Michael and I are heading down to Washington this afternoon, so you probably won't see too many updates on the blog for the next couple days. Although Washington had been a place I visited quite a bit as a youngster (a lot of my mom's family migrated there from Omaha) and D.C. is where I lived from 1993-1998, my first real experience in the capital as an adult came when I was awarded the Sears Congressional Internship back in 1989. The program was unique because it was a Capitol Hill internship for journalism students -- rather than would-be lobbyists or lawyers -- that provided an "insiders" view of all things Washington. (The idea for the program was sparked by inaccuracies in the media during the Vietnam War.) Each recipient was put to work four days a week in a congressional office for a semester (I worked for Rep. Major Owens from Brooklyn) and then spent every Friday meeting up close with the people who run the city, from the Supreme Court to the Pentagon and everything in between. Owens was a tough nut to crack (he was Congress' first librarian so naturally kept his talking to me to an absolute minimum) but his staff couldn't have treated me more warmly, like Jacqueline Ellis, who called me "home boy" and suggested it might be wise for me NOT to visit the home district -- which included Crown Heights and Flatbush -- and Janice Jamison, who acted as my big sister and saw me through my various big city traumas and heartbreaks. I can still vividly recall everyone being excited when the "black" soap opera "Generations" made its big debut and how we all sat in the congressman's office and watched it together. For a kid who had grown up in suburbia, a semester living in a big city like Washington was like a dream come true.
I remember oversleeping one Friday (too many late nights at Dakota and the Lost and Found) and having to catch a bus down to the Soviet Embassy without the rest of the group, standing outside the place ringing the call box as if I were there for an AOL hookup. Another Friday we spent the afternoon with White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater when suddenly Vice President Dan Quayle walked in to invite us all to an induction ceremony that was about to begin on the South Lawn for the first-ever secretary of veterans affairs, Ed Derwinski. It was so exciting! Naturally, we weren't there to rub elbows with dignitaries so we got herded into the press line with all of the other reporters, including one Helen Thomas, who was only about 90 at the time. A few days later a friend of mine who had been taking photos at the event noticed my tiny head had been captured on the cover of the National Journal (talk about your 15
minutes seconds of fame), nearly the same photo she had taken of me, below with one of my roommates, David Vilter (where's the 300 bucks you owe for me for the phone bill, mister?!!!)
My new best friend was named Kathy Strauss, an up-and-coming photographer from San Francisco who was a few years my senior (when you're 21 and someone's 24 it seems like a lot more). The more we talked the more enamored I was. She was so worldly and political (she had gone to Nicaragua with her boyfriend to photograph the Contra War, I had hung out a lot at Fiesta Mall). It was with her that I attended my first rally -- the huge March for Women's Equality. I'd never felt like such a rebel. (That's the flyer below, along with Kathy's rear-end captured as she climbed a tree to get the perfect angle for a photo!)