Observations from Inauguration Weekend in D.C.
1) D.C. is not New York
Everyone knows this, but I think what struck me was exactly how D.C. was not New York. I expected it to be wonky, for everyone to be talking about politics. But no, the people I met were talking about the people who they hate in their offices, and what they did last night at the bar, and Facebook (naturally), and how they met their wives.
The closest thing I had to a policy conversation was with the guy -- who looked a bit like Hunter S. Thompson, and cultivated it by smoking those skinny cigars -- who had just inherited a bunch of money and wanted to use it to create a completely self-sustainable community. I thought that was a cool idea. Until we started getting into the details.
"So you want to create something like this and then replicate it?"
"Oh yeah, and there are already a lot of them, all over the place." At this point, he sidled closer to me by the fireplace. "It's this whole idea of community that I really dig. A community that's truly open, sharing everything, including sexually."
I leaned in the other direction. "Huh."
"Yeah, a lot of the whole idea of the hippy communes was being polyamorous. I've been looking into that."
"Right. But, I mean, isn't it sort of contradictory, that sustainability is about taking complete responsibility, and free love is about totally evading responsibility?"
"Well, I don't know about that. You know, if everyone knows about it and it's all out in the open and everyone's into it…Though, actually, I've been having trouble finding women who are into it."
"Yeah, I can imagine you might. Have you tried California?"
"Yeah, the California women are especially not into it. I don't get it."
I looked at his balding, pony-tailed head, this man pushing 50 and using sustainability to get sex, and had to admit that I did get it.
"Well…good luck with that!" I went to get more red wine.
The second closest thing I had to a policy conversation took a really long time to get to the policy.
"Oh, so you're a filmmaker?"
"Yeah, I'm making this film about --"
"I've got a film you should make."
"Yeah. It'd be about the drug trade, but it wouldn't really be about the drug trade, it would be about all of these conversations that would happen along the way. You know, these little vinuets --"
"Vin -- vin whats?"
"-- kinda like Pulp Fiction, but not exactly. More of an exploration of, you know, interesting stuff."
"Interesting." Which generally means the opposite when I say it, because I say it because I have nothing else to say.
"I mean, it might not have the panachay of your Hollywood movies --"
"-- but I think it would make a lot of money. I think it would be really good. With really good music. Do you have music for your film yet? Because I write music."
"Oh. Do you have a website?"
"No, I'm trying to get a few really good pieces together first -- I keep playing them for my friends and they're like, 'Yeah, that one's good, I'd buy that one.' Here."
He handed me his card. It said "Department of Transportation."
"There's no info on there about my music, actually. I work for the DOT on trying to create greener bus systems and stuff."
"Oh, really?" Here we go, I thought, finally.
"That must've been hard to do under this administration."
"Yeah, we had this science worked out a long time ago, it all got buried. I wrote this really important paper, I mean we had a crackpot team of people on this thing --"
"Um, do you mean 'crack' --"
"And nobody wanted to pay attention to it."
"Huh. I wonder why."
"But anyway, I don't think you should buy my music before you listen to it, though I know it'd be perfect for your film. What'd you say it was about again?"
When I told my friend about this conversation later, she asked, "Was English his first language? He had a ponytail." Lotta ponytails.
"Well, he had no accent." I looked at his card. "And his name is Bob Jones."
I guess all this proves is that government has wanna-bes just like the film business -- who also try to impress you in all the wrong ways.
2) Every other person in D.C. is a lawyer.
3) Every other lawyer in D.C. works for the Department of Homeland Security
I think this has something to do with the fact that so many departments got bundled into DHS, and then renamed something else, so when they say they work for ICE, that's another term for a new division of the INS. So in other words, we've all gotta learn new acronyms just to figure out what has happened to the government in the last 8 years.
4) …And yet, they can't get you into the friggin' inauguration concert.
What is up with that??? I mean, they all have badges, and the friend I went with apparently has the biggest and shiniest of all, because she's ranked high enough that she's actual law enforcement. But no.
Her biggest complaint was that she kept on getting automated cell phone calls telling her that they'd raised the terror alert level to orange -- she was the terror alert coordinator of something for her department.
"God, will they just leave me alone?" she said when her phone rang for the fifth time. "Orange alert, big whoop. What else is new."
5) Everyone who is not a lawyer and doesn't have a government job does nothing, or something kinda, well, boring.
Out of the other people I met, several had money and so had no need to work (the woman who hosted one party was the Bob's Big Boy heiress, another guy came from old Washington money of a more nebulous sort); one was a former bike messenger who now was owner of a medium-sized bike messenger business, and was one of the only people I have ever met at a party that I really and truly could not figure out how to make conversation with; and one made eyeglasses (who the aforementioned people actually made seem interesting, until he explained that he doesn't design them, he just actually puts the lenses and the frames together). The most interesting conversation (where I did not feel like I was being propositioned for polyamorousness) I had was with someone who works in IT. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I guess I just expected more.
Oh -- there was the woman who at some point mentioned that she'd been giving stripping lessons. But I came into that conversation too late to get all the details.
6) Even the people who seemed more wrapped up in their own panachay and didn't want to talk about the inauguration –- unless they were talking about who had tickets to what ball -- were excited.
It was palpable. Not just everyone at the party, but everyone at the concert, even though we couldn't get closer than 5 football fields' distance from the stage, was laughing and chatting like we all knew each other.
Woman with punk eyeliner and dyed black hair: "Is that him?"
Woman in funny hat: "It doesn't sound like him."
My friend with the badge: "That's Denzel! It sounds like Denzel."
Woman obsessed with Bruce Springsteen: "Oh, it's my boyfriend!"
Woman with punk eyeliner: "Who's singing with him? Is that Sheryl Crow?"
Me: "No, too big a voice for Sheryl Crow."
Guy with binoculars: "I can't see who it is but it's definitely not Sheryl Crow."
Woman obsessed with Bruce Springsteen: "Oh, I just LOVE him!!!"
One woman was showing around a snapshot of Obama laughing at the camera. "It was at a fundraiser before he announced he was running. I was trying to get a shot of George Clooney, and he was in the way, so I asked him to move. He said, 'What, I don't even get a picture?' So I took the picture just to make him happy."
He did look really happy, confident in his own destiny. She also got the shot of Clooney.
And everyone was happy, just plain psyched. People getting off the Metro, packed together like sardines, were talking to the people whose armpits they'd just had their faces in. People were giving strangers their e-mails and asking them to come stay with them in Minnesota (okay, maybe that was just one of my friends, she's very hospitable). People who didn’t like Garth Brooks (including me) were singing along to "American Pie." Even the people who had the "ARREST GEORGE BUSH" signs -- one guy had "ARREST CHENEY FIRST" -- and were handing out cards telling people to give him the finger as he flew away from the White House were giddy, even joyous in their hatred, and the thrill of his imminent departure.
I think that's the best way to describe it: joyous.
7) Barack Obama looks even better on a jumbotron.
Welcome to a new era, my friends.