Editor’s note: Kate Pellegrini, Olympian editor-in-chief, joined the CVHS Close-Up group in traveling to Washington, D.C. to experience President Obama’s second inauguration.
Jan. 16: White House, Arlington, national monuments
Day one was basically one of the best days ever. I could literally go home right now and be satisfied with all that I’ve seen and experienced.
We started off the morning with a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call from the front desk, which cheerily told us breakfast started in a half an hour. After dressing up to imitate eskimos in our many scarfs and parkas, we set out to the breakfast room, where we devoured a surprisingly tasty and high-quality continental breakfast. Then without a moment to lose, we caught the blue metro line straight to the White House for a tour.
Yeah, THAT White House. We were one of the lucky student groups to be able to tour the main viewing floor of the residence of our nation’s president. This would have been cool in and of itself without passing right by Bo, the president’s furry and adorable pooch, which we did. Bo was contentedly following the dog handler, unaware of the “awws” and surprised exclamations of our shocked tour group.
The tour was self-guided, and it was quick to finish, but as we had about a half an hour left before we were to meet up with Ms. Frasca, a group of us chatted with some of the Secret Service agents. They were really funny and easy-going (one was playing Angry Birds on his iPhone when we began to ask him questions). They all seemed rather bored, and grateful for the conversation.
Next on the itinerary was Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated. It was also a self-guided tour, but it had all sorts of neat artifacts from the night Lincoln died, and we got to listen to an animated old tour guide describe in detail the night of the incident, while we sat in the very seats of the theatre in which the incident took place.
Next up was the exciting and seductive Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where all of our nation’s paper currency is printed. We watched step-by-step as hundreds of thousands of dollars were conceived and packaged. The highlight of this stop was by far the jovial old worker down below in the factory who waved to us, hugged a stack of $64 million in hundred-dollar-bills, held up a sign that read “I
A quick but satisfying lunch was next, then we were again whisked off to the Metro on the line headed for Arlington National Cemetery. The rain had slowed to a light drizzle, and the impeccable rows of ominous white tombstones were oddly peaceful. We did a quick tour of George Washington’s grandson’s house (which, incidentally, became Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s house by marriage) before marching down to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Our school had the distinct honor of participating in the wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the unknown soldiers who died defending our country.
A much-anticipated rest period, during which our group chilled in the hallway in front of our hotel rooms, preceded a scrumptious hotel dinner. We managed to convince Ms. Frasca, and her friend and fellow-chaperone Lisa, to take us out to cupcakes. So before we knew it, we were walking into Georgetown Cupcakes, made famous by the TLC TV show “DC Cupcakes.” The cupcakes were moist and decadent, and totally lived up to their hype.
We ended the day with a night tour of some national monuments, including the spectacular FDR Memorial, the solemn Lincoln Memorial, and the inspirational new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. They were all eerily beautiful in the glow of the scant lanterns with which they were illuminated at night.
And with that, my first day in our nation’s capital drew to a close. My feet are sore from all of the walking we did, and I can still feel the two cupcakes I devoured on my abdomen. But these minor aches have nothing on the elated feeling I have inside at having spent an amazing day in an amazing place with some pretty amazing people. I am so excited for tomorrow. Bring on the 6:30 a.m. wake-up call!
Jan. 17: Mt. Vernon, National Museum of Natural History and International Spy Museum
A far cry from our gourmet breakfast yesterday, our breakfast today consisted of stainless steel bins of scrambled eggs and pancakes, plus some mini containers of cereal, which my roommate Noelle and I snagged for later before getting on the bus.
Our first stop was the beautiful Mount Vernon, previously owned by our first president of the United States. Ms. Frasca sprung for individual audiotapes we could listen to while touring the estate, which was actually a pretty neat way to explore the place. Did you know that in Washington’s retiring year alone, he hosted a total of 677 guests? He was quite the popular dude, and his respect was well-deserved, considering how much he did for our country, his family, and even his slaves.
After a warm lunch at the National Museum of Natural History, we got an hour to explore the museum. This marathon expedition around the endless maze of exhibits included such fun sights as the famous Hope Diamond (overrated in my opinion, there were bigger and prettier gems elsewhere in the exhibit), a mummy (it was fun trying to decipher its gender), and some pretty sick looking snake skeletons that looked like miniature Basilisk bones.
Our next stop was the International Spy Museum, where we all assumed new identities (yours truly became Jane Meyer) and moseyed about the extensive exhibit. There were some fun interactive activities, like deciphering coded numbers in a crawl-through tunnel and trying to imitate James Bond by hanging onto a pole pull-up style while it was shaken and rustled. I tell you, being a spy seems like it could be pretty fun work.
The group was getting weary, so we put a rain-check on our National Archives tour and went instead to our hotel to meet our new roommates for the first time before heading down to dinner. Noelle and I hit it off right away with our roommates, Crystal and Adrienne, who are from Georgia. We swapped stories from our hometowns and schools, and Noelle and I crushed many preconceived beliefs about the endless sunny days and tan blonde-ness of California (Katy Perry really didn’t do California justice).
The real meat of Close Up has just begun, and I am really excited to dive right into a world of history and politics.
Jan. 18: Newseum, Treasurer Rosa Rios and Mock Congress
I awoke to the sound of Lady Gaga serenading me from my roommate Crystal’s iPhone. She had already taken a shower and gotten dressed, so the rest of us decided it was about time to start our day as well. Crystal reminded us breakfast started in a half hour, so we hustled to get dressed and went downstairs. We thought we were a few minutes late, and were taken aback when the only people there were waiters who told us we were an hour early. Oops.
So we took a nap and joined the rest of our peers for breakfast at the right time, when we learned which bus groups we were in. My hotel room group was in Bus Three with what seemed like a drill sergeant woman as our guide.
Our first stop was the Newseum, which claimed to be one of the most interactive museums in the world. It was my favorite museum so far, as it covered all types of news media history (which, as you can probably tell, really interests me). One of the coolest exhibits included the Pulitzer Prize room, home of some of the most inspiring and shocking pictures in the world. It’s really amazing how much emotion a single picture can invoke and how many stories you can procure from a person’s eyes.
Another moving exhibit was the Berlin Wall. The juxtaposition of the blank eastward-facing concrete wall and the passionately graffiti-filled westward-facing wall was really powerful. I wish I had more time to explore all six floors of the place, as I heard great things about a 4-D movie and a tear-jerking 9-11 film.
We had lunch at a buffet area, where I got to bond with cool people from Georgia and Florida. They were amused at my use of “hella” and the difference in grocery stores in California (they’d never heard of Safeway and were shocked we had never seen a Kroger in our area).
After we were warm and fed, we walked over to a hall to listen to a short lecture from our nation’s Treasurer Rosa Rios, who, incidentally enough, grew up in California and actually knew where Castro Valley is (I know, I was shocked too). She was incredibly fun and personable for such an important woman, and actually answered our questions to a certain degree instead of pulling the classic politician talk-around-the-answer trick.
Last on our list of stops was the strip of important national figure monuments tour, which included the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the MLK Memorial. Noelle and I had already seen these landmarks at night, but it was neat to get the daylight perspective. Noelle and I got lost once and made the bus almost ten minutes late, but the next stop, we were sure to be the first ones on the bus.
We had dinner at a questionable pizzeria called Froggy Bottom in a sort of dingy part of town. They had pizza, pasta, salad and cantalope, which is a surprisingly tasty combination.
At the hotel, we ended the night with a surprisingly fun and heated Mock Congress, where we split up into groups and tried to pass various bills. Ours was the Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was exciting because we were unanimous in our support of gay marriage, but our director forced us to try to argue the “con” side instead. I tried to be clever and said we shouldn’t pass the bill because it doesn’t give enough compensation to homosexual couples, and my “outside the box” approach got me elected to be one of the final presenters of the bill.
Curfew was at 11:00, and we had about an hour to kill so a few of my new friends and I had a ton of fun exploring the hotel and going up and down the wrong escalators on the floors no one was on. I tell you, teenagers really know how to have fun with what’s at hand.
It’s 12:30 a.m. now, but I can hardly go to sleep because of how excited I am to share this awesome trip with you. More on the way, but for now, I’m sure my roommates would appreciate my turning off the lights. Good night!
Jan. 19: National Day of Service, “Big Four” memorials and the Fourth Amendment
It was really hard to get up this morning after only about 5 1/2 hours of sleep, but my roommates and I managed to stumble down to breakfast just in time to grab a quick bite before being summoned to the buses.
We arrived at the National Mall to participate in the National Day of Service, which had community service sign-ups located in a huge tent. We registered at the entrance booth, and in no time we were in the big white tent.
The whole thing was extremely organized, which was both surprising and refreshing. To be honest, I was expecting rows of loud kiosks trying to snag you out of the crowd and sell you on merchandise and ideas. But instead, we were presented with a clear map that had the tent divided up into specific sections: Health, Economic Development, Veterans & Military, Faith, Environment, Education, and Community Resilience. All these sections had one large activity area and were outlined in booths you could easily walk around and approach at your own pace.
Everybody who worked there was kind and helpful, and all of the attendees were of the same grain. We all got a lot of free stuff, including a DVD on the environment, a T-shirt advocating clean water, and a slew of stickers, pins, and pamphlets. I found myself signing up for dozens of organizations and making a plethora of art projects at the booths. For example, we made book tags for donated books for children in need, and made an advocacy poster for the Student Conservation Association.
One of the highlights of the Service Event was the lineup of speakers and performers who made appearances. Actress Eva Longoria, Chelsea Clinton, and Beau Biden (son of Vice President Joe Biden) all made passionate speeches about the necessity to give back, and all seemed happy to be there, which was a sentiment reflected on the faces of everybody in the crowd.
After about two hours of this, we were taken to a mall food court (you win some, you lose some), allowed some time to shop (Forever 21, you never get old), took a group picture in front of the Jefferson Memorial, and then went to tour the “Big Four” national monuments.
Our Castro Valley Close Up group had already seen a few of the monuments on the night tour, but it was fun to see them in the daylight, and then in the enchanting glow of the setting sun. I had forgotten just how moving the memorials were. I didn’t remember much about them from the eighth grade trip, and my lack of comparative memory made the tour seem that much more magical.
At the Vietnam War Memorial, an elderly lady was handing out paper and pencils to etch names (rub pencil lead sideways on a paper over the name I wanted to stencil), so I chose Joseph Anderson Jr., whose name was the first carved into the memorial.
The Korean War Memorial was haunting and beautiful at the same time. It was really startling to see the faces of the men and women who died in the war in such unforgiving detail.
Lincoln was ever the noble-looking president, sitting high up on his majestic chair of stone. In the fading light of the sun, he appeared almost to be glowing.
The World War II Memorial was for me the most impersonal, and quite frankly, the most falsely glorifying of the US in regards to war. But I got the obligatory picture in front of my home state, and I did have to admire the vastness of the monument and the amount of work that went into it.
After waiting for almost a half an hour for our bus drivers to come back for us (where do they go anyway?) we were given another food court meal and taken to the Marine Corps War Memorial. It was much larger than I remembered, and pierced the sky with enough unwavering determination to take my breath away.
Back at the hotel, we got discussion time with our tour groups, where we discussed the ambiguity and purpose of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which outlined the prevention of unlawful search and seizure.
I learned so much today in such a short amount of time that I am looking forward to our “free day” tomorrow. I’m not exactly sure what that entails, but to be honest, I wouldn’t put it past our program director Ms. Frasca to plan another whole day of endless sightseeing and walking. Considering the whole point of us being here is to learn, I’m not opposed to a marathon of knowledge. But my feet may have different opinion after the first few miles.
Jan. 20: Holocaust Museum, presidential look-alike and military intelligence facility
Today was our first “free day” of the program, when we branched off from the Close Up program and toured the DC sights with our school group. For us, this meant a more relaxed day than usual, which was much appreciated.
Ms. Frasca planned for us to go to the Holocaust Museum first, but we were almost deterred by the staggeringly long line that wrapped around the building. We had sucked it up and settled in for an hour wait when the guard to the VIP entrance told us to get into a single-file line and follow him to the alternate entrance. The specifics about how Ms. Frasca convinced him to be so generous are still a little vague, and she’s not giving anything away, but we all decided it was most likely her Italian charm.
I am so grateful we got into the museum so early, because it allotted ample time to take in all that the museum had to offer. It’s not the kind of museum one can just rush through and fully appreciate the impact of the surroundings. I had toured the museum once before, but I rushed through so much that it was an entirely new experience.
The entire museum was overwhelming and shocking, but one of the most powerful parts to me was a replica of an incineration camp where you could follow little figurine people as they entered the hall, were told to get undressed, and led into an chamber disguised as a large showering room, where they were locked in by the hundreds and flooded with poisonous gas. The bodies were then taken upstairs to be burned. Seeing the horror on the faces of the modeled people really brought it home to me just how inhuman the war had become.
The pictures of the starved bodies lined up for execution and then laid in a row of scarred skin and bones in ditches they had dug themselves was absolutely disgusting and horrific. The piles of shoes and hair were also hauntingly human, and were the final touch that brought tears to my eyes.
At one point, we heard shouts and a crowd starting to form, and upon climbing a bench to get a closer look, we saw . . . President Obama!? We whipped out our cameras and were clicking away before logic set in and we began to doubt the man’s identity. There were no Secret Service people nearby, and all “Obama” did was smile and nod, even when asked direct questions. He looked darned close to the real deal, but the closer we got, the more we realized he looked too good to be true. If it was our president there with us in the middle of the Metro station, then cool; I got loads of pictures. If not, then props to the actor for being so accurately made up.
We made a quick stop at a CVS to get rain ponchos if we wanted them before splitting up for dinner. Half of our group went to McDonald’s and the other half including me intended to go to Subway. It was closed, however, and we were stuck trying to make alternate plans when our group’s leader Mrs. Lisa, went inside a building to ask for advice on local eateries.
As it turns out, the building we had entered was a Military Intelligence facility, but the kind guards at the entrance led us through the building to the other side, where Jimmy John’s Sandwich Shop was waiting for us.
Back at the hotel, the Close Up Program was hosting a debate between liberal talk show host Mark Levine, and conservative Heritage Society member Ryan Nickels. They introduced themselves and their opinions and then answered a series of questions from the audience on various topics.
It got pretty heated between the two men (Nickels got pretty sassy during some moments when the crowd wouldn’t stop cheering for Levine or when we all murmured to ourselves after hearing an outright lie). Questions from the budget crisis to gun control to legalization of marajuana were posed to the speakers, including my own: “What is your position on gay marriage?”
Levine was the clear favorite in the debates. He never had any notes, and yet he spoke with ten times more passion and facts and charisma than his opponent. Nickels seemed lost and contradictory, and when asked about the QE3 (I believe it’s about the amount of cash in the system), he admitted he really didn’t know about the topic at all. The best part was that after the debates, a mob of students approached Nickels and interrogated Nickels about his absolute opposition to gay marriage, while not ten feet away, students were getting their picture taken with Levine and laughing about the ludicrous arguments made by conservatives.
We went to our Close Up groups next, where we discussed our opinions on how minors should be viewed by the legal community.
It was a long day, but an enlightening one, and it has just made me that much more excited for the inauguration tomorrow. I feel like this entire experience has been leading up to the inauguration, and I’m so excited to finally experience an event as monumental and special as tomorrow’s.
Jan. 21: “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear…”
Happy Inauguration Day! It was a fun day to be sure, but it started out pretty crazily.
First off, we were supposed to wake up at 3:30 a.m., get dressed and eat breakfast, and then take an early Metro to the National Mall. The Castro Valley Close Up group was leaving around 6:00, but we wanted to wake up early enough to get everything ready for the day and have a stress-free morning.
I vaguely remember a wake-up call at 3:30, but I knew we had a while to sleep before we had to get up, so I happily hung it up. The next thing I know, my phone is buzzing on the nightstand. When I looked at it, the clock on the screen read 6:04. It took me a moment to register this, but then realization of the situation hit me and I leaped out of bed screaming. “Oh my God guys, wake up!! It’s after 6!!” Everybody was immediately awake and scrambling for clothes, bags, gloves, scarves, etc. We ran downstairs at 6:12, and our group managed to just barely make the next bus and train departure.
When we got there, our group was split up by the crowd, and we were left to form smaller sub-groups and fend for ourselves. My group consisted of my roommate Noelle and two other boys from our school group, Alex Bovenzi and Nick Cheng. We wandered the streets of D.C. trying to find where we go to get to the “Gold Area,” where we had tickets. It took an entire hour to find the place because of all the blocked-off streets and unhelpful policemen who gave us wrong directions and made us detour in two full circles orbiting the entrance. When we got out of the Metro, the sun was still down, but by the time we found the entrance, the sun was up and we were exhausted after walking for miles. Security took another good half-hour after that, and then we were in.
The gold area was the closest public section on the mall lawn, just behind the reflecting pool. But even as relatively close as we were, we were still too far away to see any faces at the Capitol, even with our cameras fully zoomed in. Luckily we had a large screen relaying images so we still felt connected with all of the action on the steps. We had gotten through security around 8:00, but the ceremonial highlights didn’t start until 11:30, so we passed the time by napping on the platforms laid on the ground, people watching, and exploring the area.
I was expecting more people to be crowded in with us, but it was surprisingly sparse in the gold area. The area behind us seemed packed to the limit, and I don’t know why the people in charge of organizing the set-up for the event didn’t let the rest of the people into the area in with us. It seemed nonsensical to me that there was so much empty room where people could fill in and be closer to the action.
The crowd itself was something to behold, and although it’s true that the demographics strongly favored African Americans, it was altogether pretty diverse. There were children running around in snowsuits drawing arrows in the sandy gravel and older women gossiping on park benches. There were men in beanies and blankets and couples with North Face backpacking gear. And there were languages and accents from all over the country and beyond that blended into the happy hum of the crowd.
Around 11:00, it was announced over the intercom that we would now be starting the pre-inaugural musical performances, of which there were a good half-dozen. These ranged from children’s choirs to award-winning adult ensembles to country singers to big-bands. They were all fantastic to hear, and really pumped us up for what was coming next.
On schedule, the announcer began to introduce various important members of government a a band played patriotic Sousa songs. Every time a Republican like John Boehner or Newt Gingrich was introduced, the crowd resonated with boos, which made me laugh.
The crowd went wild when Bill Clinton and Joe Biden stepped out of their limousines, and was beside itself when the Obama girls were introduced. The loudest cheer award, however, went to the glamourous and inspiring Michelle Obama, who arrived at the Capitol with her trademark classiness and poise.
After some more band music and anticipation, the car carrying our president appeared on screen pulling up to the Capitol. The crowd went bonkers, waving flags and chanting “We want Obama!” We soon got our wish, as President Obama was up the steps and seated in no time.
A few speeches were next, which were great in that they were interesting and inspiring and didn’t take too long. The speakers received a hearty cheer each, and then there was a pause. The moment we’d all been waiting for arrived.
“I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,” our president promised, resting his hand on the Bible a smiling Michelle was holding out for him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 44th president of the United States of America!” concluded the speaker.
And the crowd went wild.
The newly re-instated president then stepped up to the podium and gave a signature inspiring speech. “We the people…” was the phrase with which he started, and it became his motif throughout the speech. He drew attention to a lot of the social issues pushed to the forefront of our society within recent years. He reiterated his positive stance on gay marriage, abortion, and immigration. One Latino responded to this one with a loud “Si Senor!” which drew a contented chuckle from the crowd. Above all, he emphasized every person’s right to the basic freedoms we tend to take for granted each day, freedoms that many people are still fighting for around the world.
When he was finished, the crowd gave a resounding round of applause, complete with flag waving and chanting of “Oh-Ba-Ma!”
Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce concluded the program, singing “My Country Tis of Thee” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” respectively.
And then the real craziness began as 60,000 people tried to find their way out of a very confusing, dysfunctional, barricaded area and into the few Metro stations. My group was in a gridlock of people for a solid 10 minutes before we started to slowly inch along, and even then it was stop-and-go traffic all the way to the nearest Metro. The bulbous crowd in front of the Metro was completely halted and jam-packed. We didn’t move an inch for 20 minutes, and finally we heard that the Metro had shut down. And so we made the heroic decision to walk back to our hotel in Virginia, which took one and a half hours. We passed the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and crossed the bridge over the Potomac River. Eventually we made it to Arlington National Cemetery entirely on foot, and we hitched the next train at Arlington Station.
Needless to say we were pooped. And hungry beyond belief. It was 4:00 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten breakfast, lunch, or dinner, only a few granola bars.
When we reached the hotel, we were exhausted and took a nice nap. But we had the Inaugural Ball later that night, and we had to get ready.
And so it was with droopy eyes but excited minds that we left the hotel in our finest apparel and arrived at a larger venue that would hold all 2,100 of us.
It really was a fun dance. Everybody looked so beautiful, and the venue was very patriotic. In many ways it was better than our school dances. Everyone was there for a common cause, and it made for a happy, energetic crowd. Also, the dancing wasn’t nearly so sexual, which was a huge relief, because it allowed our group to nerd out to the Cha-Cha Slide and sing obnoxiously loudly to Journey and Taylor Swift songs. There were some weird song choices, however, like some ill-placed Mexican slow dance songs and what sounded life a polka. Cue water break.
We arrived at the hotel a little after midnight, exhausted but satisfied with a fantastic day.
This entire inaugural experience was truly something to behold. Now I know why they call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience: I’m not sure I could handle those crowds again. But in a way the crowds added to the overall ambiance and wonder of the experience. The energy of the crowd and the awe of realizing you are part of a bigger picture, that your life is interconnected with thousands of others in ways you wouldn’t ordinarily have expected, was quite humbling and powerful. I’ve never been more patriotic. I’m normally pretty cynical about American politics, but today I was proud of our country and what it stands for and the progress it’s making.
Jan. 22: Capitol Hill, Indian Museum, farewell banquet and dance
Today I enjoyed the last full day with my Close Up family. We departed the hotel on our beloved Bus 3 and headed down to Capitol Hill to get the final grand tour of all the political haunts.
At the Capitol building, one of our students, Gina, managed to get us tickets to enter the Senate and the House of Representatives by sweet-talking the worker in the office of Sen. John Kerry. It was a huge score, because we got into the Senate as they were in the process of debating filibusters, which was actually a very interesting topic. We didn’t have enough time to sit in on the House, however, because we had to get to the Library of Congress.
On the way to the Library, we passed by the Supreme Court Building, in front of which was a gaggle of Roe vs. Wade protesters, waving signs and chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!” It took all the willpower of the liberals in the group not to engage them in a debate on the spot, but in the end, we realized it wasn’t even worth it, because the group was so pitifully small anyway and were embarrassing themselves enough already.
We had a woefully short amount of time at the Library of Congress, but I was on a mission: I wanted to get an official Library of Congress card. It took a long time to find the right place, and it involved finagling my way through a labyrinth of tunnels and hallways and stairways, but eventually I made it, and managed to convince the woman working the desk that I was doing research in order to get one.
It took a really long time to obtain the card, and I thought I was late, but luckily for me my tardiness was overshadowed by a few other group members getting lost and putting us almost a half an hour behind schedule, and more importantly, late for lunch.
Lunch itself was at the National Museum of the American Indian, which was an architectural work of art. It was wavy and without corners, supposedly to keep out the bad spirits who hide in corners. The cafeteria there served only indigenous meals, and I was pleasantly surprised with how tasty my green chicken soft tacos were. I didn’t get much of a chance to tour the museum, but what I did see was beautiful and unique. I hope someday I can return to fully appreciate all the museum has to offer.
On the bus ride back to the hotel, we made a short stop at Lincoln Park, home of the first statue of President Abraham Lincoln. The statue depicted Lincoln with his hand over the head of a slave, lifting him up to freedom. Apparently it became slightly controversial because some people interpreted it as Lincoln oppressing the slave and keeping him down. But I agree with the positive thinkers, especially since the slave seemed to be looking up in hope, and because of the historical context of Lincoln’s interactions with slaves.
Around 4:00 p.m., we finally got back to the hotel and were allowed about an hour to chill in our rooms and get ready for the Inaugural Banquet, which was after our final group meetings with our Close Up group. The meeting was not as much an educational opportunity as an hour spent reflecting upon the week, having silly fun with all of our new friends, who we knew we probably would never see again after this trip, and stressing over what to wear to the banquet and subsequent dance. What does business-casual-dance apparel mean to a girl?
The banquet was a lot of fun. The food was amazing and the speeches by the representatives from the groups were fun. One guy described how the phrase “failure is not an option” helped him find the porta-potties at the inauguration, and another girl wrote a beautiful poem about the week. Our group’s program instructor Lynn volunteered to give the Program Coordinator speech, in which she revealed that she was actually a cop in “real life,” and that being surrounded by our enthusiasm and energy this week helped reinstall her love of the city and her faith in humanity. It was very touching, considering she was our own group’s coordinator and we felt the same way about her.
After dinner, we had a quick turn-around time to prepare for the dance, and then we all headed down to the ballroom on the basement-level floor. It was significantly smaller than the Inaugural Ball venue, and the crowd was much more sparse, but it made for a more light-hearted, innocent fun dance party as opposed to the dirty dances we have back at home. I grooved to the Cupid Shuffle and cowboyed it up with “Cotton-Eyed Joe” with all of my friends, and had the time of my life.
Going to bed was bittersweet. On one hand, I was exhausted from all of the walking, climbing, and dancing I had been doing and really wanted to sleep. But I also knew it was the last night I would get to spend with our awesome roommates and other great friends I had met on the trip. Parting tomorrow will be such sweet sorrow.
Jan. 23: House of Representatives, Emancipation Proclamation and ice skating
Today was quite an adventure. Noelle and I snoozed the alarm for about an hour and a half this morning because we were too tired to get up, and consequently missed breakfast. I managed to get a quick coffee at the lobby’s Starbucks and hug my Close Up friends one last time before they headed back to Georgia and Florida. One of our roommates started crying when we left the hotel, and I was hard-pressed not to tear up myself.
Our Castro Valley Close Up group was still together, however, and we were intent on making the most of our penultimate day in our nation’s capital.
This meant catching an early train to Capitol Hill, where we got tickets to the House of Representatives. This was exciting beyond any of our expectations because we came in during an actual voting session. We got to sit in the seats overlooking the room buzzing with Congress members and see real-time the passing of a bill that would raise the debt ceiling. It was humorously close to how chaotic the House scene was in the new movie “Lincoln.” Motions were made and denied to alter the bill, and the voting went on long after the timer ran out. And even when the Speaker called for an end to the voting, there was a bit of a commotion as some last-minute voting took place. In the end, almost 300 members voted “yay” and the remaining votes were for “nay.”
After the voting, we met up with Representative Eric Swalwell to ask questions and take a group picture. Swalwell, a Democrat, is the new congressman for the East Bay, including Castro Valley. He was very personable, and easily and eagerly answered our questions without reserve.
We headed on over to the Supreme Court after that, whose museum was interesting but small. I did get a gavel-shaped pencil from the gift shop that had a double-ended eraser, however, which was very cool.
After that, we went to the place I’d been waiting all day to see: the Library of Congress. Noelle and I had already gotten our library cards the day before, so we were allowed to go in by ourselves while the others obtained their own cards. At the front desk, a kind lady told us to be sure to check out the Civil War exhibit upstairs, which proved to be worth the visit. The exhibit boasted the exact Bible that President Lincoln and President Obama had used at their inaugurations to swear in as president, the original first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation written in Lincoln’s own handwriting, and the contents of Lincoln’s pockets the day he was assassinated. It was truly a mind-blowing exhibit.
After we had finished going through the Civil War exhibit, we met up with the rest of our group in the main reading room, which is a huge, glorious hall of books used for research. My jaw dropped when I stepped inside and took in the immense beauty of the room, and then my heart raced when I smelled the wonderful aroma of old used books that lingered in the air. I spent at least ten minutes just wandering around with a contented grin, just taking it all in.
I could have stayed in the Library of Congress all day long. But alas, our dinner awaited us. And so we were off again, to an Italian Restaurant called Carmines, where we were fed obscene amounts of garlic bread, salad, two types of pasta, Parmesan chicken, and some amazing chocolate fudge dessert.
After we had had our fill and then some, we were brought to a beautiful ice skating rink just around the corner. We were given hot chocolate and cookies, which in many cases turned into cold chocolate and a snack for tomorrow.
Ice skating with our group was one of the highlights of the trip. It was below freezing, but we were laughing and falling and joking and racing and goofing off so much we didn’t even notice the temperature. I myself was rather incompetent at the beginning, but am proud to say I was one of the few who didn’t fall (ha!).
Back at the hotel, we were instructed to pack our bags and get right to sleep. It has been a long, wonderful day, and I think I can speak for the rest of my group in saying I am definitely not ready to go back home yet.
Jan. 24: “I am going to miss this city”
It’s our last day in D.C.! Our bags are packed, our flight tickets ordered, and even the weather decided to give us one last hurrah, in the form of snow flurries outside our window this morning. We were all so excited about the winter wonderland that we raced out onto the balcony of the breakfast room and had a mini snowball fight before we were ushered back inside by a grumpy manager.
His negativity didn’t put a damper on out enthusiasm, however. We were giddy with energy all the way to the Pentagon, where we had booked a tour. I was worried I wouldn’t be allowed in, because I had lost my wallet last night, along with all forms of identification. But the security guards were understanding and let me through anyway.
I honestly can’t remember much about the Pentagon tour, because I, along with the rest of the females in the room (including Ms. Frasca), was preoccupied with the attractiveness of our guide in uniform. The girls in our group giggled over his smile and asked him endless questions without bothering to hear the answers. I personally think he was flattered.
There was a touching moment during the tour when we went into the 9/11 remembrance room and our tour guide detailed the events of that day. It’s obvious that our country is still in a sort of state of shock over that incident. I don’t think we’ll ever really get over it.
After the Pentagon tour, we were free to explore the Smithsonian museums at our leisure. A large group of us went inside the National Archives, after a rigorous security screening (I think the movie “National Treasure” had some influence on the level of security enacted in the Archives). But it was well worth it to be able to see in person the documents that sculpted our country: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Once we had finished our patriotic oohing and ahhing over the documents, we headed on over to the Hirshhorn Museum, home of modern art and the borderline weird. I really tried to understand the artwork, but more than anything, it just made me angry that some artists can get paid for paintings that kindergarteners can do in their sleep. The pieces were at least very interesting, and somehow made us all work up an appetite for an early lunch.
On the way to the Natural History Museum Cafe, we romped around in the snow a bit, played soccer with a chunk of ice, and threw around some icicles on the side of a road like rambunctious teenagers. We toured some of the museum after lunch, but we didn’t have much time before we had to get back to the Metro to return to our hotel.
At the Hyatt, we brought down our luggage and changed into our airplane clothes. Then we loaded into the bus that would take us to the airport.
It was a sleepy, contented ride to the airport. I don’t think any of us wanted to accept that our time in D.C. was coming to a close. Even when we lifted off in the plane, there was still the sense of far-awayness one feels during a trip away from reality with peers. On the plane, we joked around a bit, tried out Virgin Airline’s online chat system (which failed miserably), watched awful reality TV, and slept a lot. When we landed, we sort of stumbled off the plane and walked in a daze over to the baggage claim. Sleepy as we were, we made sure to hug as many people goodbye as possible.
I am definitely going to miss this trip. I’m going to miss this city and this program and all the people involved in it. I’m going to miss how close I got to people I never knew existed until this week. I’m going to miss the icy mornings and overheated buildings, and the many layers of clothing we trucked around. I’m going to miss the shared inside jokes and easy teasing. Most of all I’m going to miss the subculture of a world we created in D.C., our Close Up family, quirks and all.
To anyone considering this trip, I would say wholeheartedly to go for it, even if you have to make adjustments and sacrifices to do so, because it really is an experience like no other, one that I will never forget.
Thank you, Ms. Frasca, from all of your Close Up kids! And thank you to all the people who were part of this experience and who made it truly phenomenal.
Pictures from this trip can be found on Instagram with the hashtags #closeup2013, #cvcloseup13 and #closeuptrip, among others.