Last Friday, my family and I were in Washington DC for a few hours and decided to take in some of the sights. Now, we are not the most athletic of families, but we don’t shy away from spending the day out and about, walking and taking in the local sights. But by the time we’d finished walking around the nation’s capital, we had about 5 blisters, a rash and six exhausted legs between us.
I was honestly surprised by how tired we were… I was. I mean, sure, there were a lot of steps and more hills than we see in the average flat-Florida walks. And we added a couple of museums with the additional steps there. But even with that… we must’ve had put in more miles than we realized. We did. In fact, based on a rough google-map route, we did a full 10K worth of walking.
Here’s my theory. We’ve lived in Theme Park World too long, where the concept of forced perspective has been taken to the level of true art. Back in the day, Walt Disney and his imagineers took a trick of the movie trade and applied it to their theme park structures. The use of forced perspective tricks the eye and makes objects seem taller, closer, farther or more pronounced than they truly are. Scale is off. Objects are closer and smaller than they appear. It’s a great skill to develop when you’re going to plant castles and mountains in the middle of a fixed amount of space and want people to feel a sense of space and grandeur.
The problem comes when your brain has been trained to read these objects as forced perspective and adjusts expectations. When we piled out of Union Station and could see the Capital building in the distance, we had no sense of the actual scale of the place. It seemed like it ought to be closer and smaller than it really was. When we charted our plan for the day, it seemed easy enough. It was only after we’d left the Lincoln Memorial and walked down to the World War II memorial that it began to sink in just how ridiculously big everything was. For real. Not just because of the perspective games played by a designer. Really freaking huge. And suddenly the length of the city blocks we were walking seemed much longer.