Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A'travelin'

We've been nomads recently, an aberration for us. We are usually such homebodies. But we went to Victoria (Ken joining me post-WLA) in August, and we've just returned from a week in D.C. Why D.C.? Ken was a spring-quarter intern with Senator Baucus' office (MT) way back in 1975 and was interested in revisiting the area. Friends in D.C. offered to put us up if we needed a place to stay. That's all it took.

We packed our bags with clothing appropriate for tropical temperatures and a good thing, too, because the weather was hot; not Pacific Northwest hot, but rather a muggy, fatiguing hot. Our friends call it "chewable air", a perfect description. There was dimension to it. We are both notoriously Nordic, drooping if it's over 80 degrees, so we became masters at scuttling quickly from one shady spot to the next, bracing ourselves for the long stretches of crisping sunshine. And you know, in the long run it wasn't that bad. If nothing else, travel expands one's adaptability.

We took as many guided tours as we could - the White House, the Capitol, the State Department, Lincoln's Cottage. We went on self-tours - Ford's Theater, the Old Post Office, Smithsonian Castle, Library of Congress, the Air and Space Museum. We became adept at using the Metro trains. Well, mostly adept. We had a mutual meltdown one afternoon. We hadn't eaten properly, we were out of water, we were in a Metro tunnel in the middle of rush hour, we were hot and sticky, we could not figure out which platform we needed to be on, and, as a result, we were having one of those conversations (ah, spousal bonding)...and I'm here to say that people in Washington D.C. are the most helpful people on earth. It must be due to the huge number of tourists that come to town. D.C.ers immediately recognize bewilderment (not to mention angst) and step right in to make it better. They got us on the proper platform and, bless them, suggested a couple of dining options that we could easily find at our destination.

It was a week of surprises. I wasn't prepared to be so affected by things. I've seen photographs of the city all my life. What American wouldn't recognize the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial? The Capitol Building's silhouette? So familiar. But, wow. Being inside the White House's east wing, walking through all those rooms (the Blue Room!), leaving the building through the door I see on the news, standing beneath the big cast iron lamp...there really aren't words for it. All of us lingered, not quite ready to leave the area, taking photos, trading tour stories. I looked up at the windows and saw that two of them were unique. The one on the left had a small stained-glass butterfly hanging in the center, the one on the right contained a small toy bird. I pointed them out to the kids on the tour. Could those be Malia and Sasha's rooms? It was never confirmed but we all decided that yes, they must belong to the First Daughters.

It isn't possible to blog about the whole trip. There is too much, even if I touched on highlights, because it's all highlights. We were able to get passes to both the House and the Senate galleries, courtesy of Norm Dicks' office, and were present at the first two votes in the House's opening session. That was an odd thing to watch and I confess to being mildly appalled. Granted, it was their first day back after summer break and people were reconnecting, there on the House floor. But some of them had brought their children and some of those children were not behaving as appropriately as one might hope. One boy was jumping on the chairs as his father looked on, twin girls were racing around the aisles, another boy was clearly on the near side of a tantrum. All this while an electronic vote was going on.

Compare that to the behavior expected of those of us watching from the Gallery: ten minutes before the session started, we'd unfolded our map to quietly help a foreign couple find their way to another building. A guard told us to put the map away. He pointed out that it was disrespectful to the House Floor to be paying attention to anything else but the House Floor. Mind you, there was only a stenographer on the House Floor at that moment. He was just sitting there, staring at the chair beside him. He looked about ready to nod off. We folded the map and gave it to the couple.

Good grief.

It was interesting, though, to watch all those Representatives once they came in. They were milling around, shaking hands, conversing, laughing. We played a version of Where's Waldo - who could find a Washington State Representative first? We saw Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, along with a few other well-knowns, and Ken finally won, pointing out Jim McDermott. We watched him for a few minutes. He sauntered around but nobody spoke with him. It was like watching a school playground where the less-popular kid goes unnoticed, and we felt a little sorry for him.

Overheard on Twitter: It's breakfast time! Unfortunately there is nothing resembling breakfast in this house. You know what that means. #catfoodforbreakfast

Next time: the Library of Congress. Stay tuned.

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