Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mr. O'Connor Goes to Washington, Day Three

Friday night was a blast but it made the 6:15 AM wake up call come too early. My Government Affairs Committee meeting began promptly at 7:30 AM, and since they paid the bill I was obliged to be on time. The association's Washington offices are two blocks from the White House so I was anxious to see if there was a good view. At least that is what I was thinking as I said hello to the Indian man who passed me walking briskly. He hesitated at the corner and asked if I was heading to 1717 North Pennsylvania and we were happy to discover we were both headed to the same meeting and so we shared good conversation along the rest of the walk. I soon discovered that he emigrated to the US a decade ago but decided not to jump through the hoops that were necessary in order to continue practicing medicine and had instead gone back into health care administration. His son is a 4th year medical student in Washington so he visits regularly. I got some good recommendations for authentic Indian restaurants mixed in with his views on what was in store for us and suddenly we were at the entrance to the building. Even though the inauguration had occurred four days earlier, or perhaps due to the buildings location, security was tight. We had to be buzzed in, screened and signed in before we were escorted to the 6th floor. It was a beautiful office building designed so that I felt important just being allowed inside!
The meeting was quite exciting, although it was full of subject matter that would make most peoples eyes glaze over. Lots of lobbyists spoke, policy makers weighed in, and I was pleased that my feedback and input seemed to have some value. I also discovered that people were keen to discover what happens in Montana thanks to Senator Baucus saying he would rely heavily on input from Montana physicians and patients when crafting his legislation on health reform. The time flew and it was 2:00 PM before I knew it...side highlight was getting to go up to the roof top for an eagle eye view of the White House and stories of sharp shooters planted there during the inauguration parade.
After getting back to the hotel and meeting up with Jen (who'd spent the day in Georgetown soaking it in), we were disappointed to discover our camera was missing. We believe it was stolen, either from the restaurant coat room or our hotel room , but couldn't rule out the scenario that we'd lost it ourselves. We spent the next hour walking around trying to find a camera store and then spending money we don't have on a new one that was far more than needed. Some grumpiness ensued but we fought through it and trotted off to continue the adventure. Despite itself, Washington is a real city, full of real people doing all sorts of things besides government work. Once we got the camera and our bearings we realized we were in the heart of a vibrant, busy city full of people scurrying about in their own worlds. But we refocused on the task at hand, being tourists and taking in the good stuff. We headed down to the White House, the Ellipse and then Washington Monument. The front view of the White House was blocked mostly, due to bleachers and the official viewing stand, which were all in different stages of disassembling, so we weren't able to see much other than all the other folks trying to get the same shots as us. The rear view though was awesome and we just stood, half expecting the President to come out on the balcony and wave to the crowds. The Ellipse was fenced into sections and otherwise not worth mentioning other than the wind that began to sweep across the open space and nip at our necks. By the time we reached the lines of Thai-manned vending trailers, the day had suddenly turned bitter cold and nasty, with strong winds which forced us to bail on our planned walk of the war memorials and Lincoln's Monument. We tried to fight it and walked to the Washington Monument, but by the time we neared the base we were walking backwards against strong winds. We could see Small dust tornadoes whipping up on the Mall. After a brief huddle to discuss our options, we opted to abandon our planned walk back to Foggy Bottom and headed straight for the Metro, which was filled with many cold and dazed folks just happy to be out of the wind.
After a quick warm-up in the hotel, we took my new friend Pawan's advice and headed into Georgetown for Indian food at the Taj of India. It is a delightful little restaurant just across the bridge on M Street that seems to have as many waiters as patrons, but soon the place filled and once the food began arriving we knew we'd hit a great spot. Authentic and varied, the Taj features options from many regions of India, although it seems as though the main focus is on northern and eastern Indian cuisine. I really didn't see much in the way of southern Indian choices, but since I love the gravies and sauces of northern Indian cuisine, I was quite satisfied. The food was outstanding, as was the service and the prices were some of the best we experienced our whole trip. I'm told DC is a "foodies" paradise and everything I saw suggests this to be true, we just didn't have enough time to take in all the local offerings.
After fully stuffing ourselves (Jen got a vegetarian sampler platter that could have easily fed both of us) we hiked back up to Foggy Bottom where we caught the free shuttle to the Kennedy Center. I managed to score two seats in the Orchestra level of the Opera House for the 9:30 PM Bill Cosby performance. We loved the Kennedy Center and Bill Cosby was hilarious. He is still an amazing performer, especially in light of the way he performs...no profanity, no direct sexual content, no disparaging remarks...just great storey telling and down to earth humor. He told a very long story about the woman who has cooked for him the past 40 years and at the end of the performance he introduced her...she was sitting in the front row and he had brought her out to see the inauguration. I expected him to talk about the inauguration or President Obama, but he only made one brief mention of the new President, much to the delight of the crowd. The place was packed and the earlier show was sold out. He still has it going on and had everyone bellowing with laughter at points in the performance. After the show, we crowded back onto the bus where I promptly started taking pictures and began chatting with anyone that would listen letting them know we were in all the way from Montana. Most everyone humored me, including my wife. The bus let us off two blocks from the hotel and we retired for the evening, shortly after midnight, knowing our big day was the next.
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