I am a nonessential federal employee. This is my shutdown.
I was enjoying the all-day happy hour at Del Campo, a Peruvian/Mexican restaurant in Chinatown, when news first broke about gunfire at the Capitol Building. Like everyone who tried to follow the story as unconfirmed reports flooded news networks and twitter, part of me wondered whether this tragic, frightening event had anything to do with the shutdown. We don’t know and might never know the motives of the woman who caused the melee, so her death almost seems indicative of a city that’s losing its mind.
Shortly after all the news conferences, I went for a longish bike ride around the National Mall. As I rode past the monuments, I could see tourists making the most of their visits. There were dozens of children in matching T-shirts at the Vietnam Memorial—red, white, and blue, of course—and everyone was eager to snap a shot of front the stern-looking guard at the Lincoln Memorial.
But the longer I stayed there, the more disquieting our nation’s backyard seemed. No one was merely enjoying the grounds (groups of tourists would scurry from one site to each other), and there was an MPD helicopter parked on the green with its blades still whirring. The uneasiness continued as I rode from the Mall around the Capitol. Bikers would lift the police tape as they entered or left the campus, and I was told to turn right on Constitution toward Independence where I rejoined regular traffic.
There was more day-drinking at Capitol Lounge, where I got a free pint, and The Ugly Mug was offering generous drink specials to all furloughed employees. I was in the neighborhood to meet two friends, who had just finished a rough cut of a documentary about Maryland Deathfest, Baltimore’s annual death metal festival, and they wanted some feedback/comments before they submitted the final cut to film festivals around the country. The post-screening discussion was lively: Over beer and pizza, we talked about the film’s pacing, whether it presumed too much familiarity with the metal community, and how much foreshadowing they should include before the title card. So much of furlough feels like I’m in suspended animation, so the discussion was a welcome distraction and a pleasant reminder that good work continues without the federal workforce.
This morning I got breakfast with a friend who’s working on a post-doc at the National Institute of Health. She’s an independent contractor so she’s still getting paid, but it’s unclear just how much work she can perform with government equipment. Her situation is more professionally frustrating than mine: Her experiments take days, if not weeks, to set up, and they will almost certainly die if the shutdown continues into next week. She graciously offered to pick up the check—I may not be getting paid, but I still feel weird about accepting generosity from others—but that all might be moot soon since the House is voting tomorrow on whether furloughed employees will receive back pay. I told her I’d get the check next time.
It’s Friday, so that means my weekend has technically lasted since Tuesday morning. This does not feel like a long weekend, or even a vacation. It’s more like a haze punctuated by bouts of frustration and drink specials. My mood will worsen by Monday, I’m almost certain of it.
Photo by Alan Zilberman