Tuesday, June 07, 2005

D.C.: Where Idealism Goes to Die

I am not a politician by nature. Sure, Leos are supposed to be great schmoozers, great butter-uppers, great at working a room and I guess I am, to some extent. But I use this skill to a) find a boyfriend or b) make friends with someone who will help me find a boyfriend c) get myself out of trouble. The idea of showing up at work, calling people who have no interest in talking to me, fielding letters from angry old ladies and pot-smoking liberal arts students and trying to stick to my ideals in the face of large sums of money to just fucking forget it isn't my cup of tea.
Until Friday, I'd never been to D.C. Somehow I avoided weekend-long field trips in high school (since I wasn't in band) and never made it down during college. Since my Mom and I were driving right through on our road trip, we decided to spend the afternoon in our nation's capital. My mother clung to the door, flinching as I navigated the traffic by Union Station and didn't relax until I parked her SUV in a narrow parking spot and turned the car off. We went into the station to find the trolley tour. My Mom has near-crippling arthritis in her right hip (the left hip was replaced last year). We navigated the train station slowly as she limped along. It was difficult for both my Mom and I-- she's relatively young, so she gets frustrated with the lack of mobility and I get frustrated because we can't do as much. So we decided to take a trolley tour that would bring us by all the monuments we wanted to see without walking.
After scarfing down a wrap, we waited in the drizzle for a less-crowded trolley to come along. One finally came, and we boarded the trolley. Our driver's name was Butch (not Butch of the South Shore, Boston, but Butch of The South, USA). He was amiable enough, but my Mom had a hard time understanding him with his low voice and heavy Southern accent.
We pulled out of Union Station, Butch navigating the thick traffic expertly in the large green and orange bus. The Capitol Building came into view in pieces through the trees. As we got closer, Butch stopped the trolley at a checkpoint.
"We're about to be boarded, y'all," he informed us in a conspiring tone, "just hang tight."
Butch opened the door to the federal agent, who literally climbed onto the bottom step of the bus, peeked his head up like an infant playing peek-a-boo, scanned the bus with his blue eyes, saw that no brown people were on the bus, nodded to Butch and allowed us to pass. Before the agent left the bus I was laughing and my Mom was rolling her eyes.
"Good thing I tucked the dynamite under my sweater this time," I murmured to my mother. She shushed me, but she was laughing.
The Capitol is huge. It looks big on television, but when it's right in front of you it cuts a much more imposing figure than the wide pan on NBC Nightly News leads you to believe. That much white marble, that many white pillars and a dome huger than Lindsay Lohan's bobblehead are scary sights to behold. I guess the earlier inhabitants decided to make everything grandiose and huge to intimidate any invaders who may pass through. "That's a big fucking building, you guys. Let's just trash the Gap instead."
"At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the Capitol Bulding," Butch said, "and on the other end is the White House. You used to be able to see one from the other, but Andrew Jackson put a building in the way. He didn't want to see no 'rapscallions in Congress' from the White House. Now if y'all know what a rapscallion is, please let me know. I don't know what no rapscallion is, but I know that the man didn't like the people in Congress. So that's where the treasury building is."
We went by the Japanese-American Soldiers of World War II monument, which is also the monument to people who died in internment camps. We drove by the Washington Monument. We drove by the World War II memorial. The Jefferson Memorial. The FDR Memorial. The Korean Memorial. The Vietnam Memorial. Ford's Theater. Memories of dead people everywhere. As Butch played a clip on Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech over the speakers I got a little choked up. I saw the huge monuments to men who gave their lives to America, who worked hard in that city to make America the place that idealists believe it can be-- a place of equality, where everyone is taken care of, where people are as close to equal and free as they can be-- and thought about Dr. King, who worked so hard and was killed for his beliefs. Then I thought about modern politicians, who play only to their popularity, who try to rock the boat as little as possible. There are some politicians who try to stick to their beliefs. Howard Dean gets into trouble bimonthly for saying something inflammatory about the Republican party. In my very short visit in D.C., it seems to me that idealism dies in that town. People go with the best of intentions, but the weight of the marble buildings and the raging tide of "just do what's best for you and say the right things and someday you'll be President, boy!" pulls them away and a) burns them out or b) turns them into the same mindless suit-wearing drones on 24-hour news channels.
I'm down on America a lot of the time-- my room has more United Kingdom paraphanalia than a tourist store in Heathrow airport, I make endless toothless redneck jokes-- but I really want America to be what it set out to be. I want America to be a place where people can make their own choices about reproduction, about who they marry, about what God they believe in or don't believe in. This country is like a particularly bright student who just doesn't give a shit-- America has all the potential to be great and squanders it on pointless wars and poll numbers. I love this crazy country, with it's Bible-thumpers, the housewives, the ruthless businesswomen, the frustrated writers (whoot!), it's go-get-'em attitude, french fries, drive-through liquor stores, endless television violence but no televised boobies. I like that we're weird and annoying, but I want us to try to better ourselves and lead by example for real.
Then our little orange and green trolley drove by the White House. Oddly enough, the White House looks much more imposing and grand on television than it does in person. It's on a hill, but it looks dinky compared to the Capitol.
"The flag's on the roof," Butch said with reverence in his voice, "which means the President is at home."
Most of the bus oohed and snapped pictures, but I found the one lull in noise to make an audible wild animal hiss in the direction of the White House. I figured I wouldn't be that close to Shrub for quite some time, so I decided to send the bad vibes his way while I was within earshot of the secret service super-tuned microphones. Thanks for fucking with social security, a woman's right to choose, stem cell research and church and state separation, jerk.
Butch drove by some more museums, but it was getting late and my Mom was wincing from sitting on the hard seat for an hour and a half so we didn't get a chance to stop and see anything. I'd like to return to D.C. on a day when it's not consistently drizzling and I have the chance to walk around these huge monuments to dead idealists. I hope that the idealists are still around, trying to change America for the better.

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Sadly, the rain prevented me from my dream of sitting on the Capitol steps and singing "I'm just a bill" very quietly. I'm just a bill, yes I'm only a bill, and I'm sittin' here on Capitol Hill...

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