Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More Washington

(If you’ve navigated here for any reason except that you’re a friend of mine, you might want to move on. The details here are excessively trivial and verbose, of little interest to the wider world. There here largely for the time when I will no longer be able to remember any of this on my own.)

You are not allowed to read OR write in the House Gallery! On the way to the Gallery, there’s a rack of brochures, so I picked one up. Things were a little slow on the floor, so I pulled out my brochure to study. A plainclothes security guy was there in seconds, telling me to put that away. I asked him why, and he said he didn’t know—it seemed odd to him, and the rule doesn’t apply to the Senate gallery. The People’s House, and the people aren’t allowed to take notes. The security guy, who was very nice, said the rule had been in place at least as long as he had been there, six years.

There were approximately a dozen people on the House floor, equally distributed between Dems and Repugs, plus the stand-in for the speaker, the stenographer, and various other officials on the podium. I didn’t recognize any of them. It’s kind of sad that there wouldn’t be more of the people’s lawmakers there, but it was during the lunch hour. I gather that the House is pretty much deserted except when there’s a vote. A vote was about to happen when I got my gallery pass from Woolsey’s office, but by the time I found my way to the right entrance, waited in line, got my bags checked, dropped off my backpack, then went back to drop off my cell phone, the vote was long over. I tagged along with a staff member from the Kucinich office and a couple from Belgium who were there on some sort of business. There was a slight delay as the information guy proudly regaled the couple in fluent Flemish, something I’ll admit the average tour guide can’t do.

Starving for food and caffeine, I found my way to the Capitol basement—and it really is a basement, with water and heating pipes on the ceiling of the narrow brick halls—where the cafeteria is. I hesitated at the entrance, where a sign said, “For Congressional staff only, 11:15-1:00. A cafeteria employee asked me if she could help me, young lady? I told her only people older than me were allowed to call me young lady and she laughed and said age was nothing but a number. She invited me to get some food.

This cafeteria is for the hoi polloi—security guards and food and maintenance workers. There’s a dining room on the main floor, but it’s only for elected politicians.

On my way to Woolsey’s office in the Rayburn building, I saw a crew of some 50 guys in khaki uniforms and blue baseball caps running down the path from the Capitol building. They headed toward the mall, amid lights and sirens of various emergency vehicles. I don’t know what it was all about—maybe a drill or something. Later I saw them in the Capitol building, and they had the word, “Challenge” stitched over their breast pockets. They were all young and most were black. Some sort of paramilitary youth group, I guess. It’s happened before.

In the Rayburn Building, what sounded like a fire alarm went off for several minutes. Nobody seemed to be running for exits, though. This happened again before I left the building. Maybe it meant that there was about to be a vote, and lawmakers better get their ass over to the Capitol.
I wonder if there’s a secret underground passageway between the two buildings? It’s actually kind of a hassle to get from the Rayburn building to the Capitol, because it’s in the middle of the block across a busy street, and you have to walk to a corner and wait for a light, then cross and walk back to the middle of the block. Or you can just take your life in your hands and scoot across, which is what I did.

Later, wandering around in the basement, I found out that there is a secret passageway, and I almost went on it, but decided better and tried to find the floor where the rotunda was. I was stopped by a security guard, who said I shouldn't be in the Capitol unless I was with a tour, and told me to leave.

However, as I was on the way out, another guard asked me if I’d like to go to the Senate gallery, and gave me a pass, so back I went. There was no one in the Senate, however, and no prospects for anyone returning before 2:30 pm, so I left and went back to the House gallery, because I had heard that there was a vote there.

You have to understand that both galleries are a three-story walkup from the ground floor, and that you have to start from the ground for each one. So by the time I had retrieved my bag, gone downstairs, across the Capitol building and back up the stairs, checked my bags in and submitted to the search, the vote was over, and the last of the Reps were on their way out the door. A skeleton crew was left to take turns posturing over some amendment or other.

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