ROAD TRIP

Green Line Adventures, Part I

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

WHERE: The Sunday Source's Metro train trip returns to explore the south half of the Green Line's 21 stops, from Gallery Place-Chinatown to Branch Avenue.

WHY: A shoe box crammed with lucky cookies, goldfish that grow on trees and a faux-Radar O'Reilly.

HOW FAR: 8.74 miles, or 23 minutes without stopping.

"A pleasant surprise is in store for you" reads a fortune from the New Da Hsin Trading Inc., an Asian emporium in Chinatown. My, what a smart cookie! And what an auspicious -- and sweet -- start to your Green Line Metro adventure. But don't stuff yourself with the entire box of crispy snacks just yet; you still have 10 more stops to go. Before you hit the rails, though, stock up on such train-trip necessities as Chinese slippers for when your feet get tired, the Duowei Times for between-the-stops reading and a golden amulet that will protect you during your travels.

Are you a cat person or a plant person? The fat felines that greet you at Gingko Gardens are for petting only, but you can adopt a seedling that will offer great companionship. Check out the store's exotic birds of paradise, zebra plants with animal-patterned leaves or goldfish plants, whose flowers resemble your favorite childhood snack.

On a gray day, the grounds at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, formerly the Government Hospital for the Insane, might not win any Ladies' Horticulture Club awards: The sprawling Congress Heights campus is more like a Stephen King setting than an English rose garden. The 19th-century hospital still treats psychiatric patients (including President Reagan's near-assassin, John Hinckley), but much of the complex looks deserted and dramatically neglected. (To visit, you must call in advance.) On the East Campus, the once-august buildings sport darkened windows with varicose-vein cracks and drips of mold that evoke you-know-who's motel.

The birds, the birds -- they fill the sky and feeding grounds of Oxon Run Parkway, near Southern Avenue. The more-than-120-acre green space is an open-air aviary, attracting four seasons' worth of feathered fliers to its swamps and forests. Even if you don't know your gnatcatcher from your flycatcher, you can still enjoy the bird song with the highway beep-beep backbeat.

At the Airmen Memorial Museum by the Branch Avenue Metro, honor the servicemen who were afraid of neither heights nor war -- and were originally sent up in balloons. Moving down the battle timeline, take note of such personal effects as a canteen carried by a POW from the Bataan Death March and challenge coins soldiers used in Vietnam drinking games. As the airmen's back stories take shape, you'll want to add some voices to the scene. In the Orderly Room, listen to recordings of Sgt. Taggart as he offers a plump soldier diet tips, throws a typewriter out the window and calls an underling a nincompoop. After a voice reminiscent of "MASH's" Radar O'Reilly squeaks out his final "Thanks, Sarge," hop back on the Green Line, pull out another fortune from your big blue box of cookies and see if it comes true: "You are headed in the right direction." Andrea Sachs

Metrorail's One Day Pass costs $6.50 and is valid weekdays after 9:30 a.m. and all day on weekends and federal holidays, until the last trains depart. Passes are available online ( http://www.wmata.com/ ) or at the electronic kiosks in all Metro stations.

Road Trip maps are available online at www.washingtonpost.com/roadtrip, as are addresses and hours of operation (be sure to check before you go). Have an idea for a trip? E-mail roadtrip@washpost.com.


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