older writing at or email at