Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Would It Kill You?

Half a month ago, I took a trip which represented the first time I’ve become a turista unaccompanied by any other person (aside from the thousands of people I passed while walking about). Earlier this year, something told me that Washington, DC needed some attention. Besides the fact that my interest in politics and current events was re-awakened something like nine years ago and now I’m fascinated by political commentary … I’ve been to DC several times but either I was too young to really grasp where I was, or I was there for reasons other than strict tourism.

Several stories were generated by my three-day investigation of the National Mall. The first of them took place on the very first morning.

I knew that the tour of the US Capitol for which I had signed up would start at 8:50 AM. I knew that tour participants were asked to arrive at the Capitol 45 minutes early, to account for security procedures. I knew that I would have to board a Metro train headed for the city fairly early that day. What I didn’t know was that the Metro was really fast, even during rush hour.

So, after boarding the Metro at 6 AM, I was standing on the Capitol grounds at 6:20. How does one pass an hour and three quarters of unexpected insanely-early-morning time there? Well, I took pictures of the Capitol building from nearly every conceivable angle (hey, it’s a remarkable building); but considering the temperature and humidity levels were already pretty high even for that hour of the day, I soon settled myself on a park bench from which I could see the House chamber and the Capitol dome.

I also saw passersby. Lots of them. The people-watching in Washington is terrific, even before tourists arrive. There were joggers (trying to beat the forecast 100-degree heat) … bikers … well-dressed people obviously on their way to work, whether government work or anything else … people on their way to more blue-collar jobs … commuters wearing security badges, patches, and other insignia … and at least a couple of uniformed and discreetly-armored officers chatting with Capitol employees while loosely holding onto automatic weapons.

Obviously, Washington is a town with a lot of important people in it. (Some of the most important are the least heralded, but that’s for another time.) But even though Congress was in session during my visit, I really didn’t expect to come face to face with any of them, or any public figure.

So I sat there, shuffling the papers I’d printed out before leaving for my DC visit, checking my camera battery, and enjoying the rare experience of just sitting and doing nothing, enjoying the view and the summer weather. Then I clearly heard the word “politics”, and not just inside my head.

I looked up and to my right, away from the Capitol. The only person on the sidewalk near my bench at that moment was an older woman, talking on a cellphone. The closer she got, the more curious I got. She was speaking intently into the phone, more intently than anyone should need to at 6:45 in the morning. As she got even closer, I heard what I later figured out might have been the name of a Congressional bill, or at least the last names of its creators or sponsors. And finally, I realized who I was probably looking at.

It was (most likely) Virginia Foxx, the Congresswoman from North Carolina.

I’m enough of a political news show watcher to be able to recognize more national lawmakers than the average person, I bet. Yeah. It was Rep. Foxx. As it happens, she’s a member of the Republican party. As it happens, she’s managed to say things about issues I care about that make no sense whatever to me; I have occasionally wondered what in the world could have made her say the things she sometimes does. But I’m a polite person, and Rep. Foxx is a member of Congress, and regardless of Congress’ current favorability ratings in various polls, elected officials (and in fact most human beings) deserve to be treated politely in public. No matter what we may think of elected officials as a group of people!

So, as she passed my park bench, saying things into a phone that led me to suspect that she being interviewed by a television or radio news program, she glanced in my direction. I smiled, in a way that I hoped communicated what I was thinking, which was, “Good Wednesday morning!”

Her face revealed nothing. She looked away and walked onward, hardly slowing down, and began a new sentence into the cellphone.

I know; she was probably being asked a question by Joe Scarborough or someone, and had to concentrate so as to answer it well. It’s not reasonable to demand that in that moment her thought process needed to utterly abandon economic legislative policy in favor of wildly cheery greetings. I have long experience with managing to stare straight through people, objects, landscapes and etc. while talking on a cellphone. And in a major American city, if you pass someone sitting on a park bench and he smiles at you, let’s be honest: often you might wonder what’s about to happen after that smile. Is the bench-sitter odd? Deranged? A Democrat?

But in the seconds following my non-exchange, I thought in her direction … “would it have killed you to smile back?”

This has nothing to do with what I have thought of Rep. Foxx by her public statements. Nothing. At all. I’d have thought approximately the same thing if this story were about crossing paths with Maxine Waters. Or John Waters. Or Muddy Waters.

But … Starred Thought®: As a leader, you are always on stage. Starred Thought®: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Starred Thought®: You’re evaluated by what people THINK is your attitude.

Shortly thereafter, my mood was lifted by the friendly staff members of the Capitol Visitor Center, most particularly Katherine M., who smiled before I asked her a question (about where I could go to find a new bottle of aerosol sunblock, after I’d been compelled to discard my half-full one at the Capitol security checkpoint), and then made me believe that the question was the most important one she would answer all day.

Maybe that comparison is the most revealing thing about all this.

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August 4, 2012 - Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons, government, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , ,

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