Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To See the President (Sort of) – Part II of a Brief Sojourn in the US Capitol

I’m staying in DC with my good friends Rob and Elisa, whose hospitality never ceases to amaze me. I met them years ago in Guatemala, when I needed an emergency root canal. They took me in and gave me a place to stay, and we’ve been friends ever since. This time, they’ve put me up in their lovely basement guest room in Northwest DC, and I’m deeply, deeply grateful.

I ended the conference over a delicious French dinner with Lisa and a lovely woman named Lotus, an activist from Berkeley – but I woke up the next morning to four inches of snow and a case of the flu. Rob and Elisa’s kids went sledding, while I sipped hot tea and went back to bed. Tuesday I wasn’t feeling much better, but I managed to get myself out of the house in order to get some paperwork signed at the Department of the Interior.

To get there, I took a city bus that dropped me off near the White House. I was delighted to see that the barricades erected during the Bush/Cheney years are now gone, and the White House is once again visible from the street. There were even some people protesting in front of the gate, without police harassment, including a very effective group dressed as prisoners from Guantamo Bay.

As I made my way closer to the Department of the Interior, I began to notice more and more police cars on the street, then cars from Homeland Security and Federal Protective Services.
Men in suits with curly wires in their ears stood in clumps around the building. The security around the building was a lot tighter than it appeared at the White House! When I got up to the entrance, I was told it was closed, and that I’d have to retrace my steps two blocks to the back entrance. Turns out, I’d picked March 3rd to run my errand – the 160th anniversary of the Department of the Interior – and President Obama had decided at the last minute to come and make a speech at the anniversary celebrations. Go figure.

I retraced my steps to the back entrance, dropped off my paperwork (the guy I wanted to have sign it was busy waiting for the President), then I waited in the icy cold hoping to spot President Obama as he walked in. After half an hour I finally gave up and hailed a cab – but no sooner had I closed the cab door than the sirens started and traffic stopped, and a few minutes later the motorcade passed in front of us. I grabbed my camera, and this is all I was able to see:

But I’ve zoomed in on this photo, and I think I see the President’s silhouette in the window. I swear he’s looking right at me, and smiling.

Once the motorcade passed, the cab took me to the National Museum of the American Indian, where I met an old friend for lunch. The Museum is a treasure, and worth a visit if only for a delicious meal served in its magnificent cafeteria – all of the food indigenous, and organized by tribal region. (They didn't, of course, have any Chamorro food. Maybe someone should suggest it. How cool would that be, to get chicken kelaguen on the Mall?!) I only had an hour and a half to spend visiting the museum itself, which was nowhere near enough time to take in all the stories, exhibits, films, artifacts… but enough to know I need to go back again.

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