HALLMARK CARD and a box of chocolate creams simply won't do to set the scene for sweet seduction, or to convince your lover of your heartfelt happiness, or to remind a friend that you care.
This Valentine's Day toss the cliches, be creative and try the unusual: With the moon above, and the city lights below, woo your love with a helicopter ride over the city. For that frequent flyer you fell for, buy a paid-for pickup at National Airport by a chauffeur-driven car. For that new age follower, purchase a ticket to a past life journey.
But Valentine's Day marks another kind of love too, the kind for good friends, and family. Acknowledge your favorite Washington gossip follower with a tour of the city's scandal sites, and the budding historian in your clan with a workshop on family storytelling. And light the twinkle in the grandparents' eyes by sending photographs of your children.
Here are some imaginative gifts sure to impress your Valentine with your thoughtfulness. NEW VIEWS OF WASHINGTON
Flying in a chopper feels like floating, but with a pulsating beat. This is an exhilarating new perspective, even sexier at night when the city twinkles back at you, a stream of lights stretching from Georgetown to Capitol Hill. Whether your favored friend is a Washington aficionado who's been everywhere but up, or a special relative in search of the city's panorama, they'll grow wondrous at this aerial vision.
From a helicopter the city curls up against the Potomac like a promise -- smooth and full of possibilities. In a whirlybird, the pilot takes you on a personalized foray to your favorite local sites. Wave to your neighbors as you hover over your house, skirt the stadium and grow wide-eyed at the Capitol dome and federal vista.
At 1,200 feet, Alexandria's town houses and downtown's office buildings seem doll-house cute, caught in a swirl of traffic, while the Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson monuments are stalwart still points. All the time the Potomac glistens, a dreamy light piercing its surface. Further south, Mount Vernon fans out with a serene elegance of gardens and lawns that slope to the river.
Or use the helicopter to create an enchanted evening. Scoop up your intended and whiz away over the Chesapeake for a "Fly N' Dine," a trip to a restaurant on Kent or Tilghman islands. One man, notes Freedom Air pilot Mike Gartland, proposed on the flight over, causing the copter to rival the limo scene in "No Way Out."
"What goes on in the back seat of the helicopter," says Gartland, "you wouldn't believe. I just keep flying."
BUSINESS AIRCRAFT MANAGEMENT -- National Airport. Fly N' Dine, $650 for round-trip to Kent Island, St. Michael's or Tilghman. Meal extra. One-hour city "flightseeing" package, $525 for a Bell Longranger with room for five passengers. The helicopter will be back at National Airport on Feb. 21. Call 703/685-1313. FREEDOM AIR -- Washington Executive Airport/Hyde Field, Clinton. Fly N'Dine including dinner $620 per couple. Flightseeing is $625 an hour for a five-passenger Bell Longranger; $495 an hour for three-passenger Bell Jetranger. Pickup at National Airport can be arranged. Call 301/297-7556. SCANDALOUS!
Everybody loves to learn the lowdown on Washington gossip, and with a Scandal Tours ticket your friends get a busload full, complete with Gross National Product actors who bring the satire to life. This sightseeing tour quells the out-of-town relatives' curiosity about such notorious sites as the Vista Hotel (where Marion Barry got busted), the Tidal Basin (in which Wilbur Mills splashed with Fanne Fox) and the Washington Hilton (where John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan).
Rick London created Scandal Tours after he kept pointing out these infamous landmarks. "I was working for the Gross National Product and I had a lot of relatives who wanted to see these spots. I thought, I'm having to do this same trek so often I ought to charge."
So he collaborated with the GNP. The result is a funny, mud-slinging trip.
The twitters begin when your bus pulls out of the Washington Hilton to a taped rendition of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." The narrator assures you that the "nation's capital was built on a swamp and corrupt creatures continue to reside there."
This is akin to Saturday Night Live comedy with witty remarks, wisecracks and shameless puns. The actors add zip to the federal city's bungling saga, changing into Fawn Hall, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Tipper Gore as the bus careens on. One of the best moments is when actress Marianne Curan in tight leather and leopard spots plays Lynn Armandt, Donna Rice's media-savvy friend, enticing the riders to sign on with Snake In the Grass Inc. behind Gary Hart's former Capitol Hill town house.
By the ride's end, not only will your out-of-town visitors be sated on the sites of Washington's tawdry history, but you'll never see some of the city's landmarks in quite the same way.
SCANDAL TOURS -- The tour plays to private and corporate groups on weekdays and public tours Saturdays at 1 and 3, from September through May. There are some Sunday tours between June and August. Tours depart from the transportation desk of the Washington Hilton, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. $27 for the 90-minute tour. 202/387-2253. I'M YOUR VEHICLE, BABY
There's an antidote to taxis that reek of cigar smoke and airport cabbies who drive you to Bethesda by way of Annandale. Book an executive car service, a great gift for a hassled friend.
This corporate car, not a limousine but usually a staid Lincoln, comes with a phone and a polite driver who'll meet you at the baggage claim to help haul your luggage. After a long meeting, a layover in Pittsburgh and a bumpy flight back, breezing by the cab lines to your waiting coach feels almost royal. Send a friendly driver and your guest will arrive in style.
These sedan services offer Washingtonians an easy ride. Take it.
EXECUTIVE CAR SERVICES -- There are many in the area; check the Yellow Pages under "Limousine." When giving the service as a gift, a driver will come by your house or office to obtain an imprint of your credit card. Rates are generally around $1.50 per mile, $30 per hour (two-hour minimum), or $28 per hour (eight-hour minimum). THE PAST AS A PRESENT
Ever have the feeling you've met someone before? Ever wonder if you and your lover crossed paths casually in another place? Local sculptor R. Neville Johnston will help you find out, but he's not talking about a casual meeting at the Safeway, or adjacent seats at Janis Joplin's 1970 College Park concert.
Like a pied piper of the past, Johnston leads you on a tour of your former lives, conjuring up images of your former selves.
Skeptical? Even if you don't believe in this new age magic, a session with Johnston is entertaining and you're likely to come away with some images to ponder.
After an attack that left him clinically dead, Johnston says he was given "an unbelievably vivid memory" of his split second in heaven, then hurtled back to earth. Following his recuperation, Johnston gradually realized he possessed this gift of guidance.
Johnston sees past life regression as a tool to help people with recurring problems, reveal lessons they still need to learn or understand relationships. One vivid image is worth a thousand years of a soul's journey.
The journey starts when Johnston asks you to lie down, focus on a candle, count backwards from seven and close your eyes. Then he asks you to imagine a graceful bird flying among the clouds. After a few minutes, Johnston asks you to pretend the bird has landed. Without opening your eyes, Johnston asks you to "see" where the bird perches, asking such questions as "Are there people, what are they wearing, and what time period does it seem?" Images, as if in a dream, float before your closed eyes.
As you respond the bird's-eye view widens to reveal more details. Johnston claims he also sees what his clients see, saying "I've had some of the most amazing experiences in my life in other people's past lives."
One woman's past life journey showed her in the Mediterranean in the 15th century learning her turbaned betrothed was summoned to war. Upon examination the woman saw the warrior had her son's eyes, and the matronly servant who opened the door flashed the kindly eyes of her husband. When Johnston asked if there was anything else to be revealed, the young man placed an egg on the table from which a golden bird emerged. Johnston's interpretation: The young man, who would die in war, was telling her he would be back again in her life as someone else.
That moment of drama, with its centuries of caring, keeps drifting back to the woman in car pools, at meetings and in the evening quiet. She still ponders on the cycles of love beyond lifetimes.
Is this hokey? Maybe. Is it fun? Definitely. So during these long winter nights, plumb your ties beyond the present. Try figuring out your place together in your past lives.
PAST LIFE REGRESSION -- R. Neville Johnston. A two-hour private consultation is $100. Call 202/371-6515. A $28.50 group session is also available through First Class, March 28 from 6:30 to 9:30; to register, call 202/797-5102. THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD
You remember the time your college roommate's well-meaning but daffy aunt mailed her a chicken in college, or the day you and your fearless fifth-grade friend snuck into the dugout at Shea Stadium?
With Bob and Barbara Gingerich's storytelling workshop, you can help a loved one learn how to turn these favored memories into legends that live forever.
Bob never met Barbara's Aunt Bea but he learned to appreciate her as a person through this favorite tale about the time a young Barbara and her sister visited Bea in Chicago. The trio couldn't get into the Museum of Natural History because Barbara's sister was wearing shorts and not a skirt.
"Aunt Bea tries to negotiate with the guard," says Bob, "but finally Aunt Bea, this proper lady, goes around the side of the building, pulls off her half-slip, places it on Mary Jane, and marches in. As a result of this story, I appreciate Bea as a person and not just a relative.
"A lot of times even my own kids at Thanksgiving and Christmas say 'Tell about the time you were in Korea.' A long time after I'm gone these stories will always be around. That means we'll never be that distant."
The Gingerichs teach their customers how to craft for posterity tales of people and prime moments of the past. First, they help you find incidents by jogging your memory, asking you to write down the funniest thing you saw your parents do, odd nicknames from your childhood or your first experience with death. Then you elaborate by describing who was at a certain event, what happened before and what happened after. The Gingerichs continue these guided reflections, asking you to add a beginning, a middle, a conflict, perhaps, and an end. After the story is honed into shape, it's presented to the class.
Suddenly the incident at Shea turns from a slim memory into a revealing anecdote about a first foray into defying authorities and dealing with the consequences. Storytelling, like a photograph, is a great gift for families, an interesting way to convey histories and personalities.
STORYTELLING -- Bob and Barbara Gingerich, York, Pa. 717/854-6341. Arrange your own group of 10 to 15 people. Costs, depending on location of group, about $30-$45 per person. Travel expenses may be additional. Individual sessions are about $250 for three hours. The Gingerichs generally offer a spring or summer class with First Class, though a date is not set yet. PICTURE PERFECT
Grandparents can be tricky on Valentine's Day. They already own a lifetime of silver and crystal, all the books on bridge and golf, and a houseful of knickknacks. So why not send them photographs of your kids?
"There is no other gift that grandparents want. Everything else they have," says Judith Goodman, who specializes in children's photography. Put current close-ups of your kids in the mail, and you're guaranteed to receive an exuberant thank-you phone call from a grateful grandmom or pop.
A session with a professional photographer who comes to your home costs more than a 15-minute package appointment at a department store. But instead of receiving staged pictures shot quickly against a stiff blue background, your special session captures your kids' individuality. Because there are no cranky twins waiting in line behind you, the photographer can spend the time it takes to let your children be themselves.
Says Goodman, "Years from now when the parent sees that photo, it reminds them of what the child was really like."
PHOTOGRAPHS -- Children's professional photographers range in price. Many charge a price per sitting that includes a certain number of prints; additional prints are extra. Charges range from about $175 for a portrait sitting, to around $250 to $350 for a session including 20 to 40 4-by-6-inch prints. NEW IMAGE, NEW SKILLS
Your best friend who can't carry a tune has always wanted to croon "Fools Rush In" to his sweetheart, your college-age son laments he doesn't know how to order wine and your cousin, new to the area, despairs of ever clothing her kids for less than the cost of the mortgage.
This Valentine's Day give them a session at a First Class or Learning Annex workshop. "How To Carry a Tune," "Wine Appreciation," and "Thriftshop Wardrobes" are among the most popular courses offered at First Class, notes president Debra Leopold.
"There's an overwhelming interest in classes devoted to the arts, personal development and all classes relating to image, including wardrobes, model makeovers, color analysis," she says.
Thumb through the catalogues of local evening adult education classes for thoughtful gifts that easily place you in the wish-fulfilling business. These self-help, self-improvement and just plain interesting sessions range from satisfying a secret desire. These are gifts that get smiles and prod friends into long-awaited new directions.
FIRST CLASS --
1522 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036. 202/797-5102.
THE LEARNING ANNEX --
3333 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008. 202/966-9606.
Candyce Stapen last wrote for Weekend about unusual meeting places in Washington.