Observations On Capitol Hill – Winter 2015

Sample entries from DC 2015


A mystery wrapped in an enigma. ..a Google trail of bread crumbs. The USS Thresher, a permit class nuclear sub was lost with all hands during deep diving exercises April 10, 1963 – the greatest submarine disaster in history. In researching her commander and crew, I discovered her loss and the subsequent Congressional hearings led to the creation of SUBSAFE , a quality assurance program that resulted in all but one sub loss since the programs inception in the late 60s, and that loss was the USS Scorpion in May 1968. Following the trail of Scorpion, whose loss is still veiled…torpedo malfunction (the official report) or Soviet revenge for the sinking of Russian sub K129 (and the CIAs covert recovery under guise of manganese nodule mining of the seafloor)earlier that year in the Pacific? Information is still coming out under the Freedom of information Act 40 years later…shades of Gray Lady Down and The Hunt For Red October.
But I digress … back to Lt.Cmm. Krag and his crew of 129 (whose photos and bios can be found at USSTHRESHERBASE.ORG). Their loss led to SUBSAFE; and the Navy gave the program’s protocols to NASA after the Columbia space shuttle disaster which led to major improvements in space launch and travel safety. Who knows how far reaching this program will go and how many lives have been, and will be saved…Thank You, Lt. Cmm. Krag.


A delicious, big city-affordable eating experience that is organic, free trade and sustainable…Pret A Manger (ready to eat) was created by two London college friends in 1986- before those concepts of free trade and sustainable were on our cultural radar.Still privately held, the chain of 350 (£450 million annual) stores in Europe and now DC, is unique in another way…they have been quietly supporting charities, as part of their business model, since the first doors
The fresh soups, salads and wraps are beautifully packaged for fast pick up NY busy professionals but nothing is held over…at the end of the day, Thrive DC picks up the ‘leftovers’ for their homeless shelters.
Before Sinclair and Julian even consider opening a new outlet, they work with service organizations to insure the infrastructure is in place so that not one meal is wasted… Kudos to the boys from London…and thanks for the great flavors.



My visit to Quantico and the National Museum of The Marine Corps…hmmm, what to say? Beautiful grounds, arresting architecture and a great story made almost dull by way of outdated curating; rabbit warren rooms with so many competing sound tracks a headache is fairly guaranteed.
And the location…Why oh why was it not built on the National Mall where access would be easy? A $65 RT train ticket… $26 RT cab ride and an entire day…and the majority of the visitors were military…so missing out on PR and recruitment possibilities.
And we won’t even discuss the restaurant…
But the Semper Fidelis Memorial Trail was exceptional, both in beauty and history.
And if you miss the 3:30 train. ..well the village of Quantico visitor’s guide is about a paragraph.
Thanks to the gracious crew at Sam’s Grill for letting me camp out for 4 hours.



Early evening and the Salvation Army pulls up outside Union Station handing out cups of hot soup and sandwichs. All over the district, ‘sweepers’ come out every night from a wide assortment of charities to offer aid…some to pick up folks and take them to shelters when temperatures get dangerous; some to deliver sustenance; some deliver blankets; and one specifically looks for homeless kids with the goal of getting them inside and away from risky behavior and predators.
It’s difficult to see – and actually be part of- the disparity, but to deal with it, I have set myself a budget of $2 a day in coins and pass out hand warmers when approached….hand warmers AND conversation…
The conversation, including getting their name – and using it- seems to be more important even than the change…hard to keep one’s dignity with a hand out.


The afternoon was dedicated to the National Holocaust Museum with a walk back across the National Mall to have an overpriced hot toddy at the Willard, and on to China Town for the best pho (so far) at DC Pho.
The museum is disturbing – as it should be – and made more so from my current reading of Samantha Power’s book on genocide. But the strangest occurrence had nothing to do with plan or purpose…
To enter the main exhibit, about twenty people crowd tightly into an elevator that bares an eerie likeness to a large industrial metal box…a box with rust – like smears that could be hand prints. The door shuts and for a moment the chatter continues but quickly everyone goes silent…the temperature rises and there is a subtle but acrid taste in the mouth like aluminum, and then the car begins to move.
A small preview of what is to come?
I spoke with docent Deborah afterward and asked how they achieved the smell of dried blood in the elevators. She shook her head and said there was no such effect, that it was the power of suggestion…and powerful it was.



Topping the list of things I would not wish to live without are books…and DC offers up some of the most eclectic independent book stores I’ve ever found. I wasn’t planning on getting a job this winter, but my book habit…so long in remission…has come back (happily) with a vengeance. Now I have to feed the beast…


After a day and a half off my sore feet, I hit the DC streets once more. After a quick visit to a chiropractor to adjust a 12 hour reading binge neck, I headed over to the historic Warner Theater to see if I could get a last minute ticket to the Nutcracker with the Washington DC National Ballet. The theater, built in 1924, was originally a vaudeville venue and then, in the thirties, Harry Warner of Warner Brothers bought the building and turned it into a state of the art movie house. It is now a premier theater and performance venue, its earlier Belle epoch luster in fine form.
Standing in line for a ticket, I saw a couple with a small sign “ticket for sale”. Meet Matilda and
Tim…a quick transaction and I had a lovely orchestra seat at half price…plus a 6 degrees of separation moment. Just out of college with a biology degree, Tim went to work for the US Parks service at Swiftwater; and tagged grizzlies up the North Fork. During our pre-show conversation, a lady in front of us turned and, excusing herself for eavesdropping, said she was a UofM grad, knew the Swan and asked for my card. After the performance, I went to City Brew for their meatloaf…yeah, it’s that good…and the bartender was from Idaho but knew the Swan from fishing. All of this and I wasn’t even wearing my Grizz shirt…. interesting folks all around.


A serious day of reading…
“The United States has too long blithely ignored the issues of genocide,” Proxmire said. “Evidence that genocide is going on in the 1970s should shake our complacency.”

And what should it ‘shake’ on Christmas Eve 2014?


Spent the day exploring Old Town Alexandria. ..so much history …when a sign says ‘George Washington slept here’, he really did. King Street trivia regarding the photo of the building with the red lingerie. ..La Tache. The owner originally wanted to put in a bar and the city fathers said no it had to be retail…so in the center of snobby, blue nose Old Town is an adult entertainment store.


Meet Kate, bartender at Murphys Irish Pub in Old Town Alexandria and Montana transplant. From Missoula, Kate is getting her Master’s in International law at Georgetown as well as double major in intl development. She is an average example of the young people I’ve met…excited, driven and really, really in debt…

The National Gallery of Art and Portraits was one of the earliest builds in DC…a beautiful Greek Revival structure whose central open air courtyard was replaced recently with a floating cloud of glass and steel making it usable year round. The acoustics are exquisite and it has two horizontal water features (the dark floor is actually flowing water of less than a centimeter thickness. A wonderful space to read…

Meet Mr. Valentine, 24 years on the street – drugs and alcohol – and now 9 years clean with a home and family because of local ministries and a weekly paper called Street Sense. Paper content is written by the homeless and those who have successfully transitioned back in to mainstream society and the stories are wonderful and informative. Street folk buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them for a donation of $2. The proceeds stay with the seller to help them with the basics -food, shelter, and to overcome poverty.
Mr. Valentine is able to bring in enough from his efforts to keep his home and family safe.We talked about rebranding…he thought that still “looking ” homeless would sell more papers, and I suggested that showing (his mostly affluent white buyers) that he was a success story might move more folks to pay attention and reach for that $2. He’s going to give it a try this week…social experimentation for real. Love this city!


My winter home is in the historic NE H Street corridor of DC. From the turn of the last century until 1968, H Street was the center of black culture much like Harlem; the assassination of MLK in 68 led however to riots and the neighborhood was destroyed. Only since 2005, has reconstruction begun seeping back in with a multinational multicultural sensibility, and for good or bad…gentrification.



Delightful and very creative evening with the Bard and his last work -The Tempest at DC’S elegant Shakespeare Theater. Prospero was none other than Forever Knight – Garaint Davies…still looking good and sounding wonderful…”We are such stuff as dreams are made of…”


Tomorrow a trip out to Glover Park to a Vietnamese hole in the wall that has the best goat pho…. Ok…so I am a bit obsessed with goats right now…go figure!


A somber visit to the National Mall and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where volunteer docent Mr. McMahon told me the story of Wallace O Travis (Whitey) who lost his life along with six others in his platoon while under the command of a Lt. Peter Pace. Years later when the head of the Joint Chiefs, now General Pace, was retiring, he slipped away from the Pentagon and in early morning dark with no witnesses, placed his 4 stars pinned to a note at the base of the wall…”These are yours Whitey, they were never really mine. ”


After sitting in on a panel discussion on Central Asia security with Ambassador Taylor (Ukraine 2009) at the US Institute on Peace, I stepped into the Willard Hotel (managed the Willard in Saba a few years ago ) for a glass of Christmas cheer poured by Mr. Sanchez (29 years at the Willard) and the music if the 18th St Choir….  (video)

An evening at the RI Ra Irish Pub and Whiskey Bar in Georgetown where Rachel, the whiskey sommelier introduced me to Ardbeg from  Islay..
My new favorite.


Heading out to Arlington Cemetery and met Hula Hoop Paul. Recently out of the Army, Paul is a young man on a mission…to master the hoop and see America. Check out some of hoop vids on YouTube. ..it’s not just for little girls anymore. ..


A walk in search of my grandparents (surrogate) Steve and Marg. Both were seminal influences on me during my twenties. I took Marg on several of my adventures and she was in her late sixties when I taught her to dive. For several years after, she was my go to girl when I needed to get out of town.
Marg got me involved in volunteer work; taught me how to find the great deals at flea markets; and how to apologize. Steve, through his stories of WW II, reinforced my curiosity for history; honed my political discourse; introduced me to single malt…and he played a mean game of bocci.
(Ahh…I hear Barbara breaking into Memories…) (video)



“They also serve who only bark and neigh…” A walk through the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at Quantico and the discovery that our 4 legged friends earned numerous Valor awards in WWII and Korea, as well as more recent conflicts…bomb sniffers, message runners, carriers of the injured, enemy routers.
“OooAhh Fido!”



Since arriving in DC, I have attended panel discussions at several think tanks on issues of immigration, demographics and food safety. I urge everyone to watch the podcast from the Brookings Institute from this morning – Diversity Explosion. Business owners consider the book of the same name as the info will directly effect your marketing. ..and very soon. As for those who want a plausible and substantiated understanding of the devisive nature of our political reality…this delivers without partisan rhetoric. Heavy, I know…I’ll follow up with some inanity like a cute kitten picture….


JOY of Christmas concert at the Washington National Cathedral with the Washington Symphonic Brass and Cathedral Choral…didn’t have a ticket so figured would be stuffed in the bell tower, but while waiting to see if any spots remained, Margaret stepped up to donate her ticket..voila…to me! Ten rows from the front in the center of the nave. Beautiful music in a glorious space…


Could GW imagine any of what we have achieved? Or what we have yet in front us? We cannot legislate race acceptance…but we can address more seriously – and with honest intentionality – color-blind education of a depth and quality that gives us all the ability to imagine our lives more fully.


Bus X8 from Union Station heading home after dinner in Georgetown at Miss Saigon…exceptional Pho…actually, quite ‘pho-bulous’! And no, I don’t take photos in restaurants. Heads up…don’t depend on Ms Google in Georgetown. ..had to ask several dentally-spectacular persons (no camouflage here) for guidance…I’m taking bread crumbs next time.


Selecting breakfast and dinner for the day at the H Street Fresh Farm Market…a program that brings affordable organics to the inner city. Folks on survival subsidies can use their WIC and stamps at these markets around the city instead of paying exorbitant prices (even too high for me! Ex: $2.36 for an apple – 1 apple) in the gentrifying neighborhoods.
The program also teaches nutrition and how to shop wisely…check them out…www.freshmarkets.org


A bit of editing…exchange 1994 with 2014, Newt with Mitch and voila! Einstein and Reimann were correct…time is not linear!


Life is ALL about how you handle Plan B…and on this trip crossing America from coast to coast, we even had to delve into Plan C on occasion thanks to Ms. G (the lovely voice of Google Maps) who refused to let me travel by state highways, but continually put me on County roads. One such byway in northern Mississippi, #121
ended up in a single lane dirt road at around 10pm where my attempts to turn the RV ended with it being high-centered across the lane… Within twenty minutes, a well-used Chevy pulled up, the window rolled down and a dentally-challenged, camo-clad country boy said, “Ma’am, you gotta a problem thar, I gotta chayen (chain).” Whereby he and his passenger jumped out, hooked up the chain and pulled me free, pointing down the lane to a large area to turn around. They were unable to tell me how to get back to the Hwy 78 – they had never heard of it – but when I told them I was headed to Tupelo, they said, “Oh, you mayyen (mean) the four lane…, don’t know how to get choo on that.” Thanks to my impromptu Mississippi AAA crew Kelly and Hank… I’m now in St.Pete for a few days of sun and sand and fishinbg, before heading back into winter … DC here we come!


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