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Spending Memorial Day Weekend Without Clearwater

May 26, 2009

"I'm not even supposed to be here today!"

It was late in the afternoon on the Thursday before Memorial Day and I found that line from Kevin Smith’s independent film classic, Clerks, running through my head as I put the finishing touches on settling a lawsuit that had consumed my weekdays and some weekends since the cold days of February. Every year since 2004, my brother and I as “The Guys @ DCGreeks.com” had spent Thursdays before Memorial Day in Clearwater, Florida for their YAL Convention. Actually we used to arrive on the Wednesday night before Memorial Day, settling in for what always was an eventful 5-day weekend of enjoying the Florida sun, sea, and sand, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Greek-American young adults from all over the country. We had known since before last summer had ended that Clearwater was officially cancelled, even offering the Clearwater church to take it off their hands and donate the proceeds back to the church, in a last-ditch effort to save the event and perhaps help steer it back to its calmer beginnings or even the tamer version of the weekend we first encountered back in 2004. Yet despite knowing that we weren’t going to be at Clearwater this year it still didn’t set it until we found ourselves actually working, and working hard for that matter, not as The Guys @ DCGreeks.com , but at our day jobs on the Thursday before Memorial Day.

Not even Memorial Day Weekend can stop a Third Thursday Happy Hour
Seeing a decent turnout of Greeks that night at Third Thursday at Agraria at the Washington Harbour in Georgetown was an odd reminder that this was a unique opportunity for the first time in years to experience life – Greek or otherwise – in DC during Memorial Day Weekend. Some amongst the group did have plans to go out of town to Florida or elsewhere, but most there that night were content with being in the area this weekend. We saw Third Thursday as an opportunity to catch up with some friends in one of our favorite areas to go in DC when the weather is nice, and in the process plug a couple of events we were helping with or organizing over the next few weeks. We released details about a special screening of Nia Vardalos’ new movie, My Life in Ruins, on June 3rd, which the ad agency for the movie studio had contacted us about days earlier, with attendees of Third Thursday jockeying for free passes. In addition, we continued to talk-up our outing to a D.C. United game against the Chicago Fire as part of our Pame series on June 13th, catching people off-guard when they learned that $23 got them a great seat to the game and a free pregame tailgate catered by Cava Mezze. On our way home we ironically ran into more Greeks who were just randomly at Sequoia and Tony & Joe’s, not even realizing that Third Thursday was taking place literally right next door.

As strange as it was working on the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend it was even stranger having to wake up early to work on the Friday before Memorial Day. For me, Friday morning meant a court appearance to finalize the matter that had kept me working late and in some respects “on call” the night before. It was actually nice to take the rest of the day off from work and in many ways the night off from the Greek scene with nothing Greek related happening in the DC area that night, particularly knowing that we were going to try to make the most of the rest of the weekend.

A Multigenerational Memorial Day Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery and Hot Dogs at AHEPA Headquarters

Young and mostly old assemble at St. Sophia before heading to
Arlington National Cemetery
Waking up at 7:00 A.M. on Saturday morning of Memorial Day Weekend was certainly a shock to the system, but it was for a good reason, as we met about 40 others at St. Sophia’s that morning to prepare for AHEPA’s annual remembrance of the over 500 Greek-American soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We had always known about this annual wreath-laying ceremony, probably even before joining AHEPA ourselves three years ago, but this was the first time we were in town to actually participate. We were surprised of the mix of young and old who were at the briefing and were in some respects impressed by the organization and planning put into the effort as we were split into teams, each assigned sections and corresponding lists of about 40 some odd graves for each team and given coordinates and plot points, although admittedly these final two details weren’t as accurate as would have liked. The caravan of AHEPA cars entered Arlington National Cemetery around 9:45 AM and most everyone was out of there by 11:30 AM with a surprisingly high success rate of finding these gravestones despite the fact that numbered gravestones sometimes didn’t appear in the sequence we expected to find them, and the years of notes complied for landmarks to look for weren’t very precise at all. Still we took it upon ourselves to record the GPS coordinates for the dozen or so graves that we were tasked for finding in perhaps one of the most meandering sections of the cemetery, hopefully to help those who do it next year find the graves with a lot less aimless wandering and sun exposure than we faced. (Ironically two hours in the late morning sun reflecting up from the white stone grave markers helped produce the signature squint lines we would normally return from Clearwater with every year.) The experience as a whole was fulfilling despite how frustrating it was trying to find the last few graves, as we were asked by other cemetery visitors there that day about what we were there for that day, giving us a chance to promote AHEPA amongst non-Greeks, and actually were led to a couple of headstones from Philhellenes who remembered coming across a characteristically long Greek last name while searching for their own loved ones amongst the sea of mostly identical markers.

We left the cemetery and went to AHEPA Headquarters in Dupont Circle for a rooftop barbecue, which surprisingly the few young adults in the group ended up closing down. (It was good to check off the mandatory Memorial Day barbecue off our list on Saturday particularly since we were able to get a second hamburger and hotdog if we wanted, which was always one thing we were disappointed with about the farewell barbecue at Clearwater which limited hungry Greek-Americans to one time through the line. ) While Memorial Day isn’t regarded as a family holiday as much as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter is in this country, it was nice to see some of the young adults there with their fathers in AHEPA, giving us some comfort that perhaps there is still some hope for some of these old-line Greek-American organizations to continue in the future, particularly if it means that such traditions as AHEPA’s Memorial Day Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery won’t be lost.

“Wait, That’s the Island Where Everyone Is Crazy, Right?”

Apparently a lot of Karpathians know how to dance this one.
After relaxing for the rest of the afternoon it was time to engage in one of our favorite pastimes here at DCGreeks.com – crashing a Greek regional societies’ planned gathering despite the fact that we are not from that part of Greece. (Actually we realized that this was a tradition of ours on Memorial Day Weekend back to when we were just kids, as the Vourvoura Society would always have their Annual Festival in an abandoned airplane hangar somewhere in Maryland.) Our choice for this Memorial Day Weekend was crashing the 81st Annual Karpathian Convention and Reunion in Baltimore, which we had only learned about a week earlier from Zephyros, who was playing our AHEPA District #3 Convention in Sliver Spring. After Wikipedia-ing Karpathos and familiarizing ourselves with how much we were going to stand out as a couple of mainlanders surrounded by a whole subculture of Greek islanders with their own unique dances, musical instruments, and customs, we headed to Jimmy’s Seafood Restaurant on the outskirts of Greektown in Baltimore for a Karpathian-infused Bouzoukia Night headlined by the aforementioned Baltimore’s own Zephyros, and featuring Karpathian musicians wielding oddly-shaped wide-bottomed bouzouki-like instruments and a Karpathian bagpipe; a white leathery single piped/bagged instrument that looked like it was made of the carcass of last month’s Paschal lamb. Apparently we weren’t the only non-Karpathians or young adults from the DC area who decided to make the trip up 295-N for the night as we soon found ourselves at a table near the dance floor with some old friends and new acquaintances from within the brilliant but fun-loving Greek ranks of the National Institutes of Health. Given what we had always heard about Karpathians and their conventions we were surprised and even a little disappointed that the event wasn’t more “spirited”, although there was not a time when the dance floor was empty. Still we had a great time and particularly enjoyed returning the favor to Baltimore whose Greeks will always make the trip down to support anything that happens in the Greek community in DC, but are often disappointed when the Greek community in DC fails to make the trip up to Baltimore in return.

Dispelling Myths at Church

Every Sunday afternoon in Clearwater there would invariably be a phone call from our friend Κ.Μ. back in DC who would call to ask us if we had met any “nice Greek girls” in Clearwater to that point and would always tell us stories about how there would always be one or two mysterious and obligatorily attractive girls who he had never seen before in church earlier in the day. Of course these girls would never return for any other church service for the remainder of the summer or ever again from that matter. So it was time to test the myth for ourselves on Sunday morning at St. Katherine, despite the Mom @ DCGreeks.com ‘s traditional admonishment about avoiding being seen in church on holiday weekends as people would then know that you didn’t go anywhere fun. While Κ.Μ. was true about seeing people in church on Memorial Day Weekend we had never seen before, there wasn’t the mythical Greek girl we had never seen before there.

"What's this DCGreeks.com I see on your resumé?"

The highlight of our entire Memorial Day Weekend came at the Hamburger Hamlet in Bethesda where we conducted an interview lunch for our first ever DCGreeks.com Summer Intern. In this economy where graduate students and even college graduates are taking the limited number of paid and unpaid internships from even the best college students in the area, we realized that we actually have a vehicle in DCGreeks.com to produce a top-notch, structured, resume-padding, somewhat formal internship experience, for a business major, computer science major, or any number of other literary or artistic types. We’re excited to be bringing “Stephanie the Intern” on board this week and look forward to introducing her formally on the site and in person at Greek events in the coming weeks.

The Return to Karpathos

Hey, where'd that guy's head go?
Sunday night was Part II of our Karpathian immersion weekend as we visited Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for their Grand Ball/Dinner Dance. While the young adult turnout wasn’t what we had hope for or had been promised by convention organizers (50% of the attendees under 30 – a stat we knew not to believe regardless), it was fun watching the two dance troupes that were performing. The first was the Evangelakia dance troupe from the Annunciation Cathedral in Baltimore. We learned that this group of high school aged dancers had placed second in their division in this year’s Metropolis of New Jersey Folk Dance Festival, which really made us wonder just how good the first place squad must have been, because these kids were outstanding. It was almost unfair, but understandable, to have the newly-formed Karpathian Balletto from Baltimore go next, for what actually was their first performance for the group which looked like it was composed by mostly younger kids, but they more than held their own.

Halfway through dinner our friend, Χ.Λ., a DC transplant from the Midwest now living in Baltimore, texted us to see if it was worth it for her to come for the “Dance Only” portion of the evening. I called her a few minutes later to tell her about the low young adult turnout and that we wouldn’t mind ditching the second half of the evening to hit a bar in Baltimore. While we enjoyed our stay in Karpathia we didn’t see the night getting all-out “Karpathian Krazy” which would have been a welcome change of pace to our regular run on the dinner/dance circuit. So minutes later we found ourselves in Χ.Λ.’s car driving across the Inner Harbor to end up severely overdressed in a small bar in Fells Point watching the Orlando Magic beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals while catching up with an old friend and retelling stories from the weekend over a couple of beers.

While part of us missed not being in Clearwater, our weekend in the DC/Baltimore gave us hope that spending a holiday weekend in the DC area could still provide a balanced Greek experience without the need to take five days off of work, being sunburned or sleep-deprived and that while it’s fun partying with 1600 Greek-Americans from all across the country, sometimes all it takes is surrounding yourself with a few good friends, some good Greek music, and meeting some new parea.

Read past feature articles