Parting Shots

Swamp Things

In Washington D.C., that shining city on a hill, things sure have changed — none for the better

By Dave Skinner

Well, after about a year and a half of “unforeseen circumstances,” I finally made a trip to fabulous Washington, District of Columbia; that shining city on the hill. Wow, have things changed, none for the better.

I’m impressed with “travel’s” new era of computer booking, complete with upselling everything on top of a morass of hidden fees, never mind the follow-ups which still haven’t stopped hitting my inbox.

I also love our airborne sardine factories, formerly known as passenger jets. Three of the four legs were on “legacy carrier” American, with 2021 model 737s, barely broke in, but jammed. But, I “scored” a 2019 Airbus into National. The seat padding was already wrecked, and the air conditioning blew really cool patterns of fog all around the cabin. My seatmates? Both large and aromatic of natural summer. Sneaky me, I built an air curtain with the vents. Finally, I walked away from the landing and headed to the famous D.C. Metro subway, which I don’t think has been hosed down once in the 20 plus years since my last ride.  

Because my flight was a late arrival, the crew I was meeting in the morning sent a very specific selection of stops and routes to take, actually the long way around southeastern D.C. (where all the homicides happen) into the fancy Golden Triangle/DuPont Circle. Weird, right? Not after noticing the, um, socioeconomic diversity of my midnight fellow travelers. Some were thankfully asleep. I. Was. Awake.

Sure enough, the $350-a-night-hotel clerk couldn’t give me walking directions from the Metro, but my memory came through – six blocks past the Peruvian, Uzbek and Kazakh embassies. Room was fine, TV didn’t work!

Next day I spiffed myself up best I could, then strolled on the shady side to my meeting. It was already 80 degrees. The boss secretary brought me coffee, a damp towel and two huge treats, the Washington Post and Times – still actual hefty newspapers you can sit down with long enough to finish your coffee. Gosh, I miss real newspapers.

So, my meeting went much better and much longer than I’d expected. The best part was having a productive discussion about complex topics with people who actually care and understand. Handshakes and laughs all around, and I was done with the official part of the trip.

I needed to take some “head office” photographs of some dark-money groups that have been messing about in Montana. Got ‘em. I also needed to pay respects to my Dad at Arlington, and I did, escorted by a reporter friend I’ve worked with for years but never met. He gave me the full-monty and I’ll be forever honored by that.

Amid everything, I made two quick hikes past the Capitol and Supreme Court. They were quick because I remember what it was like back when the Capitol was the people’s house, when you could come by in the evening, introduce yourself and be freed to poke around everything, looking at the construction detail work, just soaking it all in. Or march into your legislator’s office and be welcomed for making the effort.

Now? I can’t even put into words how it feels to see the Supreme Court fenced off so ordinary people can’t even sit on the steps and think. However, I did see where “news” gets made, a little paved plaza with the dome “over shoulder” and another nook on the House steps. Yep, that’s where all the cameras were.

Crazy thing is, as I’m ogling the “media frenzy” the fellow next to me looked familiar – it was none other than Montana State Auditor Troy Downing, in D.C. for meetings on senior fraud. Of all places, right?   

The trip home was interesting, too. Two legs, first with a window seat from D.C. to O’Hare. I was glued to the window, ogling my big, beautiful country. But when I looked up, of all the shades in the cabin, only two others were up. What light there was inside came mostly from screens. But the shades did come up for something special on the second leg.