Walk of Shame at the U.S. Capitol Building
Long before 9-11, terrorism was in my consciousness. When I was overseas, posters of the most wanted terrorists were prominently hung in our barracks. Those of us who drove were taught to examine the underside of vehicles for bombs.
Once, I had to fly out of Frankfurt, Germany to the U.S. on the Fourth of July. Just prior to my trip, a broadcast warned of a terrorist threat planned for July on just such a flight. I remember expecting a boom the entire trip – and it was a long one – over the Atlantic Ocean to New York.
With that backdrop and the world we live in today, I can understand the precautions that are necessary when we use airports, government buildings, and other public places. Sometimes, I complain about the loss of freedom but I’m really complaining about my personal inconvenience.
While we were in Washington D.C., we stayed at the same hotel where, just outside, a sniper’s bullet almost killed President Reagan. We woke early to get a head start on a busy day. We had a pre-scheduled tour of the Capitol Building, located at the far end of The National Mall. This would kick off a full day of walking through the Mall and visiting many of the museums and monuments. Heat was definitely going to be a problem. In recent days, the temperature had been in triple digits, and more of the same was expected. So, like a good Boy Scout, I was going to be prepared and filled up my camel pack (a small backpack that only holds water). Then I filled plastic bottles to go inside my wife’s and kids’ backpacks. Since we’d be on the go all day and well into the evening, I also threw in a fist full of snacks consisting of granola, crackers and trail mix.
My wife mentioned something about restrictions and security checkpoint at the Capitol Building. I blew it off. I mean c’mon – it was going to be a hundred degrees! We only had water and snacks. Open the packs, take a look, let us through. There was no doubt in my mind that that would be the extent of it. It’s not like we live in Russia (my mind sometimes sticks in the 1980s).
“Subway?” My wife suggested.
“Let’s hoof it. It doesn’t look so bad,” I said glancing at a map.
I definitely underestimated the time it would take, something I am not known to do.
“Look kids, White House,” snap-snap and we had our pic to show we were there. Then we were gone.
Once we were on The Mall, we ran in spurts in order to meet our time slot for our scheduled tour. The length of the Mall was grossly underestimated.
“Damn map maker,” I muddled.
My wife didn’t let it slide. I was to blame. Little did she know, I was just warming up.
We joined the line, which was already snaking outside, and waited. It was already getting hot outside.
The kids asked for water and I said, “No, we need to conserve it.”
You know kids, no foresight. They would deplete our water supply by the time we got inside and then complain they needed a bathroom. That was my thinking anyway.
Every now and then as tourists entered into the building, we noticed they were sent back out to dispose of things not approved for entry.
“We should dump out our water,” my wife said.
I looked at her like she was crazy, “Are you kidding me – it’s going to be a hundred today. It’s water!”
When we finally entered the building, there were scanners and commotion everywhere. We had to remove bags, belts, shoes, you-name-it, for inspection.
“This can’t go in,” said security.
I was directed to take my camel pack outside to pour it out and return. A guard at the door would let me in and out. But I wasn’t permitted to dump water just outside the door. I had to go into the grass off to the side of the long line of people waiting to get inside. They looked at me like I looked at others coming back out earlier. As I poured, I saw some couples exchange words resulting in either water being dumped or a shake of a head, no.
When I got back inside, my wife was smiling and security was frowning.
“This has to go, too,” security said, handing me a bowl full of snacks.
I made a basket out of the front of my shirt, dumped in what I considered lunch to save a few bucks and headed back outside. This time, I was directed to the other side of the line where the dumpsters were located. I felt self-conscious on this walk of shame.
Back inside, my wife and security guard were both frowning. Now I had to go dump the water bottles. I could have kicked myself for not thinking to dump them when I dumped the camel pack. As I poured away hydration in the greenest grass I had ever seen in July, I couldn’t even bear to look at the crowd of people who certainly recognized me by now.
A guard at the door smiled out of familiarity when I re-entered.
My wife and son were standing in the clear on the other side of the metal detectors. It struck me as a little off that my daughter was still on my side so I nudged her forward, anxious to put this freak-show behind us.
“Hold up!” came a voice I was growing to despise.
“Gotta take it out,” I was told.
“Really?” I gave a look of c’mon!
I didn’t mind the three shame walks because it was my fault for trying to get over. But they got me on all my goods. Yes, I was an idiot for thinking I was sensible. What could possibly be the hold-up this time, I wondered. Security pulled out sun screen from the bottom of my daughter’s back pack.
“The dumpster is just over there, outside the doors,” I directed my teenage daughter.
She looked startled. I had rattled her from her comfort zone. I was sacrificing my flesh and blood so that I could avoid a fourth strut down shame alley. Reluctantly, she complied. The doors and wall were glass so I could watch her the entire way.
Meanwhile, my wife and son were shooed off to keep the throngs of people flowing.
Commands echoed, directing us and others, “Clear the area, keep it moving.”
“We’ll catch up inside,” I called out to my wife as she and our son disappeared from sight.
“You too, sir,” said security putting a hand on me, pushing but not shoving.
I stood pat and explained, “I have to wait for my daughter, she’ll be right back. She had to dump something outside.”
“Doesn’t matter, you have to move on,” he said pushing against me again.
I understood rules and why water and crackers had to be thrown out to keep large crowds from being bogged down by deeper inspection. It was easier and efficient this way, especially considering it was the Capitol Building. But there was no way I was leaving my 13-year-old girl to fend for herself in that crowd.
“She’ll be here in a second, sir,” I said with a pleading smile.
As he started to repeat himself, my look changed. Something about it made the guard step to the side as if I had complied and wasn’t there anymore.
I felt terrible for wimping out on a fourth trip outside, but I was so familiar with the surroundings by then, I had convinced myself that my daughter would be just fine. Standing there was the most shame I felt. Although each second seemed like a minute, my daughter was by my side again and we entered the U.S. Capitol Building, safe and sound.
The Supreme Court may ponder whether they are an equal branch of government because by the time we entered that building, we had replenished our water supply, compliments of a drinking fountain. Security looked at everything we had and let us through without having to dump anything.
By Rocco Satullo, your tour guide to fun!
Next Stop: National Mall & Memorial Parks
Last Stop: Arlington National Cemetery