28 Random Observations After Nine Years of Working in Washington, DC

1. You can tell a lot about the district or state of a Member of Congress by the artwork, photos, awards and knicknacks in their office. Lots of military stuff? They probably have a military base in their district and sit on related committees. Bowling pins and an autographed photo of Frankie Yankovic, the polka king? Dennis Kucinich from my blue collar, Eastern European immigrant home district.
2. Sames goes for freebies on front desk. Free peanuts? Georgia. Saltwater taffy? New England coastal district. I tried without success to get free wine in Lynn Woolsey's office. She represents California wine country.
3. Fax machines in Washington endlessly spew invitations to congressional campaign fundraisers. For $500 you can have breakfast with one candidate, join a downhome BBQ with another or try some luau themed mini golf with yet another. My personal favorite? A Republican dove hunting weekend in Texas.
4. Many House aides are really young and inexperienced, and they can be obnoxiously cocky. Their huge workload includes covering a bizarre mix of committees that they initially know nothing about, yet they can do a worrying amount of meddling in important bills. Senate aides, on the other hand, are usually much more experienced and have a much higher level of expertise.
5. Congressional offices vary tremendously in terms of how they're run. Some seem orderly from the minute you walk in the door. Others make you wonder who's in charge.
6. No one actually understands the Senate's rules of procedure.
7. Working in Washington means going to receptions where people read each others nametags to see who's worth talking to. For the same reason, one of the first things people ask in social situations is “where do you work?”
8. It's hard to plan events - even late ones - with members of Congress as special guests when votes are going on. They may come late or not at all. When they do, they can switch on and give a great speech and then work the crowd before running back to vote. (Another reason why Sarah Palin writing notes on her hand was ridiculous. She failed Politician 101 with that move.)
9. Because the House has 435 members, you can find a member who agrees with your political viewpoint, no matter how wacky it is.
10. It's no fun getting balled out by a member of Congress or their staff for something someone in your organization did (e.g. chapter had a protest in their local office), especially if you didn't know about it. It's just plain annoying when you're getting an earful for a mistake made by a member of the congressional staff, and the staffperson is trying to blame it on you.
10. Hill interns can often be spotted talking loudly on the Metro or in bars about their jobs, ones that they believe are going to impress you.
11. You can tell when a Washington formal event has Hollywood types attending since the clothes are stylish instead of dowdy.
12. Military bands seem to give concerts all the time. All over town. Especially if you don't care for this style of music.
13. You can rent out the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for private events. Events are a big part of the local economy, so if you can think of a space, there's a good chance it has seen a ball or awards dinner.
14. Event planners often cater to Republicans or Democrats, depending on the connections of the principals. Each administration has an associated event style. The Clinton era was Hollywood and splashy. Bush Senior administration was low key. Reagan era had a lot of formal events.
15. There's an association for everything, including associations. Some favorites, just based on names?
American Meat Institute
National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association
American Industrial Hygiene Association
Steel Tank Institute
Pet Food Institute
Epsom Salt Industry Council
American Gas Association (Yes, I'm 12.)
Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (fun!)
To be fair, they have legitimate business, and some of the above do important work on health and safety issues, but still, I have passed many DC office doors and laughed out loud. Especially at the Leather Institute.
16. Washington is loaded with 20 somethings who spend countless hours networking at happy hours. The bars they go to often lean Dem or Repub.
17. The resumes of these ambitious young professionals, even the ones just out of college, are often amazing. They'll have packed more into their resume by age 23 than a lot of people do by 30 or 35.
18. Most DC professionals have at least a Master's or a law degree, often two of them. A mere Bachelors is an anomaly.
19. DC offices are loaded with TVs that run CNN, C-SPAN, etc., all day, even in lobbies. Only some of these TVs are actually watched.
20. DC has C-SPAN radio, which makes sense given the uncompelling visuals of the typical TV broadcast.
21. Spring = hordes of tourists for cherry blossom season, and the traffic makes those tourists very angry. So pretty flowers = much horn honking. Spring also means the city is invaded by hordes of 8th graders on field trips, sometimes in groups of 200 or more.
22. Nothing makes locals more cranky than tourists on Metro escalators who don't understand the unofficial stand to the right, walk on the left rule. Yet strangely few Washingtonians will ask people to move to the right. They just stand there and fume.
23. Pentagon contractors advertise on television and in the Metro. So a McDonald's ad can be followed by one for a missile system.
24. Mail to federal offices is still irradiated to kill biological agents like anthrax, and some of it shows up partially disintegrated and crumbly.
25. Washington revolves around the congressional schedule. August recess means the city feels half empty. Even people who don't do political work often follow the schedule, such as when Congress runs late in the holiday season, because it affects the number of customers in taxis, restaurants and stores.
26. There are more police departments in DC than I can even remember most days, so getting permits for marches or rallies means knowing which one you need to go to. You might be dealing with the DC police, National Park Service (you'd be surprised what's NPS land) or the Capitol Hill police, though I lost track once Homeland Security changed some of the federal departments. I've seen squad cars for about a dozen departments or agencies, plus some bomb squad trucks that had a strangely disco-y look to them.
27. The city's restaurants change depending on who's in the White House. Republicans mean more steak houses. Democrats mean more eclectic restaurants.
28. No matter how crazy or frustrating Washington, DC is, you can't say people don't work hard.

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    # by tracymmo - March 21, 2010 at 12:52 AM

    Just remembered one more thing: "feds" often refers to law enforcement in popular culture, but it actually refers to anyone who works for the federal government. And I was used to thinking of "contractor" as being, say, Lockheed Martin until I gained that title at the Department of Transportation. The staff was split about 60-40 into feds and contractors in my department. The difference was rank and authority, but also who got a cubicle (feds) versus a small desk (contractors). And each group would talk about each other a bit as high school students do about rival groups, though without the venom. "The feds always have info that they don't share with us." I found this amusing.