Thursday, May 01, 2008

To be in D.C. in the springtime

One of the great things about D.C. is that there is always something going on. When you work there, it's old hat, maybe even annoying -- maybe you don't even notice the latest demonstration or rally. But to us rubes from the hinterlands, it's wildly entertaining. Anything's better than sitting on the general store bench watching yet another tumbling tumbleweed blow by.

When I was visiting the Capitol this week, Dick Cheney and his entourage blew by. I was just minding my own business, sauntering along the sidewalk past a demonstration of disabled Americans in motorized wheelchairs, when I came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the U.S. Capitol vehicle entrance. A crowd of people I took for tourists lined the sidewalk, waiting for something. A half-dozen cops milled about. I was on the cell phone, trying to straighten out a situation at home (the cattle had stampeded again!) and I thought that the cops were stopping us so the wheelchair-bound protesters could pass by.

Just as I was ringing off, a posse of official Harleys started up with a rattling roar, and a trio of Capitol Cop cars started to roll down the driveway. Then all the sirens came on, and a fleet of black limos and SUVs pulled out of the bowels of the Capitol Building and rolled down the drive. They moved fast, but the tourists lining the street had their cameras out, wildly snapping photos. I asked the guy nearest to me if this was the president's motorcade. "No, it's the vice president." I stepped away from the curb, as if burned by the cinders of hellfire. The Prince of Darkness was passing by. I suppose I should have bowed my head and uttered a prayer to St. Michael to protect me from the fiend. But I stood gawking along with my fellow gawkers. One black SUV had its window open and inside was a soldier in black cradling an automatic weapon. Now that's firepower!

The motorcade passed in a flash, although we could hear the sirens for another five minutes. I thought to myself that the Veep's pals in the oil and gas business would be mighty proud of their boy on this day. That V.I.P. parade was burning some prodigious amounts of fuel. And they must do this every day that Congress is in session, as the Veep is president of the Senate, standing by the break a tie on the Republican side. What sort of nefarious deeds had he been up to on this day, I wondered.

The rest of my afternoon was uneventful. I walked back to my hotel via the National Mall. I stopped for a few minutes on a bench by the National Gallery of Art fountains. I occasionally ate my lunches here when I worked in D.C. Always cooler here in the summer, with the trees and the mist blowing off the fountains. Nobody ever bothers you, unless it's some tourists looking for a bystander to take a group photo.

I visited the World War II Memorial for the first time. It's strangely bland, especially in comparison to the legendary Vietnam Wall and the stark soldier statues at the Korean War Memorial. The more controversial the war, the more invigorating the monument. Not sure if that's true. If it is, the Iraq War Memorial slated for the Mall some time in the next 20 years will be a doozy. I always linger by the Vietnam Memorial (shown above). I'm not a Vietnam veteran, but a product of those times. Something haunting about the black granite wall that will never leave me.

I recall the turmoil surrounding the memorial's design. "A black gash of shame," one critic called it. But it was promoted by Vets and had enough clout on Capitol Hill to weather the storm. The day I was there, a steady stream of tourists walked the path that flanks the wall. One young kid was doing a rubbing of one of the 58,000 names. Maybe he was a grandson or a relative, or maybe doing it for a class assignment. A group of Chinese tourists filed by. Couples and families. Some of the men looked old enough to be vets, but one can't be sure. The Wall draws all kinds. Some, obviously, have never been here. Like the guy who lives in this very white house....

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