On Wednesday, I arrived at DC’s Union Station with my luggage and headed out. I quickly found the Metro and checked the class map to see where the hotel was (where the class was leaving from). There was a red pushpin right near a Metro stop near K-street, so I took the Metro there. After getting out, I looked around but couldn’t spot our hotel. I kept staring at the map and still couldn’t find the hotel. It turns out that the map wasn’t centered on the hotel; it was centered on one of the myriad of places we’d be meeting people at during the week. So, I was in the wrong place. At this point, I’d be running late to get to the hotel, and I realized taking Metro there meant a 4-6 block walk with my suitcases, so I took a cab. I checked into my room and then called the instructor to see where to meet them. It turned out that I’d only missed like the first ten minutes of meeting with Congressman Kind, because he had been running late, too. I took a cab from the hotel to the Longworth building. For reference, here’s a quick map of the House and Senate buildings I’ll be referencing in this post. (Google Earth/Maps is also helpful here.) Longworth is one of the House buildings toward the bottom of the map. So, that all worked out okay, aside from me already being a sweaty mess. Meeting Congressman Kind was relatively uneventful. Most of his talk was about how he sees many common issues between the parties and believes in bipartisan efforts.
Our next stop was Union Station (hey! I was just there!) for lunch. I didn’t really get to hear the guy that met us there for lunch. I was sitting kind of far away, and there was alot of ambient noise. However, Ed Greelegs was sitting near me, and I got kind of a private audience with him, which was great! I really enjoyed talking to him. Then, we walked to the Dirksen Senate building to meet with Deb Whitman. Deb was really enjoyable. She went through the real version of how a bill becomes a law. She gave an example of a bill that she’s been working on for two years for her congressman, a relatively unobtrusive one that would prevent people convicted of violent or abusive crimes from working in nursing homes. Even though there’s no opposition to it, it’s still taken years for it to even get into committee. (It actually moved out of committee and made it onto the floor list while we were in DC. She texted us to let us know that we were her lucky charms!)
Then, we walked to the Hart building. I can’t remember if we met with someone or if we just went over there to see something. What I do know is that we found out that the Senate hearings regarding Health Care were being held over there, and we eventually tracked down the room. We didn’t have enough time to really sit in, but we got a quick glance inside the room:
There was also a Calder sculpture in the lobby. I took a picture, just because it’s a tie back to Chicago (where Calder has a famous Flamingo sculpture).
Our next stop was a lobbying office on Constitution. I found the location using my G1 and had GMaps give me walking directions, but the class ended up taking a different and longer route such that we walked a mile for what should have been a half mile walk. The view from the office of the Capitol was spectacular; I took 2-3 photos. At the office, we heard from a person, not affiliated with the office–he just met us there, who (by his own description) makes conspiracy theorists stay awake at night. He manages public opinion, which is to say, he does things like push polls, hiring protesters, hiring people to ask questions at town halls, and drafting opinion letters that aren’t real. Ironically, I can’t recall his name. Then, two of the lobbyists spoke to us about their job.
One of the things that most people in our class found shocking (but I already knew) is that lobbyists serve a valuable purpose in the system. They provide information to the Congress (via staffers, usually) that the people might not otherwise know. Congresspeople aren’t experts on every topic, and lobbyists primarily give briefings. In the 80′s and 90′s, they’d gain Congress’ ear by taking staffers out to dinner or having fancy parties. But now, staffers aren’t allowed to accept things from lobbyists, which really sucks for the (incredibly underpaid) staffers…and has basically made it such that you have to be independently funded (i.e., your parents are rich) to be a Congressional staffer…and being a staffer is the #1 way to get into more influential positions later. So, by cutting off lobbyists from staffers without compensating staffers, we’ve created a system that kind of sucks and will eventually really screw with the quality of our government. At any rate, yeah, the lobbyists are trying to sell the staffers on something, but every single person we talked to, lobbyists included, noted that staffers, even back in the “good old days”, couldn’t be bought. A staffer can’t force a Congressperson to vote a certain way, and it was rare to come across a Congressperson who could be bought. That is, the scandals were scandals because of their rarity, and they got overexaggerated. What lobbyists do for staffers generally is to help them get briefed on side effects of legislation that they might not understand, to keep the Congressperson from voting for a bill that might not do what (s)he thinks it will do. And, staffers are generally smart enough to take what lobbyists say with a grain of salt. Many DC-ers commented on Obama’s anti-lobbyist policy and said it’s a huge mistake. They said it will end up with him getting less-qualified staff because he’s enacting a rule that eliminates anyone with any real history in DC…as you pretty much go into being a lobbyist when you aren’t working on someone’s campaign, if you’re good at understanding and working the system, have contacts, etc. So, I mention all of that because it seems like it’s still not really understood or well-known.
The class split up to head back to the hotel. Some people wanted to take a cab, and others wanted to enjoy the (now cooler) weather by walking to union station. I ended up leading the walking group back to the station and eventually to the hotel. Along the way to Union Station, we came across a memorial to the Japanese Americans that were held in internment camps during WWII. I formed a quick friendship with the girls I walked with. Their names were Karen and Linda. One was a fan of Amazing Race and the other was a West Wing fan, so we had things to talk about.
We ended up back at the hotel. A bunch of people were going with the instructor to dinner and a night walk around the monuments, but I was tired of walking and tired in general, so I didn’t want to go. Neither did Karen or Linda, so we met separately and had dinner near the hotel. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Walgreen’s. I wanted to buy a cheapie cup to use for soda at the hotel, and one of them needed a toiletry item. I ended up getting a DC souvenir glass. While looking at souvenirs and postcards (including the one that those of y’all on my postcard list got), I saw lots of camo-print items with a panda on them. I was like, “why are there pandas on DC things?” I had no idea that DC had a National Zoo that had pandas. Apparently, they’re a source of controversy because it costs alot to maintain them. After buying my cup, I went back to the hotel and crashed.
I should note, I had a roommate, who was also nice generally. But, she went to bed late most nights, and I went to bed early. She got up early in the mornings, because she took *hours* to get ready, literally. I woke up at the last minute I could. I don’t know how she exists on so little sleep. Also, she wore 2 inch heels every day. Granted, she took cabs many times that I walked or Metro’d, but still! I’d die if I were her.
The next morning, I met Karen and Linda in the lobby, and we Metro’d to our first stop of the day. We stopped in Union Station for breakfast along the way. Then, we headed to the Dirksen building for the Durbin/Burris town hall meeting. (IL senators have a longstanding tradition of holding a weekly town hall versus holding individual meetings with visiting constituents.) The meeting started with introductions from every group represented at the town hall. Then, they opened it up for questions, and anyone could ask any question. That didn’t mean you got an answer…but you got to ask. The highlights were:
- Burris accidentally introduced Durbin as “the senior citizen” instead of “the senior senator.”
- Burris meant to reference that there’s no intention of death panels for senior citizens, but instead said that there’s no intention of giving the death penalty to senior citizens.
So yeah, generally, Burris was a dolt, and Durbin was impressive. Then, we headed over to the house buildings for meetings there. Congressman Ryan struck me as a balanced and reasonable person, with good and innovative ideas. He also had what I jokingly call iPod nipples when DH has them…that is, he had an iPod Nano with lanyard tucked under his shirt, so that the headphones look like nipples.
You can see the list of people we met with in the post before this one, so I won’t itemize. Suffice it to say, we ran all over the place. I tracked it on Gmap pedometer, and I did around 8 miles of walking that day. I went on the Capitol tour, which sucked. I don’t recommend it. I mean, it’s free, which is nice…but you don’t get to see anything anymore. They’ve shortened it considerably since 9/11. The tour is less than ten minutes long. I really enjoyed meeting with the EPA. The two people who met with us were young and really enthused about what they do.
That night, the class went to a restaurant near the hotel. They had a martini drink that I loved. I had several. We all laughed and told stories, and it was a blast. Some folks stayed out late, but I crashed, as usual.
The next morning, I was awake before my roommate. My plan was to check into my hotel for that night before leaving with the group to go to our first stop of the day. So, I went there first thing. I took a cab, even though it was only a few blocks away. The hotel location was awesome, right around the corner from a Metro stop. Also, I was able to get into my room at 8am, which is amazing. Then, I had another busy day of meetings. The two most interesting were Paula Pfingsten, a member of the press corps, and Grover Norquist, a Conservative leader and author. Norquist was an eloquent speaker, but he started off his bit by saying that the Republican party is the party of freedom and the Democrat party is the party of loss of freedom. He said many other things that bothered me, but that’s just a joke. Neither party is high on my list of defenders of freedom these days, but Republicans are far lower on the totem pole than Dems. So, I began making notes of all the freedoms I could think of that Republicans have either denounced or removed in the past decade or so that Dems have generally supported…you know, like the right to marry, the right to an abortion, freedom of speech to criticize one’s government, free borders (which goes hand in hand with free trade), the right to not have a cellphone company hand over your phone records to the government without a warrant…stuff like that. When Norquist asked for a question, I brought up all of this and asked if he still considers Republicans the party of freedom. His answer, in short, was that government security is important, the only vital mission of a government, and basically implied that rights should be sacrificed for security and/or those rights aren’t important enough. He did not give me a chance for a follow-up.
We ended up having a long lunch break that allowed for sightseeing, due to some cancellations and whatnot. I spent my lunch at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I’d been to it before, but they had a Darwin exhibit that had inspired a smattering of picketers, and that made up my mind for me. I learned that Darwin was an avid beetle collector. I also went through an indoor butterfly garden with hundreds of butterflies flitting about. I saw tents being set up for the National Book Fair and resolved to look up more info about it, to decide whether to make it part of my agenda.
After our speakers finished up and the class finished a wrap-up talk, I had just barely enough time to Metro back to the hotel, change, and then Metro over to Chinatown to join up with my scheduled Segway tour. Though my feet were aching, I signed up for a Segway tour, which means standing in one place for 2-3 hours….’cause I’m brilliant. Anyways, I had tons of fun on the tour. I was one of the few that never took a tumble. Most people fell getting on or off, or they brushed a wheel against something and lost control…or one person didn’t realize she was about to drop off of a curb at the last second and jumped off. During the Segway tour, we saw the president’s helicopter land at the West Wing, which was pretty darn cool. I briefly saw an Obama head. The Segway tour was actually a great way to get the lay of the land before my day of touristing on Saturday. The tour guide recommended a few things that I hadn’t thought of doing but ended up doing, like lunch at the Native American Museum (the newest Smithsonian), the Japanese art exhibit, and seeing the pop culture exhibits at the American History Museum.
I had dinner in Chinatown and then Metro’d back to my hotel to crash. I spent some time on the internet, during which I found that the one author at the book fair that I’d want to see (Gwen Ifill) would be speaking too late for me to do. It was also supposed to be rainy, so I opted for touring the Smithsonian campus rather than doing the National Zoo. I decided to wake naturally instead of an alarm, which worked out fine because I didn’t sleep in much. I got everything packed up and checked my bags with the porter before heading out for the day.
My Saturday was as follows:
- First stop: Freer Gallery – Japanese art exhibit
- Next stop: American History Museum – saw the pop culture exhibits and the musical instruments area
- Next stop: Swung through the book fair – saw one author speaking, didn’t recognize her, got a tote bag and a picture with Bullseye at the Target tent
- Then, I walked along the mall to the Hirschhorn Museum (contemporary art) and sculpture garden – was interesting, but I wasn’t in a mood to contemplate art
- Walked up to the American Indian museum to have lunch – had to wait in line for a half hour to get lunch, mainly because people DO NOT UNDERSTAND BUFFET SERVICE. You do not have to wait in line at a buffet-style service unless the space demands it. In most large buffet setups, you just dart from station to station, like a bee in a garden. I’m so tired of people not getting this. THIS IS WHAT MAKES BUFFETS EFFICIENT, PEOPLE!!! So, anyways, the Mitsitam cafe at the American Indian museum has stations that serve food from each region represented in the museum. You can get South American food, Alaskan food, or lots of others. I got Midwest food. (Hey, I had to eat from my own region!) I had a pulled buffalo sandwich that was dee-lish. It came with Chayote squash slaw, also good. And, I got Fry Bread with Cinnamon and Honey for dessert…yummy! I also got Prickly Pear Agua Fresca to drink, which tasted kind of like watermelon juice. Then, I went upstairs in the museum and wandered around. One of the cool things about this museum is that it’s got all these story stations, which are basically cozy areas around a speaker or TV that has a recording of someone telling a story about American Indian life. I heard stories about how the stars came to be. It was a very cool museum.
- My final stop was the Portrait Gallery. I decided to see if Colbert was still there somewhere. If he was, I couldn’t find him.
After that, I took the Metro out to Reagan International to pick up my rental car. People, do not rent from Enterprise near DCA. First, they’re off-site. Now, I knew that going in…but they have a shelter area that is marked for the Enterprise shuttle that is NOT where the rest of the rental car shuttles go. So, I had to hunt for this special shelter which took awhile. Then, the shuttle driver didn’t even stop at the shelter…he just did a slow roll to see if anyone waved at him. I didn’t, because I was in the shelter with like eight other people, so I figured him stopping was a given. It clearly wasn’t until I flagged him down. When I got to the site, the service was SO slow, and they were overly enthused about the upsell, even after I kept saying I was in a hurry and really didn’t want to upgrade. The girl wanted to give me a ten minute lecture about getting their insurance because it was sprinkling rain. She tried to sound ominous, and I just laughed. I have insurance. I don’t need theirs. Rental car insurance is a rip-off, in part because the only people who get it are the people who need it, if you know what I mean. So, finally, I was on the road back to my hotel to pick up my luggage. Fortunately, my generous tip to the bellhop when I dropped off my luggage paid off (the bags were very heavy), as he was super-speedy in getting it to me, so I tipped generously again ($5 for 2 bags). I ended up with plenty of time to make it to my friend’s concert out in MD that night. I even got to stop for ChickFilA on the way there. Woot!
So then I spent that night and part of the next day with our friends in MD. We played Pillars, and we caught up on things. I had an uneventful drive to the airport and then…more reason to not rent from Enterprise at DCA. They weren’t clearing the returns fast enough, so there was a line backed up out onto the street to get in. I waited 15 minutes just to be able to pull the car into the garage. Then I was standing by it for another 10 minutes waiting on an attendant. Finally, I gave up. I left the keys in the ignition, locked the doors, left the “turn in” copy of my receipt in the car (keeping my copy), photographed every side of the car and the keys in the ignition and then headed out to the airport shuttle just before it left. Then, I called the office and told them where the car was and why I’d left it there. They were friendly about it and admitted to being crowded, but still…it was just lousy service all the way around.
The flight home was uneventful. Oh, yeah, people were stupid at the Midwest Airlines check-in counter. Midwest and Airtran’s counters were right next to each other. Airtran’s “first class only” line was right next to the normal line for Midwest. And then on the far right, Midwest had their “online check-in baggage check” line. So, the normal line was empty, and the online check-in line had 30 people in it. What’s more, there were 3 “check-in luggage” machines, but only one was getting used, though all three were functional. I had checked in online, but this seemed ridiculous. I examined the signs three times, looked at the people in the line and then went through the normal check-in line. While in it, I looked at one of the people in the online line and asked why they were all standing in that line. The man was like, “That line is for first class.” I said, “No, it’s not. The line over there (pointing) is for Airtran’s first class. This is just the normal line…”, I paused and caught the eye of a desk attendant as I walked up to the counter, “…right?” She nodded. I shrugged and checked my bags in at one of the two free machines. I got many dirty looks from the line of people. But, as I see it, politeness only dictates that I inform them of their error, not that I let them go ahead of me once I confirm the error. (And honestly, it’s Midwest’s job to manage their line. One of those attendants should have fixed this problem.)
So, that was my DC trip. Pictures are posted in the gallery, as per the usual way of things.