A Week in Washington DC - Close Up

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A WEEK IN WASHINGTON D.C. - CLOSE UP by Marisa Singer The trip began with a horrendous red-eye flight, leaving SFO at 12:40am with a two-hour layover in Dallas. We (one hundred or so kids) received approximately three hours of sleep in all, though that no longer mattered when D.C. was in sight. Finally arriving, a forty-five minute bus trip to our hotel was next on this long road of travel delights. For some reason, people really stayed unto themselves throughout these many hours. Eventually we got to our light at the end of the tunnel: Howard Johnson's! Picking up our room assignments, we bustled upstairs, happily anxious about meeting our foreign roommates. In my case, upon opening Room 226, there was darkness. No one there! What a letdown, but there were suitcases. Aha! My roommates were from Detroit, Michigan, (uncovered by luggage tags). Next came the clothes inspection. From what "Maria" and "Laura" had hanging up, style was apparent. My tenseness relaxed immediately, and I began to unpack. Soon after settling in my room, we were called down by our accompanying teacher so we could visit Arlington Cemetery. Her idea was to do it now, so we wouldn't have to waste time on our free day. The excitement pumping through the students was evident by their jittery smiles and restless shuffling of feet. We stepped outside the hotel, when all of a sudden the cold hit us. I don't remember ever feeling quite so cold, and this was supposedly a "mild day" for D.C. Great! Braving the weather, we trudged along, sliding over slush, and not being able to feel our feet. Nevertheless, we made it to Arlington, where we saw the many historical timepieces and graves a plenty. We even stayed for the five o'clock changing of the guards, which was almost eerie. The guards' sternness and lack of expression practically transformed them into robots. Again facing the cold (which was difficult), we headed back to HoJo's. Exhausted from the trip and excruciating cold, we entered our room without realizing there were people inside...our roommates! Turns out that they had been just as nervous about us as we had been about them. After dinner and a little welcome speech we broke off into workshops. I can't remember what we discussed, but it couldn't have been too important considering the condition everyone was in. Monday morning came nice and early. Brought to life by an alarming seven o' clock wake-up call, a strange noise came on around seven thirty. It was a cross between a humming and a high-pitched squeak. Us four room 226ers thought nothing of it as we continued to dress for the day. I was moving slow that day, so after the other three girls left, I lingered behind (humming noise in the background). Seven forty-five rolled around and as I opened the door to leave, I was hit with flashing white lights, and a shrill moan. The fire alarm was going, not an electric razor as we had thought. Everyone (the whole hotel) had congregated on the corner across the street because of a bomb threat. So glad I was informed! After this episode of excitement, we heard a lecture from Catherine Moore, who was a former press secretary for Bill Clinton. The whole discussion (as would continue through the week) was prompted by students' questions. We later took a tour of the "residential districts" of D.C., such as Adams-Morgan. I found this especially interesting, learning that there was a bridge named after Duke Ellington, and I saw Jesse Jackson's house. After lunch, we were rushed to a seminar on the judiciary system where our speaker claimed that our present system works "exceedingly well". (It was difficult not to laugh). Staying in that room at JFK Performing Arts Center, we held a debate on the constitution. Mock situations were brought up to a school board (kids) and the PTA (kids in the audience) questioned them. It was stimulating but also frustrating, since racism and homophobia seemed to slip through the cracks here. Later that night, after dinner, we had a seminar on domestic issues. A conservative and a liberal debated issues such as welfare, illegal immigration, education, and minimum wage. It was here that I learned the big lesson of the trip; not to judge intelligence by appearance. Students from every corner of the country, accents flying, were up there forcing answers out of our speakers. It was refreshing. Tuesday morning arrived, and we headed off to "topicals." I chose one on gun control, which ended up being disappointing because no one wanted to care, (maybe that's why we have such a problem with it??) Then we took our bus over to the Saudi Arabian Embassy. This later became a major standout in the weeks' activities for me; to be able to explore the domain and crevices of another country while in the safety of America. Needless to say, security was rather tight. So much so that there was a man watching us through painted glass. One obvious tactic was visible there also; the art of skirting the question. The status of women in the Muslim religion brought this skill to the forefront. We headed over to the local courtrooms next, where I found (was lucky enough to find) an interesting case: a drive-by shooting. A humorous part of this visit was when a man sitting in front of me dozed off and began to snore rather loudly. He was promptly escorted out of the courtroom. That night was our "theater experience." And what an experience it was, let me tell you. Oh well, c'est la vie. It gave me a chance to catch up on my sleep, and an opportunity to mingle with new people. Wednesday came, and we were brought to Capitol Hill. Walking through all the official buildings, I left notes at Feinstein and Boxer's offices, (to which I soon received letters and autographed pictures in the mail). We took the underground trolley to each building, and found the whispering stone under the dome. Next we were off to the Smithsonian. I chose American History, and was pleased with the exhibits I saw. One was a display on Japanese Internment during World War II, and another was on the migration of blacks to the north. Both were just the tip of the Smithsonian iceberg, but I was glad I saw them. On to the Lincoln Memorial, and soon after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Each were interesting, and The Wall was moving, (I had seen both before), but what made my day was the snow. It made all the cold weather bearable when I saw white fluffs land gently on banks of even greater whiteness. American University was next, where we heard a seminar on international relations. This was another high point for me. What was most satisfying was that he spoke to us as adults, not simplifying anything (because of this many students fell asleep). We discussed situations with Mexico, Japan, North Korea, GATT, NAFTA, and the "New World Order." It made me wonder if I might be interested in going into something having to do with international relations. Back at the hotel we had a workshop on the Balanced Budget Amendment, and later came a seminar on the media; the fourth branch of government. In our seminar, our speaker stressed how all present media had a major liberal bias. (He was an editor for a Republican newsletter, big surprise!) Thursday came: Capitol Hill Day. Everyone got dressed up, and us California folk were fortunate enough to have an eight o'clock (ha!) conference with policy staff from Boxer and Feinstein's office. It was actually quite boring, and I found it hard to stay awake while these white collar men preached the benefits of their employers politics. Then we were on our own. I paired off with a girl from another school, and we proceeded to get amazingly lost. Eventually we found our way to the Rayburn House, where an appropriations meeting with the National Endowment for the Arts was being held. I, being very interested in art, found this stimulating. The meeting defined D.C. politics though. Here was this board of white men, proposing to another panel of white men (pardon me, there was one woman), asking for continued funding. We didn't stay to hear the vote, but I saw enough to know that that was a mere kernel of the long process to which the NEA would be strung through. We went to the Senate gallery, where a man was rambling about something totally foreign to my companion and I, so we soon left. Trying to get into the Library of Congress, we found every entrance to be locked. The Supreme Court across the street was our choice for lunch, although nothing was in session. A meeting with Lynn Woolsey came next. It was pretty unproductive actually, seeing as how we didn't ask any great questions. We visited the Botanical Gardens, grabbed a coffee, and headed back to the bus. After a workshop on terrorism, and America's policy on it, there was yet another evacuation of the hotel, (there was a fire in the kitchen). And so as we shuffled out to the corner...again, we realized it was a quarter to one in the morning, and some of us had to get up in four hours for a tour of the White House. Five-thirty came quickly, and on our last day in D.C., we woke up to darkness and rain. Taking the metro to the White House, everyone fell asleep. (The constant exhaustion felt throughout this trip is inexplicable). Our tour was disappointing. We only saw five rooms and not even ones of much importance. With the day left free in my hands, a girl I had recently met and I decided to go back to the hotel and sleep for an hour, and then tackle the day. After resting, we trekked to the Holocaust Museum where we proceeded to spend four hours. It was absolutely incredible. I shed no tears, but I felt physically queasy, and had to sit down throughout the museum. What struck me the most was that I, with my own hands, could reach out and touch a shoe, or a suitcase that had been a remaining possession of a deported Jew. After breathing some fresh air and separating myself, we headed back to the hotel for our closing banquet and dance. All in all it was a total whirlwind trip, and I loved every minute of it. I learned an incredible amount about current events, and met some really great people from around the country. It was a fantastic experience that I would definitely recommend to any self-motivated student. Talk to your school counselors about getting involved in this program.

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