A D.C. Adventure: In Which Our Heroine Tries With Much Difficulty to Make it to the Senate for a Meeting

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Aug 01, 2006 8:12 PM
So, I was going to see the Senator. Not just any Senator-- the Senate Majority Leader himself, the Commissar of the Constitutional Option, the Super-Intendent of Stem-Cell Legislation, the Dean of Death Tax Elimination. The Federal Frist.

All right, gimme a break. It's Washington. Nothing has a cool name here. I was trying to spice it up a bit.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a last-minute invite to a blogger briefing with Sen. Frist, so I readied myself to leave a good 45 minutes before the meeting started in the Capitol. Of course, readying myself was a bit of an ordeal. I know you'll all be shocked--shocked!-- to know that I don't sit in the office and blog wearing freshly pressed, D.C.-standard-issue rayon/silk blend slacks and tasteful sleeveless blouses. Instead, I often wear jeans. As such, when I get an invitation to a Senate office, it requires a certain amount of sartorial dexterity.

I ran out to my car, grabbed a pair of less-than-freshly pressed slacks and a tasteful sleeveless blouse, and matching heels. You really don't want to know how many outfits I could construct using only the contents of my back seat. I'm a regular business-casual MacGyver.

I changed and sailed out the door with plenty of time to travel the (wait, let's Google Map it...) 4.4 miles from my office to the Capitol and park before talking my way through security with this classic line: "I'm here for a meeting. Who am I? I'm a blogger. (incredulous eyebrows rise) It's like press. Really, I have an appointment."

Ahh, but I didn't account for the totally-unaccountable-for gridlock traffic on 395. It was 3 p.m. There was no call for traffic, at least not stand-still, bumper-smoochin' traffic. Gotta love this town, huh? The standing still when I should have been moving was bound to make me late for my meeting. But I managed to get a call through to let them know I'd be late, and I kept my spirits up.

I finally stopped-and-goed my way into the vicinity of the United States Capitol, but then came another test of my D.C. survival skills-- parking. I valiantly tried to squeeze my already-teeny sedan into a tiny-too-teeny space for it, and I maintain that I could have gotten in if I'd tried a little harder. Getting out would have been another issue. I decided to forego the early onset of carpal tunnel--a common symptom of overzealous parallel parking-- and find another space.

Which I did, but it had the unfortunate characteristic of being on the opposite side of the street from the lane in which I was traveling. Easy solution, given the turning radius of the teeny sedan. I put on my blinker and pulled a U-turn right into the space. It would have been more impressive if the spot were small, but I confess it could have accomodated a full-size truck (if anyone in D.C. ever drove them!).

After that came a half-mile hike in and around concrete barriers (I'm never sure. Are they for stopping me or for stopping cars?), across a couple landscaped lawns, where the soil was just damp enough to swallow my heel every time I put a foot down. I know, I could stick to the sidewalks, but I figure the entertainment value of watching me walk like a hobbly, wobbly little duck across the lawn of the Capitol is probably worth it for someone out there.

Then, I finally made it to the first Capitol Police officer at the first Capitol Police pavillion I came across, at which point I asked the very kind police officer therein to point me to the next Capitol Police pavillion, from whence I might discern either my final destination or the next Capitol Police pavillion. Yes, I know I live in D.C. and it seems as if I should really know my way around. But have you seen the Capitol? Got a whole lot of doors, and you can't just pick one and go with it because Door No. 2 could very likely put you in the middle of a hearing "to examine the issue of tax havens and offshore abuses which are undermining the integrity of the Federal tax system, focusing on case histories on the use of offshore trusts and corporations to circumvent U.S. tax, securities and anti-money laundering laws."

And, as much as you may care about the rule of law and the integrity of the Federal tax system, you don't want to be there to hear about it unless you have to. What I'm saying is, know your door before you turn the handle.

I finally made it to the last Capitol Police pavillion-- a small, white, trailer-looking building right next to the door-- the one I was meant to enter. I came upon the very kind police officers outside the trailer and said, "Hey y'all. I'm supposed to go to a meeting in S. 230? Could you point me in the right direction?"

By this time, my pants had become magically pressed by virtue of the steam room that is a D.C. summer day, but the rest of my was looking quite rumpled indeed. The muggy weather has a way of taking wrinkles out of my pants and putting them into my hair. And, I was wearing a sort of dewy layer on all my skin from head to toe that we'll just refer to as "my electralytes." Pretty as a picture, I tell you.

"Who's your meeting with?"

"Sen. Frist."

"Who?"

"Sen. Frist."

I'm guessing that "who?" was a reflection of my insignificance rather than the Majority Leader's, but hey, they asked. I ventured into the small and blissfully fan-equipped trailer, dropped my bag on the metal detector, walked with purpose under the mag, and beeped. This happens almost every time I go over there, and no matter what the deal is, I always feel like I'm in trouble. My face gets a little red and I smile sheepishly at the police officers, who are unfailingly friendly and unannoyed, and head back the way I came. The next time I came through, the officers instructed me to take a "big step." The big step apparently neutralized the overabundance of iron in my blood (or was it the pistol in my sock? Dunh, Dunh, Dunnnnnhhhh!), and all was fine.

I was released back into the mug, walked up a short ramp and through the doors to the home of the deliberative body itself. This is the part where I would be all awe-struck and enamored of the beauty and majesty of the home of the word's greatest democracy if I weren't running so late. Instead, I cut to the chase and asked yet another officer the way to the appointment desk (that's officer No. 5, by the way), where I asked the receptionist the way to the elevator (down the hall), where I came upon a bay of tiny, carpeted elevators.

They're very old-fashioned, with those dingy-dials on top that tell you which floor each elevator is on. There's one elevator that's for "Senators Only." Most people know this by the red-lit message next to the buttons that reads, "Senators Only." In my fluster, I missed this sign. Another officer kindly informed me that elevator is for, um, "Senators Only."

"Oh yeah, missed the sign," I said.

"Unless you are a Senator," he said with a grin.

"Not yet," I said, simultaneously realizing that I have no desire whatsoever to be a Senator and I had just told the same lame joke he'd probably heard from every 20-something, egotastic Hill staffer in the building (not that there's anything wrong with those folks...they're usually the ones who actually become Senators, so you gotta give that to 'em).

Sheepish once again, I spun around several times, elevators dinging on both sides of me, but the dang dingers are so old, you can't tell where they're coming from. I bounced from elevator to elevator like a pinball--ding, ding, ding--until I ended up back in front of the "Senators Only" elevator. I wasn't thinking; it was a Pavlovian response to all the dinging. The doors opened and a surly staffer on board (I think she was the button-pusher) said, "this one's for Members only." I averted my eyes from the officer, still standing nearby.

I finally made it onto an elevator, at which point I made it with a fair amount of ease up one floor, down two hallways (thanks to two more officers. Seriously, it's a maze in there, y'all), and into the Majority Leader's office, where Sen. Frist had a long conversation with bloggers about the death tax, off-shore drilling, judges, and his legacy.

Unfortunately, due to my travails, I have not the thorough notes I generally have after such a meeting, but I thought y'all might enjoy the virtual trip to the Capitol with me. I imagine Rob Bluey will have more up on this later tonight.

Dave Kralik was there, too, as were Jack Yoest, and the Spectator. I'll put up what I have in a bit.