Day Two Tuesday, March 12, 2013
“I feel like a missionary.” I know what Paula meant, loading up our satchels, getting our lists and itineraries in order, lugging my bag of books around the Senate office buildings. Oh, they weren’t religious tracts, and our conversations did not concern the relation with God. The books were COLLABORATION SOUP, Delia and Paula’s recipe for collaborative conversations. (Small, but surprisingly heavy!) The conversations, which Delia entered into with great verve, were, not surprisingly, about collaboration, and how the book could help, and did the staffer (generally the person sitting at the desk in the Senator’s front office) know who we could talk to? No? Well, can you think of some way in which the Senator collaborated with other lawmakers? We’d like to bring back some stories of ways in which our legislators are working together….
And it was amazing how people responded. Most staffers greeted us warmly, and nearly all were at least cordial. But after a few minutes of Delia’s powerful enrollment, they were interested, and occasionally really drawn in. “I know you’re busy, but do you have just a moment for something fun? Our friends created these collages…” And they inevitably had a moment. And they inevitably enjoyed the photos of the amazing collages.
Oh, she’s good, Delia is. And while today we didn’t have any OMG moments, like we did the first day, we had a number of really good, in-depth discussions with staff members, sitting in their conference room. And they were all quite fascinated, very drawn in, and a bit surprised at what we had to say. I think they all were relieved to be acknowledged and praised for what they were doing and working on. No doubt they hear plenty of complaints, some of a very obnoxious variety. So in contrast, we were good news.
Grazing Our Way Through the Senate Buildings
One of the really interesting things I noted was the differences between the Senators’ offices. First off, the Russell Building, while older and a bit dowdy in the hallways, has the best offices. Twelve and fourteen foot ceilings, lots of dark wood and soothing beige walls with splashes of color, a fireplace (decorative only, but loaded with wood, probably from the Senator’s home state, no doubt), comfortable and carefully placed furniture, make these offices feel, ah, Senatorial. Places of power. Someplace you want to hang out.
On the other hand, the newer buildings have vistas across open courtyards, but the offices are more, ah, institutional, with glass and chrome and hard surfaces. (think the new, expanded offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in Mad Men). Still, every Senator brings in some element of their home state: photos and paintings of natural wonders, agricultural products, the head of a bison and a Rocky Mountain sheep. It’s like a trip around the country! (Ah, no it’s not, but still interesting.)Actually, this “trip around the country” reminded me of just how great our country is. We have such an enormous diversity of landscapes, of agriculture, of manufacturing. Of People! Every office has a TV, tuned to a news station. Just like on West Wing and all those other political shows. While I didn’t keep track, I’m sure you could correlate a Senator’s values with the channel chosen: many were tuned to Fox News, some to MSNBC, still others to CSPAN or CNN.
And then there were the clocks. Most offices had large round wall clocks, not unlike the ones we had in the classrooms at my middle school. Only these don’t have IBM printed in big block letters, and rather than jerking ahead once each minute, they actually tick off the seconds. Odd, though: they have little LEDs right on the outer edge of the dial, perhaps 15 or so of them. A red one at about 2:30, and white ones between 9:00 and 12:00. I was told the red light meant the Senate was meeting, and the white ones indicated the time to a vote. (I never did find out what the little flashing yellow one just below the center was for.) Anyway, a clever system for the staffers to keep up on some basic but important information.
And then there were the edible items. Packets of rice from Arkansas, for example. (Bet you didn’t know Arkansas was the biggest rice producer of all the states! And here I thought it was California…) We’ve got our bags stuffed with peanuts from Georgia, dried cranberries from Oregon, mini-Mars bars from Pennsylvania, Russell Stover chocolates from Kansas (“Take all you want, they bring them here in large garbage bags,” the helpful receptionist told us.) Wisconsin? Well, the huge fake cheese on the table was informative, but alas, merely decorative.