Google+ Followers

Friday, March 28, 2008

Living On The Beltway

What does it mean to live most of one’s life in the suburbs of Washington, DC? The way I see it I don't live inside the Beltway, I don't live outside the Beltway, I live on the Beltway. "So what?" you think, "He is a typical DC commuter." Well, it is true that I've spent so much time schlepping (and sometimes schleeping) on 495 that I sometimes feel like mowing the grass between the inner and outer loops. But that's not it. Living "on the Beltway" is seeing the silly side of Washington, and sometimes the poignant side.

I was in sixth grade when I first moved into the Washington area. It was March and I felt out of place my first day joining an elementary-school classroom during the school year. Weird and ugly Betty (yes, her name actually was Betty) plops into the school desk right next to mine. I try moving my desk further away from her, but there's only so far one can go. Out of the blue she says, "I'm a Kennedy, you know."

I try to ignore her. She's fat, with stringy blonde hair, and she has coke-bottle glasses. She continues, "I'm a distant and poor cousin, but I got invited once to a White House party. I was playing in the kitchen with little Caroline, and the dumbwaiter stopped and opened right next to us, and the President was scrunched in it, with a woman, a blonde-haired woman." This was 1964. That conversation has stuck with me ever since. I thought at the time that she was the first insane person I had ever met, but weird and ugly Betty actually saw history. That is what living "On the Beltway" means: living among the little people of Washington (in this case, literally).

Like many of us on the Beltway, I've tried to get inside the Beltway. I was doing freelance writing for Senator Paula Hawkins. (Yes she was a Republican. Yes I was writing articles in favor of Reaganomics. No, I'm not a Republican.) After my fifth article for her, just when I thought I was going to get a permanent job on the Hill, she was shooting a film and a piece of the lighting fell from the ceiling and hit her in the neck. She had serious back problems from it and quit the Senate. There went my "inside the Beltway" career. Somebody up there didn't like me and obviously didn’t like her, but in our case it was the guy who sets up the studio lighting.

My son was editor of his high school newspaper. He attended a private school in the suburbs. The daughter of a Senator and vice-presidential candidate was on his staff. She rather obviously had a crush on him. He liked her too. But she was two years younger, she worked for him, it wouldn't have been appropriate. After graduating, though, as a college man, he came back to visit. He found her, he planned to ask her out. But she by now had a boyfriend and was no longer interested. On the Beltway, the Senator’s daughter is the fish that got away.

Every morning I see the ex-comptroller of the Defense department walking his dog. Without fail, the ex-undersecretary is reading the newspaper, not paying attention to his black and white mutt on a leash. But not this morning. Today (and yes this actually happened on the day I wrote these words), he was not there. When I arrived in synagogue, he was leading the services. The mother of the ex-DoD number two passed away eight days before. He happens also to be an ordained rabbi and he was saying mourning prayers for his mother. --On the Beltway poignant.

These are just a few of my "on the Beltway" stories. The father of a guy who probably would have been John McCain's Secretary of Defense told me his son grew up playing with toy soldiers and never stopped. An ex-boss of mine said how he loaded hundred dollar bills onto trucks to save the nation's banking on "Black Thursday." A beautiful older woman I work with was arrested breaking into the Capitol's men's sauna to tell William Proxmire that LBJ wanted him on the floor to vote for the Civil Rights Bill.

This is just a touch of what it means to live on the Beltway. I don't have much choice but to follow the political news very closely. One can't help but become involved in the life of Washington. One absorbs the politics through the pores.

No comments: