Coffee with Mimi: Never been to D.C.? You’re missing out 

BY MIMI BECKER

Twenty-five years ago, we took our children to Washington, D.C. for spring break. We had been planning this outing for several weeks. In March, I had a business conference in Washington and during my little bit of free time, I scouted out some possible stops with the children. I checked out the subway system and the Mall, gathered maps and made connections with an aunt and uncle we would be visiting.

This was to be a special trip. While we weren’t on a really tight budget, we needed to be somewhat realistic about funds, yet provide our children with a memorable experience. OK, the memories were really for us. Our children were only 2, 5 and 7 at the time. To this day, they can’t relate a single treasured story of the week long adventure, but they certainly had fun at the time.

If you are a living, breathing American and you haven’t been to Washington, I can’t adequately explain to you what you have missed. But, you have missed it. It doesn’t matter what party controls any, or all, of the government. It’s Washington, D.C.

Around every corner is a reminder of what and who we are and how we got here.

The tallest structure in Washington, D.C. is the Washington Monument. It rises 555 feet above the ground anchoring one end of the Mall. The next tallest structure, at 329 feet, is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In fact, you have to go down the list of tallest structures to number 8, or 9, depending on how you count it, before you find anything which resembles, in its original use, a residential building. In a world where size seems to matter, that seems to be a fact worth mentioning.

From one monument and structure to the next, it’s a story about the home of our democracy. The buildings stay, the people come and go. We couldn’t wait to show our children; to soak it all in.

Included on our tour would, of course, be the Zoo. It isn’t just the Washington Zoo, it is the National Zoo. Animals there take on special significance. Remember the pandas? China’s gift, during the Nixon administration, of the first two pandas is actually called “panda diplomacy”. To three kids from Kentucky in 1992, they were just pandas and they were adorable.

A bit of smart planning and you can do a lot in a short period of time; a crucial consideration with three small children. You can peer through the fence at the White House, circle the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin, climb the steps up to Abe’s imposing statue and visit the dinosaurs and airplanes at the Smithsonian. You can eat space ice cream from the gift shop in the Air and Space Museum. Every experience but the ice cream is free.

With proper pre-planning, you can visit your Congressman, providing the body isn’t on recess. At the time, our representative in Congress was Scotty Baesler. We made a request for an appointment and were duly notified we would be welcome to visit with him. At the specified hour, we presented ourselves and our three children at the reception desk of one of the Congressional Office buildings. I don’t remember which one it was.

Back in the day, you gave your names to be checked off a list at the door, presented your confirmation letter and you were in. Armed with a room number on a slip of paper, you maneuvered your little party through the hallowed halls of a Congressional Office Building. The children were sufficiently awed by the immensity of the structure and the sheer volume of important looking people moving around to behave like model citizens.

A Congressional Office is a labyrinth within a hundred labyrinths. Each Congress person has a staff of assistants and, therefore, a whole series of smaller offices in his, or her, suite. Some Congress persons, I hear, actually live in their offices. Buried somewhere in the massive office structure there are restrooms and showers. Office suites have kitchenettes. What a life.

Without much wait in the outer, outer office, we were ushered into the actual office of our Congressman. Even with all the hustle and bustle out in the outer offices, we were left pretty much alone to visit with our Congressman, one of the actual people who work for us in Washington, D.C. I don’t know all those people being interviewed on T.V., or how they relate to the folks from back home, the ones with three little children who are bound to express curiosity about every little memento on the desk, walls and tables, but our guy did us proud.

There was no question too small, or repetitive, to be given serious consideration. There was no rush to leave, no aide giving the high sign to cut it short. About the time we suspected the kids had reached their limit and we knew it was time to go, a bell rang. Thinking that was for us, we stood to make our way out. Not to worry, that is just the first signal there is a vote scheduled on the floor.

As if that was not enough for one day, we had planned lunch in one of the Senate Dining Rooms. The children still looked presentable and we had a map to get us there without much fuss.

We were seated at a table in the center of the room, not hidden in a corner. As the meal progressed, a gentleman walked to the table, crouched down to kid eye level and asked where we were from. A pleasant exchange followed between the man and our two older children who were never at a loss for words. One of his companions nudged him and he said his goodbyes, not having introduced himself. A bit later, the waiter asked if we knew the gentleman. We said we did not. That is John McCain, the senator from Arizona.

Two men from opposite sides of the political aisle had just reminded us what it means to be American. People come and go in Washington as a matter of course. This past week, my heart was saddened with the news that one kind, genuine American working for us in Washington may be missing from the Senate Dining Room too soon.

Visit Washington, I can’t really tell you what you have missed.