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12 November 2010

Bringing Some California Cool to DC's Bureaucracy

Many people just stared at me, confused...

It was my second day in Washington DC, and Leslie and I walked to the Curbside Cook Off in a big parking lot near Chinatown. We had learned our lesson from the previous day's lunchtime rush, and we arrived there just after 11 AM. Nevertheless, the queues at each of the trucks ran almost across the entire lot, with at least 50 people waiting for each truck.

We chose the Sâuçá truck, serving "globally inspired food." Each dish on their menu represented a different region of the world. I went for an Italian sausage wrap while Leslie got an Indian butter wrap. The food was delicious, but not completely filling for $8. The owner was really nice, though, going out and passing out samples of their lemonade to all those waiting in the warm sun. I also got him, and several other people in line, to give me high-fives. Only about 1 hour in, and I was at over 60 high-fives. OH YEAH.

The next stop: Ford's Theatre. Most famously known as the place where President Lincoln was shot, the theater is still a functioning one, and in fact my visit just happened to coincide with a rehearsal of that evening's show, so I was not allowed in. (Yet another building in DC with restricted access! Lighten up people - it's not like I'm climbing in your windows and snatching your people up.) Across the street, the Petersen Boarding house, where Lincoln actually died, was closed for renovations. So Leslie and I had to be content with browsing the exhibit of Lincoln's life and presidency. At least the entry was free.

My sense of wandering led us back towards Pennsylvania Avenue. We discovered a Farmer's Market in the courtyard adjacent to the Ronald Reagan building. There were plenty of vendors selling gourmet nuts and pre-arranged flowers and kettle popcorn. At the end of the market, I walked past a family who had just taken a picture in front of a fountain. I could have just kept on walking, but I chose to walk up to them and proudly proclaim, "HIGH FIVE!" with my hand held high. The kids enthusiastically slapped my hand and so did the parents. As I turned to walk away, the mother asked me, "so where are you from?"

"California, you?"


And as I walked away I noted the wondrous expression on their faces. The kids were tugging on their mom's shirt asking her if I really was from California, with a look on their face as if they had just seen Santa Claus.

And this is why I high-five. For the kids.

The rest of the day was spent trying to enter buildings we weren't allowed to enter. I ripped open a door to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, setting off the alarm and getting yelled at by a security guard. They screened me and I got to walk inside. There was a conference going on relating to trade with China and India. I tried to find the headquarters for USAID, where I would try to charm them into offering me a job right on the spot (with a snug-fitting t-shirt, flashy sunglasses, and a rough goatee, I was a clear stand out from all the suits walking around soullessly). But alas, no luck. Leslie had gone her own way and ended up at the White House visitor center, a pathetic exhibit for all us visitors who were unable to book tickets to tour the actual White House. I was not interested in Dolly Madison's choice of silverware of Lady Bird Johnson's sense of style. I just wanted to give President Obama a fist bump. Or a high-five. But I'd have to fight through the entire federal government first.

Leslie and I continued walking, passing monuments, the Red Cross headquarters, the DAR, the Organization of American States, the Department of the Interior, and the Federal Reserve. The sheer number of agencies all concentrated in one area is simply overwhelming and staggering. It made me realize: THIS is where all my damn taxes go. Thousands and thousands of employees just sitting around having meetings all day; no wonder so many Americans speak of the government with such distaste.

I found the Federal Reserve headquarters particularly impressive. There, in that building, lies the hand controlling the largest economy in the world.

I had to fight back the urge to run up, find Mr. Bernanke, shake him by the shoulders while yelling "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" and then subsequently asking for a job with the Fed. I think the boldness of my entrance would have made a great impression.

Next on the itinerary: The Albert Einstein Memorial. It's a big bronze statue of Mr. Einstein, just asking to be climbed upon. And so we did. I don't want to think about how many people have touched each part of Einstein's body.

One last building for me to try to get into: The Department of State. This time, I walked right up to the Visitors Entrance and declared, "I am a visitor. I would like to enter."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the "open sesame" that they wanted to hear. The security guard was sympathetic, however, and directed me to some side entrance where I would be even less likely to get in. The afternoon was wearing on, and Leslie had a meeting at 4pm, so we walked back to the apartment.

The final count for my high-five odyssey was respectable: 130 in about 4 hours. My hand actually had begun to feel sore after a while. And I just didn't have the energy to prod people into high-fiving me back. The responses I got were the most interesting part: Many people just stared at me, confused, even after I explained to them what a high-five is. One European businessman just kept saying "hello" to me as if I were waving at him. Some people just flat out ignored me. One girl ran away. About 10 people, upon seeing what I was doing, actually approached me and enthusiastically high-fived me!

I stayed in the apartment, resting my weary legs and surfing the web while Leslie had her meeting/audition. She was interviewing with a casting agent to see if she could be in the audience for an upcoming MTV/BET town hall meeting with President Obama!

She returned, told me about the interview, which went well, and we just sat and watched TV. Top Chef: Just Desserts was on, and it got us craving something sweet. We soon headed out again, to check a frozen yogurt place called Mr. Yogato.

Mr. Yogato offers a wide range of discounts, but with several catches:

I went for the trivia question. This day, there were two questions, each worth 5% off. First, name the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. EASY.

Second question: Name 5 of the 8 countries the Danube river passes through.

I named nine. The guy gave me a third discount just for being so awesome.

I also got my head stamped for a 10% discount, which I passed on to Leslie.

After enjoying our servings of froyo, Leslie and I met up with her friend Mari for dinner. We ended up having Malaysian food, curry and Singapore style noodles. We also caught the end of the always-important happy hour, from which Mari got an overly sweet Singapore Sling. We then parted ways, Leslie and I retreating to her apartment to get some more rest. However, since it was my last night in DC, the obligation to go out was too great, and it led us to a nearby bar called Public Bar, which seems cool and young from the outside, but turned out to be full of snobbery and douchiness on the inside. $12 for two beers - in bottles! - is simply un-acceptable.

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