I'm nobody's stranger (or nobody's stranger than me, I sometimes forget), so I had a lot of great conversations. There was the couple (Scott and Michelle) at the bar; Scott went to Lewis and Clark in Portland and felt it was more important to discuss microbrews with me than pay attention to Michelle, which I can excuse because, hell, I've done the same if not worse...
I sat up for hours at the U Street Bed and Breakfast with two nice women from Holland talking about how America isn't really as bad as it looks from the outside. When I asked them what they thought of Sarah Palin they laughed and said, "We just thought she was funny." I told her we can laugh now that she didn't make it to office. They corrected my pronunciation of Ikea, and I gave a lengthy lecture on how Madoff was able to embezzle 50 billion dollars right under everyone's noses.
Although I had solid meetings two of the four full days I was there, I did get some sightseeing in. The day I went to the National Archives, I also wandered up the street to the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery. It was probably the most interesting gallery I've seen, with photographs, paintings, and sculpture spanning the ages from before the US was formed through today.
I went in part because I had seen an article in the Washington Post that they had changed the caption on George W. Bush's portrait to reflect the fact that 9/11 wasn't the direct cause of the war in Iraq. For the record, I saw the new caption, and can confirm the change was made.
Probably the most stunning work I saw there was by Martin Schoeller, a native of Germany who now lives and works in New York and "honed his skills by working with Annie Leibovitz." The oversized closeup shots of unknowns and celebrities are amazing, including side by side portraits of Obama and McCain, which this image doesn't do justice:
On Thursday, while walking to the Metro station after meetings in the Rayburn Building, I stopped into the original Smithsonian building (the "Castle") on the Mall -- I was just freezing in the wind, not really looking for another museum. But, visiting from Oregon, I couldn't resist snapping a picture of Phil Knight's old license place:
Of course, the city is gearing up big time for the Inauguration. There is everything Obama -- vendors everywhere selling everything Obama, of course, but corporate cashing in with big banners saying "Yes We Can!" stretched across building and all the Metro tickets have an image of Obama with the January 20th below.
Most interesting to me was the Pepsi advertising in the Metro stations proclaiming "hope" with a big Pepsi logo replacing the O in Hope:
And the preparations for the Inauguration are everywhere. I've already mentioned the portable toilets (or "Dixies" as the ladies from Holland referred to them), but the Capitol itself is under siege by electricians and audio/video people.
Even small spaces where Obama will just be walking through, are covered in extension cords and A/V cabling. Every step, every scratch of the nose, will be videoed as he makes his way to and from the ceremony.
I didn't take of pictures of the law enforcement as I kind of like my camera phone, but suffice to say the place is crawling with them. They're on every corner, every stairway, every sidewalk, and, of course, every rooftop. They seemed nice enough on Friday when I was at the Capitol, but they seemed strained already, I can only wonder how their spirits will be by Tuesday.
Finally, a note on getting out of town on Saturday -- National was quiet, but not as quiet as I expected. The TSA guy checking my boarding pass said the Friday was a zoo, understandably. Friday's normally a busy day with business folks heading home, but federal workers in DC have both Monday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) AND Tuesday off for the Inauguration. Take Friday off and you've got a five day weekend.
Who needs to stay in an overrun town when you could spend five days in Mazatlan?