I had one job that day. I tidied up some last minute projects and ate my lunch with a neat stack of papers in front of me. I had my map, my digital map, my phone, my recorder app, my business cards, my folder with a crisp legal pad. Everything was ready. I sipped down my soup and headed out the door.
Leisurely, that’s how it felt. I had given myself plenty of space in time. Space to stretch, to think, to ponder. Time even to get a coffee before I headed to the congresswoman’s office. Yep, that day felt like I had really accomplished something. Life was in order.
I enjoyed the hour plus drive from my country home to the bustle of the city. I wondered, amused, why I didn’t come into this urban oasis more often. Why didn’t I take advantage of the energy and culture of DC on a more regular basis? I smiled as I considered how deftly I followed my GPS. I wasn’t intimidated. I learned to drive in some pretty congested cities.
So I slipped into the left turn lane into Union Station where I had dutifully planned to park. Soon I would be pulling into a spot, grabbing a coffee, and enjoying my walk to the congressional offices.
But instead of sliding into the corridor of the parking garage, I was sucked into what can only be described as a Taxi Cab Vortex. That’s when things started to unravel. I still don’t know how it happened. One minute I was reading a Parking Garage sign, the next I was crammed between inpatient taxis and an out of place tourist bus. In two lanes, four lanes of traffic vied for space and I was sure to be the next casualty.
My confidence crumbled with every blow of the horns around me, as it was apparently crucial that we maintain a nose to trunk position. My legs ached as I played a symphony on the clutch, brake, and gas pedals. Driving my husband’s sports car lost any glimmer of glamour as my calls started to roar. I watched the minutes tick by as we circled inch by inch back around to the front of the parking garage. The minutes necessary for a coffee disappeared, with every drop of reserve energy I had.
Once I got in the garage, I emailed my contact at the congresswoman’s office. I let her know I had just parked. Of course, she had gotten there early and was waiting. Of course.
There was no time to enjoy my walk to the office, no time to second guess directions. I had to just go. The congresswoman’s office let us know that she only had a few minutes to talk with us. And I was squandering them.
I pulled up the directions on my phone. They were driving directions and pulled me a block in the wrong direction, but I didn’t have time to trust my instinct. It was go time.
In two inch heels, as the sky started to mist mercifully, I ran. Yes, Ran. Past congressman, businessman, construction men, austere men – I ran as fast as my deer-tipped feet would prance. I ran all ten blocks, stopping for crosswalks and some semblance of dignity. I ran to the front of the building at the very moment I was supposed to be IN the office four stories above, only to be met with a “staff only” sign. In struggled breaths, I asked a police officer where the visitor entrance was. He pointed behind him back up the hill I had just sprinted down. Of course. I scaled the hill and ran toward the building, putting on the brakes before I reached the door so the armed guards wouldn’t consider me suspicious. I let the man behind me go first, thinking I could follow his lead through the security line. He was as clueless as I was and I realized that I now was in negative time. My flushed, wet, exhausted face started to burn red.
As I approached the elevator, I considered the only thing that could really save this moment would be running into one of my favorite, or most hated, congressional members. I imagined us being stuck in the elevator together and my asking a myriad of pointed questions. I imagined breaking a story. I imagined national coverage. I imagined a Pulitzer. That would redeem the whole situation. That would make it all worth it. That would justify this misstep in time. Frankly – some reporter instincts are never reformed.
But of course, I rode the elevator alone. Drenched in sweat and rain.
I clip-clopped through the halls until I approached the welcoming open doors of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office. I made it. 10 minutes late. But I made it.
“Excuse me. I’m here for the um. The uh. To meet with the congresswoman.”
“Ma’am, the meeting already started and I’m not sure that we can interrupt.”
That’s when the dizziness set in. I had just run ten blocks. In heels. I needed to have a purpose for every odd look I’d gotten from put-together suits.
“They are expecting me.” They were. I was only press. Disheveled press, but press, nonetheless. Someone had agreed to print my story.
“Okay, well I will knock. Stick your face in there in case they recognize you.”
She had to be kidding… My face? Dripping with sweat and humiliation. Sweltering red with patches of embarrassment. She wasn’t kidding and in a swoop, I was peeking into the office and they were inviting me in.
The office was grand. Just what offices in DC look like, with enormous leather furniture. And there was only one spot left. In the chair next to the Congresswoman. I could’ve died. But they were expecting me. No dying now.
I slipped into the corner of the chair, desperate not to drip sweat on the supple leather, teetering on the edge with my pencil-thin heels pressing into the floor to keep me in place. The conversation continued as normal, as I began recording and taking notes. Two voices dueled in my mind. The first ran through the article framework, trying to pull in facts and ideas. The other chided me “Do not slouch into that chair. Sit up straight. Oh no, you can NOT pass out now!”
And then as I was busy scribbling notes, I heard it. “Oh I met you last spring!”
Was she talking to me? I lifted my eyes from the page.
Yes, she was, and yes, she had. I had interviewed the Congresswoman six months previously. Apparently I’m easier to recognize when the human color finally returns to my exhausted face. She kindly apologized for not remembering. I mumbled something about being a mouse in a corner. That’s where I wanted to be.
Finally, the meeting finished. I blurted something about there being no excuse, followed by some lame excuse. I handed out my business card to all the other contacts around, painfully aware that mine has my face plastered across the front, rather than an austere flag like all of theirs. Very little was dignified about me at this point.
As the rain poured harder, I briskly walked back to Union Station. I just wanted to cuddle into my car seat and sulk back home. Self-doubt, self-consciousness, self-pity settled in as the newly formed blisters on the bottom of my feet raged. How did this happen? I was so well-prepared. I had cast aside that shy girl and shoved myself out there, only to feel completely exposed. I just wanted to go home. Poor, wet, exposed me.
As fast as I tried to move through the wind and rain, people passed me. In business suits. In put-together lives.
Then a swoosh of neon yellow breezed past me.
“Ugh, seriously?! It must be nice to not have blisters on your feet. You could have knocked me over.” My mind grumbled.
The yellow swooshes had a familiar globe and eagle icon on their backs and one had a particularly spirited hop in his stride. A glimpse down revealed a rounded piece of metal in place of a leg.
Wounded Marines. Running against the backdrop of the Capitol. Passing legislators and decision makers. Passing a tired Navy wife who had to drive an hour for the sake of career development. Whose feet hurt.
Suddenly the blisters stopped throbbing. They became raw reminders of my intact legs. Of my intact life.
Maybe I couldn’t always find the parking garage, but I can always find my way home. Maybe I had to run an extra few blocks, but I can run. Maybe my pride was dashed, but there was more to be proud of. Maybe I had a 3 hour traffic-laden drive ahead, to a base in the middle of nowhere, where it was hard to build a career, but it was a drive to my own service member who is alive, breathing, with all his limbs, even after combat.