E Pluribus Unum

Trip Start Jun 09, 2009
Trip End Jun 23, 2009

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Monday, June 15, 2009

My hand crept out from under the fluffy covers of the Hyatt Regency heavenly bed, and began fishing with a pouncing down palm, looking to quiet the screeching alarm that broke the early morning silence. Once my eyes were able to focus on the time, I was up and at 'em…as I had a very important date and I didn't want to be late.  To the Hill!

Early morning warm light from the east provided wonderful shades of amber and orange to shoot exteriors of the nation’s Capitol.  No tourists about….only a distant street sweeper and the hissing sound of sprinklers watering the perfectly manicured surrounding lawns.  First stop was to the Library of Congress.  Built just before the turn of the 20th century, the Italian Renaissance architecture provides one of the most colorful buildings in all of white marbled Washington.  Home to one of five original Guttenberg Bibles, millions of books, and the setting for movies such as "All the President’s Men," and “National Treasure.”  Our docent was a wonderfully tiny silver-haired lady aged perfectly with a librarian’s wisdom who told us great antic dotes of the building.  Like one fact that there was no electricity in the building when it was built.  Thomas Edison worked on his light bulb invention within its walls, and to honor him there are only fixtures with exact replicas of his light bulb within them.  What was wonderful about a Congressional tour was we got in two hours before everyone else, so we shared the joint with about 20 other folks.  Very moving.  We even walked through Thomas Jefferson’s complete collection of books, even his secret stash which contained books about other religions and books in other languages.  If that was made public at the time he was running for office or while in office…it would have been what our docent said the end of his career.

On to the highest court in the land…the Supreme Court.  Can I be honest with you?  Of all we have seen so far….this was the least impressive.  The line was rather long, the guards (for some reason…maybe a power play) we exceptionally rude, and the shuffled us long a line which opening into a 22-inch door with a red rope in front.  One very large Samuel L Jackson looking guard made it very clear to me that NO PICTURES would be allowed.  I didn’t have my lens cap off, but I was not going to argue.  I mean, who would…he was important cause he had a pressed suit and that clear ear piece thing that dangled into the neck of his jacket and into his left cuff which was some kind of mike.  So for all of 18-20 seconds I was able to peer into the Supreme chamber….and to my surprise, there was NO Diana Ross.

Moving on!  We stop for lunch on the south side of the House Cannon Office Building at a wonderful little French Café.  I needed something to eat after my brow bashing at the home of the Supremes.

We were now ready to head to Rep. Pete Olson’s office.  Into the less-than-ornate House Office complex across the street from the Capitol, we walked down very stale corridors with nothing but the US Flag and the Rep’s state flag draped on either side of the simple wood door with a simple brass plate on it.  We walked....521….522…..523…..524…..ah, 525.  The plate said… “Pete Olson, Texas.”  We met the wonderful staff and had a look into the Congressman’s office.  Decorated like a college dorm room, the Freshman Rep of Texas’ 22nd had footballs from Rice, Helmuts from UT, and plaques and grip n grin shots with all the mucky mucks covering almost every inch of his walls.  Tiny office too.  Prob 20x20 at the most.  He was not in, just landed at Reagan we were told, coming in from the weekend in Sugar Land.

Down the underground tunnel we went.  Our group of 10 locals were shuttled ahead of the hour and a half wait to get under the rotunda.  "We're walking....we're walking." When we did we were told of great facts about the Capitol, the Original Senate Chamber, Statuary Hall, and the highlight – watching Congress in action from the visitor’s gallery above.  The tremendous history and power had such a heavy feeling on my shoulders.  In this very room is the State of the Union, previous impeachment votes, FDR’s famed “The only thing we have to fear….” after Pearl Harbor, just to name a few.  The Master-at-Arms in the gallery were so accommodating and answered questions of our small group in a whisper as to not disturb the proceedings below.  One sole camera is the only camera allowed in the House and that is the pool cam of C-Span.  Anyone else….no mas!  It was the House Foreign Relations Committee voting on funds to help the Italian Government rebuild after the April earthquake over there. 

As I sitting there watching this I looked up above the Speaker’s chair (which incidentally the room looks so much smaller than it does on TV) but I looked above her chair and saw E Pluribus Unum carved in the thick white marble above the huge vertically draped American flag.  How true that was! Out of Many…One.  Here little ol me was here, watching my government in action.  Me out of 300 million in this country, and I still have access to my leaders.  Say what you will about our government or the parties they affiliate themselves with…but very few other places on earth can I phone up my rep in Washington, go INTO his office, and see where he works, and then have the opportunity to log my opinions with him.  Democracy at its finest.

 So no shots of the House but some lovely stuff in the Capitol.  Hope the pics can somewhat convey this history, the power, and prestige of our Nation’s core.

The late afternoon approaches well after we leave so not much time other than grabbing a burger at the bottom of the Hill at a place called Bullfeathers.  This 100 year old haunt was a favorite watering hole of Teddy Roosevelt who often liked to use the word Bull_____.  Well the ladies of the day were not delighted by the President’s vernacular and asked him to use a substitute.  Annoyed with the huge plumes on the top of their “little pin heads” (he called em_….he used Bullfeathers instead.  TR used to just hop on his horse or take the buggy ALONE, and go have a cigar and a drink sometimes to get out of the White House.  Can you imagine?

Close to our hotel was the National Portrait Gallery which to my surprise was open til 7.  We had time….lets go check out some paintings.  Great work spanning many centuries but most impressive was the hall of Presidents.  What the pictures don’t show you were audio bites (played by actors in the earlier Presidents) and real recordings of the later ones of famous lines or speeches while you looked at their image.  Spent the better part of 2.5 hours inching along the softly lit walls.

After such a successful day we thought….lets head to Foggy Bottom for some dinner!  On the metro we went and wouldn’t you know it…(Mr. Know-it-All DC) Dax Nesossi gets us off on the wrong stop.  We were at GW University instead.  “Let’s walk over to it…” I demanded, sure of my great grasp of navigation.  Left turn and SMACK, we walk right into the Watergate Hotel.  And just our luck, I can’t find how to get back to the Metro and we are now officially lost.  We were able to find the top of the Washington Monument so we kept moving toward that.  Directions?  Not a chance.  The place was a ghost town….remember college is out.  For those familiar with DC, we walked clear from Watergate all the way past the White House to the nearest station at Chinatown!  It is now past 10 mind you and we get back to our station at Union and NOTHING is open.  NOTHING!  Except the wonderful little quaint bistro across the way from the station.  Finally we can eat!   I had the number 4, and Brian had the number 1 with no pickles.  Thank heavens McDonalds takes debit cards now…I was also out of cash.

Feet super sore, and belly burning a bit from that delicious fare, I now retire to my quarters for the evening.  Not worried about the calories though, I think I am actually losing weight with all of this walking.

Incredible day.  Just when you think you have been awed….you get awed again.  The dome’s lights continue to pierce the hotel curtains tonight.  Very proud of this democracy they built over 200 years ago.  Brilliant men.  I like the quote I saw on his statue today in the rotunda…. “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

E Pluribus Unum.  Dispatch out.
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