Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Washington, continued

Got up this morning at 6:30 and staggered (literally) down the narrow, winding stairs four floors to the kitchen to grope for some coffee. There's a big--two gallon!--coffee machine there with lights flashing and knobs and everything.

But no coffee.

I sat down and tried to focus on my email. A lady, Mary Jean from Louisville, offered me some tea and told me that breakfast was at 7:30. So I waited; 7:30 came and went. No coffee. But the dining room was filling up. I talked with a pastor from Alberta about Canadian healthcare (he likes it, and was able to be pretty specific about its strengths and weaknesses), and a German woman who's studying Chinese history at the Library of Congress who was astonished that you could get free wireless in the dining room.

I queried the room on what was the best thing to see in DC.

"Everything!" said Mary Jean, and, being the gregarious sort, "Especially the company." I found her recommendation a little too all-encompassing to be helpful. A man at the next table went into a long dissertation about how with careful planning I could see everything in my four days--enumerating all the sights to be seen. But I'd have to commit to a strict timetable: 30 minutes in the Museum of Natural History, 15 at the Jefferson Memorial, and so forth.

You can do the art museums pretty fast, he said, because all you have to do is glance at each painting. He confessed he wasn't an art connoisseur.

Instead, I'm sitting here writing about what he said, as the minutes tick by. The breakfast lady finally shows up at 8:30, and Mary Jean pitches in and makes the coffee. I have lent my laptop to a young woman from New Delhi who wants to email her husband and tell him about her first trip to the U.S. She's here as a medical student at a conference.

She has a lot to tell him. I excuse myself and call Lynn Woolsey's office. Ordinarily, the staff person says, we ask for a week's notice for a tour. She said to drop by and they'd see if they could arrange something. When? Well, Congress is in session in the evening (!), so any other time. No wonder they don't get anything done.

The hostel's air conditioning system makes a particularly annoying sound--a fluctuating drone that waxes and wanes on about a 5-second interval. I was given a room on the third floor that was quite nice--I had an alcove with a two-bed bunk and it seemed reasonable that I would have it to myself. But the bed was right next to the air conditioner. After 20 minutes, I asked to be moved, and I'm now on the 6th floor in a big open room with a half-dozen other women. The air conditioner has the same problem, but at least it's on the other side of the room. I went to sleep listening to the "Mellow" playlist on my Ipod.

Okay, I'm off to go traipsing around on the Capitol Mall.

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