Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The DC Experience

Everyone who has ever worked in DC knows how it goes, this city is unlike any other in the way you always meet new people. This is because its a transient city where almost none of the professionals are actually from DC. Its kind of a sad dichotomy because the district is very poor, has terrible schools, so its hard for natives to break out. Well what actually ends up happening is that everytime you meet somone it goes like this?

Hey, where you from? (answer either a state or major city)
What school did you/still go to?
What do you do in DC?

Usually if either A or B are somewhere you know of you play the name game as in, do you know this person. Also, in today's world it seems that everyone going to about 30-40 different colleges in the northeast knows somebody at every other school in the Northeast.

Well I bring all of this up, because its interesting about howI might play baseball next saturday. So I was at this party with fellow Iowa interns, when two random neighbors in the apartment building just invite themselves in - not that weird actually for this city. Some of us were talking about baseball and pretty soon this guy was recruiting us to play for his team on Saturday. We didn't turn out last weekend becasue of the 9am start, but next weekend we might be in the mix. This is really just to illustrate how quickly acquaintances are made in this city.

The second example is how if you have even the littles thing in common with someone - it sparks off great conversation. For instance this guy I work with grew up in Vermont so instantly there is plenty of conversation. Rest assured, just about anywhere in this city is ripe with possiblities for meetings. Since no one has a home base here - everyone is looking for more.

Just an update about work. I've been digging through lots of old Harkin files and there are some interesting things. I found all these old memos on the constitutionaliy of Impeachment hearings. Up until Clinton's trail, all past impeachment hearings had been held in secret....

Here at the New America Foundation I got to do registration at an event today with the leader of the Green party in Germany. He spoke a lot about Iran, but I was interested in how amazing the building was. We were at the Carnegie Institute which shares space with the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute. This is like the Mecca of the think tank world. New America is right there, just no one knows it yet...

Monday, June 25, 2007

How to get ahead

When you think of playing in the US Senate's Softball League, it brings to mind two things. The first is an image of Tom Cruise playing softball in A Few Good Men. Now the movie is pretty good, but what pops up in my head is Tom Cruise hitting ground balls to an atrocious shortstop while Kevin Bacon argues legal theory. The movie does justice to the seriousness of the sport.
The second image that pops into my mind is Matt Damon trying to defend playing poker with his law school professors to his girlfriend. The conversation goes something like her thinking hes getting in the door because of his extracurricular potential. He'll be like that lawyer who is assured of a job as long as he shows up at the interoffice football match every year. While I don't think softball has become this serious yet for the US Senate, it does matter.
Well it just so happens that both of my day jobs are accompanied by ambitious softball teams with huge desires to succeed. The Harkin team comes with special attachment as we play our inter-state, cross party rival in the form of Senator Grassley's team. This is big. This is so big that Senator Harkin actually shows up to the game to cheer on the team. Now with all this talk of partaisanship in Washington, it is probably no more reflected than on the softball field. Thing is Dems or R's can be just as mean to each other when it comes to softball.
Now you would guess the "think tank" league would be a bit less competitive, but oh no my friend, you have no idea what it means to those future assitant secretaries of state and whitehouse third level advisors to win a softball game. Not to drop any names but word on the street - Heritage and American Enterprise are quite the competitive institutions.
So just getting it out there that softball is the shit in this city in the summer - watch out if you want a job in DC but can't field a glove

My Day Job

While I do tend to enjoy my time in DC with its laundry list of attractions, I thought I would post a bit about my day jobs for those interested. On Monday and Friday I work at the US Senate catalogging Senator Harkin's archives. Hmm, that sounds a little bit prestigious when really I'm listening to an ipod trying to decide which of the crap is more important and worth saving. Probably the most interesting thing I've found so far was a briefing for a congressional delegation to Vietnam in 1995. While flipping through the pages, I found a piece on the demographics of Vietnam. My favorite line: "Women who are close friends often hold hands. They are not lesbians." I mean who prepared this report that just in case our congressional leaders were worried - they can rest assured that lesbianism is not rampant in the land of Ho Chi Minh.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I hang out at the New America Foundation. This is a centrist think tank that was founded on the principle of not promoting a democratic or republican ideology but instead focused on ideas. I'd say the think tank has a lot of dems working there but could care less about what the political parties advocate when publishing their research. Still there are a number of very right wing fellows at the think tank which makes for some good diversity.

What I actually work on is usually economics or foreign policy based. I've been doing research lately on the rise of the Chinese middle class and the affect of public investment on private investment. Other projects have included researching the missile defense system in Europe and Cuban terrorists - i know, REALLY exciting - but for someone like me its not bad actually. The head of my program runs a blog here, and the guy I overhear talking in the office next door runs a blog here.

Also, this is a picture of the office where I've been hanging out lately. The way the think tank works is that half the people are never in their offices because they are travelling the world or working from home. Usually Flyntt Leverett hangs out here, but instead I get to enjoy his view. I hadn't heard of any of these people until about three months ago, but I'm learning that they actualy make a difference in the world out here - so I guess they are important. Now that you all know my day jobs, I'll hopefully have good "water cooler" talk to post on here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I want to ride my bicycle

Cycling in DC, what a perfect place for a bike. I really got adjusted to cycling around a city in Budapest, but my fascination has continued here in the district. On Sunday I rode about 30 miles on a path along the Potomac on the Virginia side of the river. On Friday I even took my bike the 10 miles to work and cycled all around the city. Maybe its that feeling you get when you get that bike in like 4th grade where the whole town is yours. Dexter and I would go everywhere on our bikes and take over the town. Maybe I still have that feeling where once I’m on a bike, I can get anywhere.

Its so much easier and faster to get around a city by bike. Especially DC because its so much more spread out than Budapest. I’d say cycling is better here too because there are cycling paths and bike lanes everywhere. In Budapest these were almost unheard of. Also I’d say there is a pretty good cycle culture here. The radio I was listening to today was giving away a fancy bike instead of a TV or grille that would seem more typical. I’d say it also helps that there are police and guards everywhere because this city is so full of itself (see earlier post) that most bikes are generally protected. Still one of my fellow interns said hes lived here for 5 years and said he’s on his 4th bike because of theft.

Maybe the thrill of cycling is that you’re on the roads with all the cars but you have really no protection. You’re just there with complete freedom. Might be scary to some, and I should really get a helmet, but I kind of like that feeling. Guess we’ll really see how much I like it when I get to Argentina.

I'm an Idiot

I just signed myself up for an interview at UPS for tomorrow at 5 am. If this thing goes well, next week I might just be unloading and loading UPS trucks everyday from 4 am - 8 am. I'm not sure what made this sound like a good idea when I was completing the application. I guess I just need more obligations out here, and why not make some money while I'm at it. I'll really be working Cody hours (working at a golf course now). Except I'm not very good about going to bed early, so maybe this will teach me a thing or two about the necessity of sleep. Not sure how focused I'll be on thursday afternoons about 4 pm when i should be researching the decline in US consumption on worldwide imports - We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Calm Down

I hate DC interns. I know this is absurd because I’m one of them, but the over ambitious youth in this city are nauseating. So many college students thinking their pesky little three months here are going to change the world. Are you kidding, politicians spend years here and don’t get anything done. The Union Station metro station is of particular displeasure. Seeing all the senate interns pull our their IDs, check their ties, and unplug their ipods. Has our culture really lost all sense of itself. Are we really this geared on power that we have to care about our lives when we are so young. Yea call me a hypocrite but at least I can acknowledge how much pressure there is to succeed at such a young age. Something needs to be done to convince us to relax and live a little. A lot of people can do this alongside such internships and take them with a grain of humility, I like to think I’m in this category.

What I’m really trying to say is that this has to be the most arrogant city in the world. Sure New York is busier and London and Paris probably more glamorous but DC is so full of itself. Nowhere will you meet so many self important people. Last week at my think tank we had this function for foreign policy types. I mean people were too busy to even tell me their name for registration before going to the seminar. I mean are you honestly that important when I’ve never even heard of you before. Do so many people really always have to be on their blackberries, have to interrupt every meeting for an “important” phone call? Does the world really end if you don’t take that? Alright my rant is done, but this city needs to relax.

I would walk 500 miles

The proverbial American roadtrip – an experience that everyone has at some point in his/her life. I suppose we have Dwight D. Eisenhower to thank for making it possible. I’m not sure where the idea of the roadtrip comes from, but its something that every American burns to do. The Oregon Trail, The Wilderness Road, maybe its from our historic desire to move West. Harry Truman loved to take road trips and drove all over the country because he could. Even today with flights cheaper than ever the interstates are just so inviting – and I’ve more than once taken the offer. A midnight ride to New Orleans, 1:45 am departures from Vermont, I like the road.

So it was no surprise that last Saturday I set off yet again for a cross country trip from Iowa to Washington DC for my various internships. My great Aunt and Uncle Edwin and Rosalie Demoney have been kind enough to let me stay with them for the summer. The thing that occurred to me was that I had never done any of my major trips alone. 20 hrs in a car is a long time to spend by yourself. Lucky enough I had a cell phone and weekend minutes to burn. The roadtrip started easily enough thanks to McDonalds breakfast at 6 am with Dex. I made it all the way to Joliet, Il before any problems surfaced. Now Joliet is quite the microcosm of American culture. People of all socio-economic levels were present at this Wal-Mart. Women in heels got out of their mazdas next to guys in pants/shorts who were blaring music out of their duct taped subs. The place was interesting in its own right.

I had stopped to buy a battery for my mp3 player but when I returned to the car its own battery was completely dead. Here I was in the middle of Illinois with no means of getting around. I had to make it to Pittsburgh that night. More than anything I was pissed this was going to set me behind schedule. So I marched back into Wal-Mart got a car battery, bought some tools, and was back out to the car to put the battery in. After an hour I was safely on my way, the new battery working well. I will forever remember the Wal-Mart of Joliet, Il. Drove through Pittsburgh and stayed with Szabi whose family treated me like royalty and fed me delicious Hungarian food that I hadn’t experienced since I left the motherland. What a nice surprise. Toll roads suck – I recommend avoiding them at all costs. Made getting across Ohio rather expensive.

Got into Arlington ok and was happy to see Edwin and Rosalie. I haven’t been here for a year and a half but it felt like I had never left. Got settled right in and felt right at home.

Still that road trip was one of the easiest ones in my life, but it just shows how we love to drive across this country. I think somebody needs to look into it – what’s are obsession with driving, why don’t we have useful transportation? I spent 9 months criss crossing Europe without a car. Now I can’t even get across my own country w/o a car?

I have a dream

So I’ve decided that my graduation present to myself is going to be a bike ride from northern Mexico to Ushuaia on the tip of Argentina – the southern most city in the world. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible and there is no way to finance it, but hey there isn’t an idea yet that I’ve shied away from. Right now I’m convinced I can get from Texas to Panama easily enough. It’s getting from there through Columbia that I’m worried about. And once I’m through Columbia I can just hop on Che’s route and I’m golden.

So you might wonder what has prompted this – I have no idea other than Eric has really made me like cycling. I speak a bit of Spanish and figured this was the best, cheapest way to see South America. Now how long is this going to take, probably longer than I expect. I’m guessing 4 – 8 months but who really knows. Google Earth says its something absurd like 9000 miles from Texas to Buenos Aires - averaging 75 miles a day, that's only 120 days.

All I know is that I spent 2 hrs at Barnes and Noble on Friday night planning my route. I know right now that its going to include Mexico City, the Panama Canal, Machu Pichu and most of Che Guevera’s route, though he had a motorcycle. I’m convinced it can be done on bike – where there are roads, I can go. So if you know of anyone out there who has looked into this, let me know. Looks like I’ll be departing next February and I’m sure my parents will be pleased to hear the news.

Perhaps the (new) name of the blog says it all. I really just can’t sit still, and this way I can have the travel adventure of my life and not have to buy a plane ticket or spend too much money - for these same reasons Ernesto Guevera and Alberto Granado embarked fifty years ago. My college loans kick in after 6 months so that’s the real deadline to get back – we’ll see how I do. Most of you probably think I’m crazy and will never do this, but like Eric with his ride across Europe, maybe if I make this thought public there will be enough pressure to actually do it. Just wait – February will be here before you know it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Three Week Intermission

Eric was right - sort of. He figured I wouldn't keep my blog updated once I got back to the states. Well this is my attempt to disprove him. I though in keeping with the new location, subject, basically life style I would throw up a new look to the blog. Tell me what you think. I've got a few ideas for a few posts which I should cover over the next few days. I'll have to write one about all this culture shock that was supposed to rifle through me. Another about the fun days of landscaping. Also not to forget my epic trip out to DC from Iowa which included my car breaking down in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Chicago. That was interesting. Oh cycling around DC might be a post too - seeing as thats what I'm off to do now. No worries - I'll be better about posting from here on out.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Good Bye London

Avi: Eighty-six carats.
Rosebud: Where?
Avi: London.
Rosebud: London?
Avi: London.
Avi's Colleague: London?
Avi: Yes, London. You know: fish, chips, cup 'o tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary Poppins... LONDON.

(From the Movie: Snatch)

London Gatwick Airport 11:25 AM, Monday May 28 - Last Hour in Europe

It’s still raining. I managed to get to London at one of the worst times – it hasn’t stopped raining since about an hour after I arrived. Now I’m just biding my time here at the airport – actually in time for once in my life. Sunday was another busy day of exploring London – this time I went with a literary theme.

First off I walked just down the road from the flat where I was staying to King’s Cross Station. I labored long and hard to find Platform 9 ¾ along with the other ten assembled tourists. Looks like I just missed Harry and Ron catching the Hogwarts Express.

Next it was to the center of all things literary in London at the British National Library. This may have been my favorite stop. On the first floor was a really cool exhibit of the books of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity including some very old sacred texts, a copy of the oldest known Quran, and several other landmarks.

Upstairs they had manuscripts from every famous author you can imagine, Dickens, Pope, the Bronte Sisters, and more. Also in the exhibit were original compositions by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, also the original Principae Mathematicas as well as letters from Newton and Galileo. Shakespeare was well represented with his four known signatures – all of which look different giving rise to the legend he existed in name only.

The most legendary artifact in the museum was probably the Magna Carta. Thing is, there isn’t just one Magna Carta. In 1215 when it was signed, it was a simple political agreement not meant to have long-lasting repercussions. The king even had the pope annul it a few months later. So no one copy remains but the Museum had 2 of the 4 that were probably made in the subsequent months after the meeting.

Next stop was the Regents Gardens, I’m not sure the literary connection but it seemed perfect for Alice in Wonderland, and a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is performed here at an outdoor theater. There is also a long canal and a boating lake.

Continuing with my literary theme, off to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stomping grounds at 221 Baker Street. Sherlock wasn’t home, but I took a gander at some of his things. I also wandered down Baker street and just off Paddington Station. Next was a walk along the famous Oxford Street to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. People gather at this spot to espouse whatever they may desire – most of the people I saw were Christian fanatics, but my favorite stand had to be the two guys with a sign that said FREE HUGS. That’s all, just free hugs.

A walk through the park brought me past Harrod’s Department Store which I stayed a safe distance from. Then on to the Natural History Museum to bring out the little kid in me. Wow was it crowded. I couldn’t even get inside to see the dinosaurs because there was a half hour wait. Maybe next time I make it to the city.

The Science center had a really cool exhibit on James Watt and some cool ships but rather than letting me see anything they kicked us out at 5:30 so that not a single person would be anywhere close to the museum entrance by closing time at 6. Well six pretty much means closing time for everything I wanted to see, so it was time to explore what outdoor London had to offer. I just wish it hadn’t of been raining so hard. I took a stroll around the Chelsea neighborhood seeing houses of all these famous literary figures I should know but don’t actually. I saw someone else on the same route who I’m pretty sure was taking the tour to make herself feel smarter.

Next it was a walk along the river, yes still in the rain. Made it up to Trafalgar Square to say good bye to Lord Nelson. Down the Strand over to “The Monument” which I thought would be a lot cooler than it was. Still though I had to venture on to London Bridge and get one last gaze of the Tower Bridge and its huge columns. By this time I was soaked through and through so I wasn’t too excited about waling home but sometimes you gotta power through. A walk past the Bank of England was en route. I walked in the door to the flat and just stripped down and stood under the warm shower for about 20 minutes.

Today I discovered how buses work. Rather than going up and down all the flights and stairs of the metro, I got a direct bus from outside the flat straight to the bus station. No stairs. All my stuff even made weight at the airport and I had enough money for some food. Sometimes things just work out.

Well this blog hasn’t been too exciting, but I’ll have some final thoughts in a bit.