Sunday, May 15, 2005

From the Capitol

I was in DC last week. Yes, at the same time a plane innocently flew in restricted airspace and sent the city - or at least the federal offices in the city - into a tailspin. (Local news on the hotel tv the next morning featured the mayor furious because he hadn't been informed of what was going on until after the fact.) I was stuck in the basement of a hotel a mile or so from the White House, ably manning a booth in an exhibit hall that seemed like a dungeon, but in retrospect is probably a safe place to be.

Anyhow. On the first day, I had several free hours and so wandered out to walk the city. You don't know how refreshing it is to be at a conference in a real city, surrounded by everyday people doing their everyday things in their everyday lives - as opposed to the resort hotels where the last two conferences were, where everyone you see is a fellow conference attendee, spouse of same, or a hotel/service worker. And there is nowhere to go outside of the resort, not that you especially need to since they give you so much there. But Washington, D.C. is a real city! And so I grabbed a map from the concierge and started walking, past cool bookstores and cafes and people, people, people!

I decided to head for the Washington Monument, out of nostalgia over my h.s. trip to DC, and after about a mile and a quarter made it to the White House. A large group of h.s. kids was standing at the fence in front, posing for pictures. You know the drill: there are 30 kids, so at least 30 cameras need to be used so everyone gets the picture, and the parents/teachers/chaperones were diligently juggling cameras at the edge of the sidewalk across from them. When you live in a city that attracts tourists, you learn to either barrel through these moments, photos be damned, or you pause and wait out of politeness. When it's that many cameras, it's harder to wait, so I decided to just slip behind the adults and move on. I didn't notice the curb was right there (since the street is closed to traffic, the line between sidewalk and street is somewhat figurative) and, once again, splat! This time my ankle held up, but I landed hard on my right knee, and just as hard on my left hand, which was holding my camera. Let me rephrase that - the camera slammed into the cement with my hand on top of it.

Two parents asked if I was okay, to which I answered, "I don't know yet," having learned from my ankle fall that an initial embarrassment-avoiding "I'm fine" isn't necessarily productive. But other than a large bloody scrape on my knee, it appeared I was fine. I hobbled over to a bench in the facing park and tested my camera. That, too, seemed to be working fine. (I was smart when I bought my digital camera, avoiding the trendy slim silver models because they seemed so flimsy, I chose a big boxy rubber-covered one that might be heavier, but is relatively indestructible.)

Now, as you know, the White House is surrounded by police, security offices, Secret Service, what have you. Two uniformed men stood about 200 feet from where I fell, leaning lazily on the hood of their car, watching. I would like to think that if I hadn't been able to stand up, but just lie there, they would have come over - even if not to offer assistance, at least to confirm I wasn't carrying a bomb or acting as a diversion so that someone else could scale the fence, etc. But no, no reaction. I imagine Secret Service sitting behind tv monitors laughing as I went down. I am pretty confident that if I had shouted, "Bush is a crook and a liar!" as I tumbled, they might have come over.

It's five days later, and my knee still hurts. The bruise is turning purple to yellow-green, and the scrape (roughly the size of a poker chip) hurts like mad when it is touched by water, bedsheets, or clothing.

Oh, and after that I didn't go to the Monument. I made my way to a Starbucks bathroom and washed up, then to a CVS to buy a box of large square band-aids. See what I mean about the comfort of being in a city? Never too far from a public restroom or a drug store.


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