After a short weekend visit to NYC to attend the winter conference of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, I took the train down to DC to visit family. Since I’m under deadline on REVOLUTION, the third book of the Tankborn trilogy, I’ve had to spend time every day working. But I decided to set aside a day to go to the Capitol and check out the Senate and House.
I dropped by the Hart Building office of one of my two senators and picked up passes for the two chambers. Then I hiked over to the Capitol building a couple of blocks away. Police had the usual entrances blocked off. Apparently Vice President Biden was on his way, and the Capitol was in temporary lockdown. Luckily, a lady I’d struck up a conversation with knew another way in, and she escorted me and a visiting friend inside.
Another even better stroke of luck happened shortly after I reached the Senate chamber. The members present were pretty sparse–many empty chairs. One of the senators was speaking passionately about the Violence Against Women Act–it’s up for renewal. It doesn’t seem like one of those things that requires a lot of discussion (uh, pass it already), but I guess that’s how Congress works.
Then the magic happened. It turned out I had timed my arrival perfectly (although in total ignorance). In walked several senators who I immediately recognized–Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Patrick Leahy, Elizabeth Warren, and John Kerry. The young woman sitting beside me (who works for a senator) pointed out Mo Cowan. Then Joe Biden arrived in the Senate chamber.
Vice President Biden called Mo Cowan forward and swore him in as the new senator from Massachusetts. Historic enough–the new Senator Cowan is one of only two black senators currently serving, and yes, two is a record number. But then we all started applauding (we in the gallery took our cue from the floor). Then even more incredibly, everyone on the floor and then in the gallery rose. A standing ovation for Senator Mo Cowan.
I found out later that applause, let alone a standing ovation, is Just Not Done on the Senate floor/gallery. I was so thrilled to be part of that historic occasion, and it was just by lucky timing. I’d intended to leave for downtown an hour earlier. Instead I spent an hour working and left later. If I’d kept to my original plan, I would have missed Senator Cowan’s swearing in.
There were more adventures–after my Senate visit, I was escorted via the underground walkways and shuttle to the Senate dining room (again, sheer chance–I happened to talk to the right person). I had a very yummy lunch there (I had no idea you could make mashed cauliflower taste just like mashed potatoes) followed by the incredible Senate Bread Pudding topped with vanilla sauce. My senator walked right past me (didn’t quite have the nerve to say hello). And I had quite an interesting time getting back to the Capitol via the above ground route to get the jackets I’d checked in the coat room.
History, democracy, and bread pudding. What a heady mix.