It all began on a brisk (that means not as hot as hell for those new to the Valley) June morning.
A plane whisked me away to the wonderland known as our nation’s capital. Along with 23 other ASU students, I was about to embark on an internship in Washington, D.C., besieged by the haunting image of missing intern Chandra Levy. By the end, I had learned a few lessons, met Dubya and become a hardened member of the District.
Although the media makes the Levy case seem like a huge issue, for those interning in D.C., it was not a deal. I lived right next to Dupont Circle (the area where Levy lived,) and neither I, nor anyone who was in our group, ever felt threatened. In fact, no one on Capitol Hill even really discussed it. But the media circus was definitely abuzz about the whole thing. Reporters swarmed around Rep. Gary Condit’s office all day long, with more cell phones than a UNI 101 class, waiting for a sighting. I would get calls all the time in my office asking about the Levy situation or if I knew anyone who was with a Congressperson. Yeah, because if I had information like that, the first place I would give it to would be the Village Voice. Oh, and I would do it for free too.
The real information about the Hill is something that the news never really covers.
Lesson 1: D.C. is the city with northern hospitality and southern efficiency. People are rude, and they don’t care. You will wait 35 minutes to get your food at a restaurant, and the waiter will be upset that he had to serve you.
Lesson 2: Nepotism is the real buzzword on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, it is all about who you know (or more likely who your parents contribute to.) This is not to say that merit means nothing, but connections do mean everything. I even knew someone who had a job with a senator from a state he wasn’t even from or had ever visited, but since his uncle knew the senator, an internship was born.
Lesson 3: Because connections are so important, people know they can get others to work for free. They called all of us “interns,” but it was more like a slightly upscale sweatshop, without Kathie Lee Gifford.
Lesson 4: Booze runs through D.C. faster and more frequently than through the body of an ASU freshman. There is not a single day that there is not at least a few hundred parties going on. Staffers get off work, and they hit the bars and drink till they pass out and show up a bit hung over the next day for work. This is the place for people who want to live the frat life 24-7-365 until they’re 30.
Lesson 5: Thomas Jefferson once said, “The tree of Democracy must be fed by the blood of patriots and tyrants alike.” But the 21st century reality is that democracy is fed by silicon and Hotmail. People always claim to be busy doing work, but this is rarely the case. What they’re really doing is e-mailing or IMing. Fixed to their computer screens like lemmings in search of that final cliff, they tap away at their keyboards aimlessly for hours on end. The best part is when you’re sent a message from someone who’s sitting right next to you.
Lesson 6: Self-importance is the true mark of D.C. Most people think that they are the most important person you have ever met, and they’re not afraid to prove it. The lower on the totem pole they are, the more important they think they are. Ironically, people are always quick to remind you to respect everyone because the person at the front desk today could be your boss tomorrow. Maybe the problem is that everyone just assumes that “could be” really means “will be,” thereby justifying a brash and arrogant attitude.
Lesson 7: Party means everything and nothing at all. Republicans, Independents and Democrats can all socialize on the Hill, but the first question you’re asked after your name is your party. Whatever party you claim, you must defend all your “peeps” and their game, even if you don’t agree with the policy or action.
Lesson 8: There are some genuinely nice people in D.C. Sometimes it’s easier to criticize than to remember the good aspects of a situation. I met some incredible people with big futures and bigger dreams. I had the honor to see the nation work from the top and see the dedication from those who make it work.
Lesson 9: Make the most of every experience. D.C. is all about taking what you have and making the most you can of it, whether it is just to watch and learn or make a new life for yourself. Take every opportunity that you have. Nowhere was this more evident than watching what poor, starving interns will eat as long as it’s free.
Lesson 10: A lesson learned from the president himself. First, I thought he would be taller, and second, he seems like a normal guy (as normal as a multi-millionaire whose idea of a summer job was running the Texas Rangers can be). Don’t get me wrong, this is not the guy I voted for. In fact, as most people who know me would say, I lean a “little” to the left despite the fact that my nose leans a “little” to the right. I discovered that I don’t disagree with his goals æ just the way he gets to them. In the end, the road we travel is just different. His led to a helicopter that whisked him to Italy for a summit on the world’s most powerful nations. Mine led to the Metro, which contains the world’s most powerful odors.
D.C. is a different place, to say the least, but it has imparted to me with some time-honored lessons that I will not forget anytime soon. After a two-month tryst, I know that it is a city I want to return to on my own terms, and maybe, that’s the most important lesson of all.
John Parsi is a political science and sociology senior. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.