Maybe it’s a spring ritual here in Washington - an excuse to get outside when the weather is warming up. Or maybe they just have more fires here.
On Capitol Hill today, there were THOUSANDS of people out on the streets. Now, Congress is not in session and it’s been pretty quiet. Not today. At first, it looked like several busloads of tourists had just arrived, all patiently waiting in line for a peek at the halls of power.
But no, these were staffers, standing a line two blocks long, waiting to get through security to get back into their House office building.
Turns out, it was a fire drill…for ALL of Capitol Hill. Everyone was in a jolly mood…mostly because it was a nice day outside for a change. Sunshine instead of two days of rain and temps that keep dipping back into the lower 40’s.
It’s opening day for the Dodgers in Los Angeles…and for the Nationals here in Washington DC.
You think traffic on the Pasadena Freeway is bad? You should see the DC Metro this afternoon! Every rail car was PACKED with Nats fans wearing bright red team gear. And every subway station in the vicinity was jammed with THOUSANDS of people packed shoulder to shoulder along the edge of the subway track. It looked like Tokyo at rush hour. And more than a bit scary as folks pushed further and further toward the edge of the platform. Folks were not happy when the train arrived and was too full to take on another customer. It was also clear that more than a few of those Nationals fans had started drinking long before the game was scheduled to begin.
In Los Angeles, Vin Scully threw out the first pitch. Here in Washington, President Obama was supposed to throw out the first pitch, but he begged off. Apparently, he had 30,000 children and their parents wandering all over the White House lawn, rolling eggs and looking for the new First Puppy.
It’s very, very quiet here.
The halls of Congress are usually busy with young staffers walking briskly beside a House member, briefing them on this or that on the way to a meeting. (You can tell the Congressional member…at least most of the time: they’re the ones wearing the lapel pin. Of course, Barney Frank didn’t wear his and doesn’t look like his pictures and was only identifiable after he’d opened his mouth…but that’s another story..)
Usually, there are LOTS of Capitol Police in the hallways. And folks from various interest groups - everyone from Maryland farmers in checked shirts to Alzheimers research advocates wearing purple sashes - calling on members, asking for support. The sound of elevators dinging is constantly in the air. And this sense of business and busyness goes on till quite late in the evening.
Last night, the Congressional Black Caucus returned from Cuba. One of those in the delegation was Long Beach Democrat Laura Richardson. This was Richardson’s first trip to Cuba. And during a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, she asked if they could meet with his brother Fidel. It turned out to be the first time (that we know of) that US officials have met with the Cuban revolutionary leader since his intestinal surgery three years ago.
Richardson said she wasn’t even born when Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution. And she came to Cuba expecting to see what others had told her about modern Cuba: people without shoes, without jobs, without even ice cream. Instead, she said, she saw Cubans in better situations than people in parts of her own district. Her district includes Watts and Compton, where unemployment is over 18 percent. Richardson said unlike southern California, in Cuba she didn’t see “rows of homeless people,” she didn’t see “trash,” or “mentally ill people living under bridges.” Instead, she said she saw “a community where they may not have much,” but people were “working, taking care of their families.” She also praised Cuban health care and education, and pointed out that one of her own constituents from Long Beach is attending medical school on a complete scholarship. “Where’s that happening in my district?” she asked.