Friday, September 09, 2005

Senate Faux Pas

Today was one giant adventure. It started with me getting a security badge. Now I can ride the underground tram between the senate buildings and the capitol building, get into the staff section of the gallery, and sign for things at printing and graphics. Now that's power.

I spent most of the rest of the day answering constituent mail. But towards the end of the day, I was asked to do a sort of scavenger hunt to find all the important places that I will frequent as an intern. These places included the stationary shop, cafeteria, all three committee rooms my senator visits, and the senate post office. Then I was asked to find rooms in the Capitol. Here's where I made my blunder.

The tram between the senate buildings and the capitol is a string of 5 mostly glass cars that anyone with a badge (as well as tour groups) can use to get from place to place. The first car is for Senators only (so that they can get to their floor votes without dealing with hoards of people).

I climbed onto one of the back cars and watched as two men in suits climbed on and sat down in the seat across from me. They were very relaxed, slouching in their seats, laughing and joking together. Of course a terrified, young intern draws a little attention (I think people pity us), and the two men starting talking to me. They asked who I intern for, where I'm from, what I was doing today. I loosened up a bit and was joking and laughing with them. Then came my "Anne-of-Green-Gables" moment. I asked, "So, what do you do here?"

The younger of the two men holds his breath and looks expectantly at the other. The older man cocks his head, hesitates and, as a grin spreads across his face, slowly says, "oh, not much...I'm just a senator."

Yes, I'm an idiot. The men I had been joking with (not with deference by the way) turned out to be a senior senator and his aid. Worse: I had no idea which senator he was. After I had stopped choking on my fleeing dignity, I had to ask which state he represented and which senator he was. Mercifully, the tram had arrived at its destination and the Senator had to hurry away for a roll call vote. I was left to trudge through my embarrassment to my next destination.

The rest of the day went well. With the help of Capitol Security and a couple of plain clothes secret service officers, I was able to find the gallery, the cloakrooms (both the democratic and the republican), and, my favorite, the rotunda. The rotunda is the big dome you see in pictures of the capitol building. Many of you have probably been on a tour there and seen all of the huge, gilt-framed paintings of famous people, the marble floors, and the painted inside of a sky-scraping, hollow dome. But to stand in this room, by myself, realizing that I am one of a tiny percentage of people that will ever get the chance to do so...It took me minutes to breathe normally again.

I am not the girl that loves history or maintains an overwhelming sense of patriotism. I am more likely to protest against our administration than participate in it. But every time I walk into the capitol building or even into the dingy Dirksen offices, I am in awe of how much work gets done, how brilliant the people are, how amazing our government really is.

Let's just hope (cross your fingers) that if I ever work full time in the legislature that a certain senior senator doesn't remember the silly intern he met on the senate tram.