Tales of My City
Shock made way to sadness. Anger dissolved into grief. The urge to get in my car and rush to Capitol Hill on Wednesday didn’t go away for a good long while.
Only when I sat down and took stock of what had happened did I remember that I live 400 miles away now — not relatively “down the street” from the place that I called home for 12 years. And that I no longer dwelled in the “D.C. Burbs,” where I spent another 27 years after that, able to jump on I-66 and haul ass down that terminally clogged artery, through Falls Church and Arlington, and hang a right at the Lincoln Memorial to go bombing down Independence Avenue as we have so many times before over the last almost-40 years. Cause anyone who knows Capitol Hill knows that it’s easier to get to via Independence Ave. — Constitution and Pennsylvania are better known, but always crowded with cars and people.
The traffic and the blood-thirsty mobs descending on the U.S. Capitol that day would have prevented me from reaching my destination anyway.
Turns out it was probably a good thing that I live in Charlotte, N.C. now; that I was watching the actions of a insurrection from a distance because that distance curbed my impulsive nature this one time.
Who were those traitors who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to rend the U.S. Capitol — the symbol of everything America stands for — asunder? Who was that seditious monster who urged them on with calls to “take back” what wasn’t theirs to begin with? Remember — he lost the election. And now he will be forever labeled a “loser,” something his broken psyche has never been able to handle.
His lieutenant Rudy Giuliani, a pathetic excuse of a man once known as “America’s Mayor,” called for “trial by combat.” The current occupant of the White House told the yowling multitudes that “you will never take back our country with weakness.”
But you’ve heard all that in the last four days. You know about the couple of thousand — he and they estimated the crowd at three million, but the throng was much more pathetic than that — who stormed the barricades, and the law enforcement who let them in. You’ve heard about the unwashed miscreants of the MAGA movement roaming the halls of Congress, threatening harm not only to the glorious symbol of our freedom but to elected representatives, who are charged with keeping us safe and keeping that freedom in place.
You’ve heard of the “idiots,” as former Ronald Reagan speechwriter and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called them, who streamed their treasonous action live and are now being picked up by the FBI because their ugly mugs are online for all to see. Ms. Noonan wrote President Reagan’s “Challenger” speech. I’d believe her over the illiterate Mango Mussolini and his minions any day.
You’ve heard calls for invoking the 25th Amendment to rid our country of the man who diminishes America and Americans in the eyes of the world and of ourselves; or another impeachment to wipe this hideous orange stain from the list of men who served this country honorably and well as caretakers of the American Dream in the highest office in the land.
You’ve heard about those “in charge,” who would have stopped Black Lives Matter protesters in their tracks — had they the temerity to try to climb Capitol Hill and breach the halls of Congress — with rubber bullets and tear gas, who this time — also at this sad, bombastic cretin’s urging — let rioters roam the halls of the U.S. Capitol and desecrate its history while lawmakers and staff cowered in fear. The police and the National Guard did just that in June when they cleared Lafayette Square in front of the White House of peaceful BLM protesters so that Clown Face Caligula could waddle across the park to St. John’s Church, and in some odd affirmation of “strength,” stand in front of the Church of Presidents and hold a Bible upside down. Certainly a metaphor for his impotence and ignorance.
And you know what? I have no doubt that this unwashed hoard was fully prepared to take names and take prisoners. Witness that retired Air Force officer captured on video wandering through the Capitol building with a hefty collection of zip ties — sounds like a hostage situation in the making to me.
But I don’t want to give any more ink to the rancid rabble who desecrated our national “temple to democracy,” as the U.S. Capitol was characterized on the Senate floor by Dick Durbin of Illinois. It “was defiled by thugs who roamed the halls and sat in that very chair, Mr. Vice President,” Durbin said, gesturing to the seat of honor in which VP Mike Pence presided over the counting of the electoral votes, a pro forma task that takes place without incident every four years. “Did this mob spring spontaneously from America? No. This mob was invited to come to Washington on this day by this president for one reason: because he knew the electoral college was going to be counted this day.”
Senator Durbin — like all of us who have been nurtured and protected by Capitol Hill and the U.S. Capitol — knows that America is better than the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Capitol Hill, as I have known it and have loved it, is the place where my kids grew up, even when they didn’t live in the immediate neighborhood anymore. They spent years playing and learning; roaming and rambling, and commemorating family milestones at the Capitol Complex and in the charming Victorian neighborhood named for the imposing marble edifice nearby, standing proud on the towering hill representing American values — values that, sadly, were not on display during the storming of its ramparts this past week.
I know, 2021 was supposed to be better. A way to move forward from the ravages of 2020. I still believe that to be true. And my family’s experiences bear that out. Consider, if you will, how Capitol Hill shaped our lives.
My kids learned to walk up its steep inclines. The promontory designated Capitol Hill, from Capitol Circle, where Constitution, Pennsylvania and Independence Avenues meet at the bottom by the Capitol Reflecting Pool, on up to the first set of steps on the West Front of the Capitol, where presidents are inaugurated and a rioting mob clambered up the stairs on Wednesday, is 444.5 feet. My kids walked this length — from top to bottom and back again — countless times. We picnicked under its leafy trees. We went sledding down that hill in the winter, before climate change limited our snowfall accumulations and 9–11 curbed where we could go. Although I hear they’re letting kids sled down the West Front of the U.S. Capitol again. I’d say my girls have the strongest legs of any folks I know.
My kids heard their first patriotic music there, and saw their first fireworks on the Fourth of July. The National Symphony Orchestra performs its free “Starlight Concert Series” three times each summer — from a portable band shell erected each time for this purpose — at the bottom of the hill. Thousands and thousands of people — far more than stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday — celebrate America the Beautiful on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, to Sousa marches and rousing anthems. Each July 4, the NSO plays the “1812 Overture” while fireworks explode behind the Washington Monument, about a mile-and-a-half in front of the Capitol, behind the White House.
How many times did my family gather with the crowds for these concerts, using the Capitol Hill lawn and the steps of the West Front as “bleachers”? Hard to say. One occasion a few years ago, however, comes to mind.
Big Bird, of Sesame Street fame, and Aretha Franklin were two of the celebrities set to perform with the NSO on Independence Day 2009. Ella Numera Dos and I were hanging at our house in the burbs, thinking we’d avoid the heat, humidity and throngs of humankind that constitute D.C. every 4th. Long story short, we decided last minute to scoot on down to the Capitol, perhaps catch Aretha and certainly take in the pyrotechnics. With knowledge that only comes to those closely familiar with a place, we drove into D.C. and found a parking space near the Senate side of the Capitol. We arrived as the sun was setting on the Capitol Dome, turning the cast iron facade a pinkish hue while Big Bird was wrapping up his shtick. With a little cajoling, we got a seat on the Capitol steps and had the honor of watching Ms. Franklin perform the “National Anthem” and “Respect”. OK, the latter isn’t exactly patriotic, but it’s a classic. And a great prelude to the Tchaikovsky and the D.C. fireworks.
Little known fact — the front of the U.S. Capitol Building is actually on the other side of the West Front, which is most familiar to Americans because of presidential inaugurations and whatnot. How do we know this? The bronze statue of Freedom, which graces the top of the dome, faces east, and presides over the East Front Plaza of the Capitol. This is where tourists congregate for tours and the Capitol Welcome Center is located.
After 130 years on her perch, authorities decided that Freedom needed a makeover. She was hoisted from her pedestal 288 feet above the plaza by helicopter at the crack of dawn one May morning — and 6-year-old Ella Numera Una and I were there to witness the whole thing. We were even able to get up close and personal with the statue known as the “Protector of Congress” before she began her well-deserved makeover. I’m thankful that Freedom was back on her perch last Wednesday when white supremacists stormed our citadel of American Independence. She’s known as the “Protector of Congress,” after all.
My kids learned a sense of history, in large part, because of the U.S. Capitol and the nature of D.C. in general. We were so close to so much of our nation’s lore for so long that we had a “call and response” when doing even the smallest of errands. Drive by Lincoln Park in our hood? “Hi, President Lincoln!” Same with the Great Man’s memorial, along the Potomac. Down the hill toward the National Mall and the museums, especially since the Capitol was on the route? “Hi, Congress! Hi, Freedom!” My kids knew the names of the presidents, and would hail them by name when we swung by the White House. Reagan; Bush 41; Clinton; Bush 43; Obama — although for Barry they were pretty much grown up (both voted for him twice) so could do their own call-outs. Washington Monument? They always greeted the first Prez, except Ella Numera Una called his obelisk behind the White House “The Washington Mommy-ment” for the longest time.
Let the record show that the Orange Oaf never entered the conversation. Why would he?
Ella Numera Dos got married in D.C. four years ago. A highlight of the event was the wedding photos taken immediately after the ceremony — many at our famous monuments near the White House, including the D.C. War Memorial (where the ceremony took place), the Lincoln Memorial and, of course, the U.S. Capitol.
“I’ve always thought there was something magical and majestic about the U.S. Capitol,” Dos said in a text to her Mama. “Especially when you’re able to get in the full view. I have fond memories of the Capitol — especially Freedom on top.”
Dos was escorting a big shot at her new job while the insurrection was happening at the Capitol. They were surveying important work sites via helicopter, way over in Hawaii where she lives now. We tried to keep her updated on what was happening at the Capitol via text.
Events in D.C. tore her heart apart.
“I’m really sad, seeing those photos. Seeing the blatant disrespect of a building and an institution I hold so dear,” Dos responded. “Thank God for sunglasses and loud helicopters so no one can see or hear me cry.”
The U.S. Capitol — and the two-square-mile neighborhood behind it — is the Nation’s Backyard. And I think historians will catalog the Capitol Insurrection, as it is now being called in the press, as the actions of one small man’s malevolence, along with the ignorant mob incited by this insane tyrant.
Ten days left, people. As my Nana would say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish!” So true.