A Day in D.C.

Once off the train in Washington D.C. you’re immediately treated to the hustle and bustle of commerce in Union Station. Plenty of the usual fare is available but with D.C. prices. My friend’s pack of smokes cost him just under $13. On the second floor, across from the Uno restaurant sits a sizable Jos. A. Banks store. The men’s clothing retailer is known for their relentless advertising and price slashing deals: “buy one get three free!”

Like Washington D.C., Jos. A. Banks survived the recession with flying colors, opening over 200 new stores since the 2008 crash. Even in the darkest years of the downturn, Jos. A. Bank made money. While the stock market was hitting its low in 2009, Jos. A. Banks’ annual profit increased 22 percent to $71.2 million. In 2010, sales increased another 21 percent to $85.8 million.

A clothing retailer seems an odd fit for a train station, but this is Washington. Land of the blue suit. You’d swear the city has a dress code. My open shirt with Levi’s look made me out-of-place. Perhaps I should have at least bought a sports coat and tie for my appointments on Capitol Hill. I roughed it instead.

Across from the train station is a park full of trees shedding fall leaves. There were dozens of squirrels scampering about, all the same in their paranoia and nervous haste. But one was different, colored as white as the Washington Monument, alone in its gathering pursuits.

On Capitol Hill, passersby give you the once-over like no other city. Everyone looks at you as if they are wondering if you are somebody they should know: learned behavior from keeping knives out of their backs and living with constant political paranoia, I suppose.

It was very calm on The Hill the day we visited. There were few tourists and fewer working stiffs looking important in their suits and overstuffed briefcases. Security staff was loose and easy-going when we emptied our pockets and half-disrobed in order to walk through the Library of Congress. One of the security officers said that if we couldn’t walk through the security screening device without setting it off, he’d have to implement a “third option,” involving a cavity search. His D.C. humor had the other three guards in stitches.

As our party washed down the days events at venerable Washington waterhole, Monocle, plenty of young Hill staffers arrived to wet their whistles after a long day of doing the people’s business. If the patron ratio in Monocle is any indication, women are in short supply in the capitol. No wonder no female intern is safe.

Although each table was a gabfest like any other after work gathering place, the various conversations were but controlled murmurs. Nobody dared get too out-of-control. That’s strictly for elected officials living far from home.

While working a bar in many towns is a transition job held by young people, a few of the all male Monocle staff are likely receiving a Social Security check each month. Even the younger ones’ vests couldn’t contain their middle-aged girth.

A visitor can easily see what business is going on in, say, Las Vegas or New York or Hong Kong. Commerce is out in the open. Customers are constantly beckoned with advertising and distinctive signage. And although office workers toil away anonymously in office buildings, each building is unique and gleaming.

The parasitic work of government is done behind closed doors. The buildings are not welcoming. Entrances are hard to find. The old and new look the same: boxy, short, and sandblasted white, slightly more elegant than tilt-up concrete warehouses. The town’s architects evidently took to heart the old saying about the two things a person should never see made: sausage and legislation.

We were in town to meet with a man who is as unique in D.C. as that albino squirrel. Dr. Ron Paul has been the lone beacon of light for liberty in a dark-hearted town. He fought the good fight for decades and attracted millions to the liberty movement, all the while continuing to be a great guy: A rarity in a town where its been said that if you want a friend, “buy a dog.”