Quick Trip to Washington D.C.
February 2006

Banquet Night Life The National Gallery

I've been working at the Centers for Disease Control for a few years now. I started there through a small contracting firm that was purchased by a big, mostly-military-industrial-complex corporation a year or two ago. Recently the company decided to recognize some of the achievements of their employees and I was selected for an award. I grumbled about going to the ceremony. Frankly, I'd rather have the cash it cost them to send me to D.C. than the one-night trip. Sure, I could've extended my stay, but degenerate SW doesn't have many vacation days and we're going to NYC in a couple of months so I'd rather save her vacation time and our disposable income for that trip. It wouldn't have been wise to decline the D.C. trip and I hadn't been there since the mid-80's, so I boarded the smallest plane I've ever been on, a United flight that loaded straight off the tarmac.

After a short, uneventful flight the 'burbs of D.C. came into view, snow still on the ground.

I was pleasantly surprised by the weather when I arrived at Dulles. There was still snow piled up in the shade, but it was melting so fast the gutters were flooding. 62 degrees or something. Nice.

I was in a Doubletree Hotel, 10th floor. The view wasn't much - McLean, Virginia, during winter. Some geese landed in the dirty pond formed in the exit cloverleaf below. Brown trees, concrete buildings, suburban housing as far as the eye can see.

But they handed me a warm cookie at the desk, in an envelope that reads "Why a cookie? Simple. Cookies are warm, personal and inviting. Much like our hotels and the staff here that serve you."
It goes on, but it's bullshit. I'm pretty sure the building used to be another hotel chain, and will likely turn over again one of these days. It's just another box that could be any hotel anywhere.
The cookie was pretty good, though, I have to admit.
I dropped my bags and went in search of real food. The guy at the front desk said the only thing within walking distance is a Chili's, and it's a dangerous walk. I shrugged and headed out the door. I saw a few working-man types and highschoolers walking along the road but it didn't feel dangerous. Crap, it was broad daylight along a busy road. Then I realized the dangers were not the local denizens, but the lack of sidewalks along the 6 lane road, including the still-icy bridge. Two of the top 10 things I'd change about America - pedestrian-unfriendly suburban planning, and the monoculture being generated by corporate chains undercutting anything local and interesting.

It was a long, scary walk but I had scheduled my trip with plenty of extra time for unforeseen problems, misdirection, my own tendencies to overlook instructions and details, and plain old bad luck. My first business trip at my first real job out of college some 13 years ago had been an unmitigated disaster so I wasn't taking any chances.

Because I'd made accommodations for such, no such things happened. You make your own luck in this life, I believe.

I found a Bertucci's down the road, nearly empty between lunch and dinner. Filling, reasonably priced, but mediocre, and mediocre Italian food absolutely sucks if you've visited Italy.

But I hardly care. The food is paid for and I'm distracted anyhow. Even though I'd double-checked every detail, I'm still worried even though I have hours to jot down any notes I might need to give a speech, change clothes and get to the banquet. Getting to the banquet should be a snap. It's only 2 miles down the street, thanks to my advanced planning. Giving a speech is what has me stressed. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - I hate being the center of attention. I prefer to be the off-center of attention. Giving an acceptance speech at a corporate banquet ranks up there with dental surgery on my wish list. Public speaking phobia aside, awards and ego-stroking make me nervous. Too many years at .com businesses that handed out the phony thanks and the back-slapping and the "we're all a family" speeches sometimes only hours before laying off two thirds the company.  To this day whenever I have a problem with email or network access at the office I get nervous, wondering if the phone is about to ring and next thing I know I'm being escorted from the building along with a couple dozen other people who are suddenly expendable. Post-.com-stress-syndrome?

Back at the hotel, I put on the suit I bought for the occasion. Everything else in my closet was a polyester joke, stuff I bought at thrift stores for fun. I hadn't owned a serious suit in ages. Yeah, I look nice, but I'm not comfortable or happy with it. It's a necessary evil.

The cab ride down the road takes forever due to D.C.'s famed traffic. 5 miles took me 20 minutes.

The banquet is a bigger affair than I'd anticipated. Finger food, open bar, 1000 people in a hotel banquet hall. Most of 'em came straight from the office, as our HQ is just down the road. But a few fellow Atlantans found my table and joined me for dinner. I sat between a couple of big-wigs I'd only seen at big "all-hands" meetings and made light conversation. The VP next to me reviewed her list of notes about the project I worked on so she could give a brief speech about it. I looked over the program/agenda and felt some relief - it didn't look like I was supposed to speak.

Eventually they started handing out awards. The VP gave her speech about my work and handed me a glass trophy and an envelope. One by one, the others receiving awards were hauled up on stage and handed similar glass baubles and intriguing envelopes.

Back at our table, the light conversation continued between presentations. The event ended with coffee and dessert in the neighboring room. I ate small piece of cake and decided to split. I'd done a few hours of Googling in advance and had a short list of nightlife activities to chose from.

Waiting for the cab, I noticed my name was misspelled on the engraved crystal trophy. I laughed. Now I can say I have a "Nobel" prize! The envelope was full of AmEx Gift Checks, silencing any complaints I had about the trip.

At the hotel I slipped into something more comfortable.

Banquet Night Life The National Gallery

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