GIFT OUR LEADERS QUEST TO DC – Day One by Paul Menconi, DC correspondent

Day One Monday, March 11, 2013

Whoa, what a day! Our first “working” day in Washington, delivering COLLABORATION SOUP to Senators’ offices. Of course we didn’t actually see any Senators (quite; but wait!). Mostly we talked to the receptionists. They were all almost without fail attentive and friendly. It was quite interesting to see the offices, too, typically decorated with photos and articles from the Senator’s home state. Delia would make her pitch, the young staffers would listen carefully, and attempt to find someone further up the food chain to talk to us.

Being that we just walked in off the street (although Paula had worked hard for weeks to set up meetings, but with only limited success), and everybody was quite busy (first day of budget hearings in four years!); we mostly left the books with the first person we talked to. But there were some exceptions.

The staffers were invariably nice, as they were trained to be. Generally, though, once Delia started her very engaging presentation, she really got their attention. I found this incredibly gratifying. In so many cases, there was a real shift from “How can I help you? (smile)” to “Really? Can that actually happen?”

After lunch we were standing around, thinking about our next step, when Paula noticed Senator Manchin (D-WV) standing near the elevator. He is a co-chair of the group, which for some time has been promoting a move away from partisanship towards collaboration among members of Congress. Paula called his name, and he beckoned us over, inviting us to join him in the “Senators Only” elevator.

During our brief one-floor trip, Delia presented the book and gave him her “elevator speech”. He was very appreciative, accepted the book, thanked us profusely, and continued on up to his floor.

We were left staring at the closed elevator door in awe. Paula and Delia were scheduled to visit later in the week, but this was really unexpected.

Paula was stunned, and all but trembling! But this tiny miracle was only one of three that day.

We were delivering a book to Sen. Carper’s office (D-DE), and had just been assured that the book would be delivered, when who should walk into the office, looking for the Senator, but Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). He’s one of the bipartisanship “Gang of 8” working to craft a passable Immigration Reform bill, so Delia enthusiastically acknowledge him for his efforts to build bi-partisan solutions as she handed him a book. He opened it up, took a look at it, and playfully announced that he’d give it to Sen. Carper, who needed it much more than he did. Delia said “Just don’t hit him over the head with it”, and he said jokingly, “Oh, I’ll just slap him in the face; he was in the Navy, he’ll understand that.”

Just then Sen. Carper came out and walked up to Sen. McCain. Delia immediately pulled out her cell phone and asked for a photo; when they posed, Delia pushed Paula over to join them and got a shot of the resulting group hug. Meanwhile, I was frantically struggling to liberate my camera from the camera bag, succeeding just in time to catch Sen. McCain stepping away. (Not a bad photo, as it turned out, but just a bit fuzzy.) Then the senators disappeared into the inner office, and once more we had trouble catching our collective breath. We stepped outside the office (where the “No Photos” dictate did not hold) and immediately shot a video of Paula and Delia recounting what had just happened. What a day!

We had yet another wonder awaiting us. The Hart Senate Building is a fairly new building, with a large atrium filled with an interesting sculpture. Called Mountain and Clouds, it consists of huge black metal triangles rising five stories, capped by black oval shapes hung from the ceiling. When we came upon this imposing structure, it was rather stunning, although it took us a bit to comprehend it. Then, suddenly, Paula said Why, it’s Mount Doom! We laughed, but were actually pretty blown away. See, in the months running up to this trip, Paula worked hard at studying lists of
senators, and office layouts, and who was connected with what, and setting up meetings. She was a bit mystified as to why she was doing it, but felt compelled – something drove her on. She joked about being a modern day Frodo, on her own quest to the land of Mordor. We actually dug out our DVDs of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and watched it again, just to get in the mood.

I wondered aloud about Mt. Doom, and how that might be represented, but neither of us really wanted to look too carefully at that part. And now we suddenly found there was a Mt. Doom! Not so terrible, really, but very large, and black, and imposing, and topped by dark clouds. And we could easily scale it, after a fashion. The elevator took us right to the seventh floor, where we could look down on it through the “clouds.”

So we managed to find our way to Mt. Doom, but the quest isn’t over. Not quite yet. We don’t know what the next piece is, but we’ve got three more days. More tomorrow…


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