The American Heathen Goes to Washington Pt. 3
(The following post is Part 3 of a multi-part series on RJ Evans’ visit to Washington, DC as part of the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition efforts to lobby for the Internet Radio Fairness Act. The bill will be re-introduced in this year’s 113th Congress.)
One of the worst parts of traveling is trying to sleep in an unfamiliar place, on an unfamiliar mattress, with an unfamiliar, unreliable, totally uncooperative and belligerent pillow. Add to this potentially insomnia inducing adventure, the sounds of sirens, trains, the occasional flush from the room next door… Well, you get the picture. But then, there’s also the ever-present freight train of your mind that doesn’t seem to care that the body it’s traveling through has shut the tracks down for badly needed night-time maintenance. The combination of all of the above made for a very, very, very, long night.
The wake-up call for 6am never came. After going multiple rounds with four different pillows (I was outnumbered by the way), I finally delivered a knockout blow to the last one just before 2:30am. But by then, the brain train decided to rumble down the tracks on an unscheduled run as I was finally starting to feel the first vestiges of unconsciousness pulling the crossing gate down. CRASH!!! Another thirty minutes would pass as the rail cars full of details for the next day passed by. My long day had somehow become a decathlon.
Apparently I didn’t trust the front desk. I woke with a start and looked over at the clock. At first I thought the LED number read 6am, but as my visual cortex was decoding the pix-elated message from my eyes, I realized that it was actually 5am. I hate when fives look like sixes. I can’t tell you how many times a perfectly good hour of sleep has been ruined by that. As I slammed my head back down on the pillow in frustration I could hear the pillow moan at me. Even though I’d managed to knock it out, it had still taken me the full fifteen rounds. I decided to get up. Better to have lost one battle with sleep than lose the entire war. I figured I’d attack again when I got home in 18 hours.
A shit, shower, shave… and a hearty Denver Omelet kicked me in the pants. I was ready! ‘To hell with sleep! I’ll get plenty of it when I’m dead!’ I walked to the lobby and was greeted by a few members of the coalition. Harvey was there, a somewhat nervous look on his face. For good reason I’m sure. He was preparing to go into legislative battle with a bunch of no-nothing green recruits. I’m also certain it wasn’t the first time he’d led a charge with amateurs guarding his six. He looked battle worn, tried and tested. And, I had the feeling that Harvey was the kind of general who kept Maalox tablets close at hand, and his cardiologist on speed-dial. The rest of the troops showed up in the lobby, travel cases in tow. All of us were scheduled to fly out at the end of the day’s trench warfare. We’d either be limping home, tending to our wounds, or marching proudly, knowing that we’d conquered the halls of Congress. Harvey called everyone together. This was it! The moment! We are about to go to war! “Let’s walk outside and get into the taxis”, Harvey said. Huh? I kind of expected a little something more from him than “…get into the taxis”. I mean, we were charging onto the legislative battlefield right? But, no. No pep talk. No battle cries of freedom. We just casually walked out the front door of the hotel and out to the curb. ‘Damn it! I was hoping for pounding drums! I want to hear thundering hooves of war horses and the sound of steel treads on tanks!’ Instead, all I heard was the sound of plastic travel case wheels on concrete and the occasional slurp from a cup of coffee.
After scrounging for a cab large enough to handle our five member team, we arrived on Capitol Hill at the Rayburn building, one of five marbled legislative offices for the House of Representatives. There are three Senate buildings. The vast scope of the real estate covered by the “Hill’s” marble monoliths is amazing. None of the photographs I’ve ever seen are capable of depicting the enormity of these structures, and the decadence of their construction. As I looked around, the first thought I had was ‘And Republicans are actually complaining about big government and waste?’
After making our way through Rayburn’s security we entered a maze of halls that would guide us through the building to our first destination. A room had been reserved for us as a place to store our travel bags, coats, and personal items, and to seek refuge in between our heavy meeting schedule. We’d be walking between multiple House and Senate office buildings all day. So, having a base camp was essential. The room we were assigned was a very large conference theater. It bore a striking resemblance to the rooms I had seen on television when politicians held news conferences or hearings. There was a long u shaped table on a raised platform at the front of the room with multiple mini boom microphone positions. Out in front and center was a lectern with some sort of official seal whose face had been brutally vandalized with random strips of Velcro. The ceiling was over twenty feet high and there were two very large, imposing windows that offered an unprecedented view of the Capitol building across the street. After admiring the view, I turned around to see Harvey frantically motioning and calling us over. “Time to go to work” he said calmly, even though he was developing what appeared to be a nervous tic. We were first up to bat on the day’s schedule. We had just enough time to dump our stuff and navigate the labyrinth of Rayburn to our first meeting. Right out of the gate, the heat was on. My only thought… Let’s rock!
Team Work, Esprit De Corps, Unum
Our first meeting was with a legislative assistant (LA) at Representative Tom Cole’s office. Cole is a Republican and represents Oklahoma, my place of residence for the last 16 years. Each member of the team would be the lead speaker at the office of the state they came from. That meant that I was on deck. Harvey knew I wasn’t a fan of any Representative or Senator from Oklahoma, so he made the initial contact with the secretary at the front desk. Afterward, the opening of the discussion would be up to me. The LA came out and greeted all of us. A firm handshake, an exchange of business cards, and a warm smile from each of us set the tone. Harvey was thankful it wasn’t Cole. The LA led us to a small back room conference table. We sat down and I opened up the discussion. The battle plan was simple. Find out if the LA knew anything about Internet radio, the Copyright Royalty Board, and the issues with royalty rates. If they did, then deliver a passionate appeal, based on facts in evidence, to bring royalty rates in line with what satellite and cable radio pay, through legislation that would be reintroduced during the 113th Congress. If they didn’t know anything about the situation, bring them up to speed. My primary focus would be to talk about the meat of the subject, and then my teammates would pick up the slack. Amazingly, the game plan went flawlessly. Each team member jumped in when needed, unprompted, unscripted and absolutely on point. It was as if we had been working together for years. I was overwhelmed by the precision with which we delivered our message and how quickly and concisely we answered the LA’s questions. Five strangers, five different points of view, five different human beings working together seamlessly. Team Work. Esprit De Corps. Unum.
Rock & Roll Hallways
As the day progressed it became clear that we were working exceptionally well together. We were truly a team to be reckoned with. Harvey seemed surprised and pleased. I could see him relax as the day went on. His troops were holding their own on the battlefield and he was showing his pride. As we walked the long halls of Congress I observed a few very interesting and notable things. Every hallway is the same. Long, high, wide, and completely marble. Floors, ceilings, doorways… marble everywhere. Doors were few. Long stretches of hallway, then a single door, two flags – one the Stars and Stripes, the other the State flag of the Representative or Senator. Then there was the understated State Seal attached to one side or the other of the doorway. The elevators were small, cramped and old. Many had signs on them telling folks that they were reserved for Congressman during votes. Other signs denoted exclusive elevators for Congressman. Every room and hallway had a clock. The clock was slightly ornate, with an hour, minute and second-hand. But, what made these clocks unusual were the series of lights that curved along the top of the dials. The lights would illuminate white or red indicating, to Representatives and Senators, the status of events on the House and Senate floors. I asked Harvey about the lights, and even though he’d been a Washington insider for many years, he couldn’t tell me exactly what they meant when lit. I guess only time will tell.
Meeting after meeting our well oiled, super-duper Internet Radio Fairness machine trekked on. We were unstoppable. But, about two meetings into the day my head had started to expand, then pound, then explode. My lack of sleep had caught up with me in a big way. It also didn’t help matters that I was at the mercy of whatever vile airborne contaminates had been floating around in my hotel room. My sinuses felt like one of my pillows had sought revenge on me by crawling into my head and fluffing itself up. I was in serious pain. Probably the worst headache I’ve ever had. I fought it for a while. A third meeting, then a fourth, then… I asked Harvey if he knew where I could buy something for my, now excruciating, headache. He told me we’d try to find a place in the building as soon as the next meeting was over. After the fifth meeting we headed back to our staging area. When we got there I was beginning to wonder if one of the marble slabs from the building had dropped on my head. Fortunately, one of Harvey’s assistants had a purse stocked with a bottle of Advil gel caps. I asked her for three. No sooner than popping them into my mouth and slugging them down with a gulp of Diet Coke, Harvey put out the call that it was time to rock & roll the Hallways again. I hoped the Advil was as fast as Harvey.
Victory and Taps
The last meeting was at 4pm. I was exhausted. As we left the meeting there was a feeling of victory in all of us. We were high on the events of the day and the quality of our performance. It was time to celebrate, but there was no time to celebrate. We had planes to catch. We stopped by our staging area to say our goodbyes and pick up our luggage. Shortly afterward, Harvey and I were on our way to the parking garage to get his car. The trip to the airport gave Harvey and I a little more time to talk. It turns out that Harvey moonlights as a sports reporter for the AP and a few magazines. He’s also a proud father, a loving husband, and all around good guy. Yeah, he’s Republican. Yeah, he’s part of the Rube Goldberg Machine of Washington politics. But, I grew very fond of my General. He was my leader, my inspiration, and friend… at least for a day. And, more than anything, he was an ally who helped web casters chart a course to fairness for all of us.
As we pulled up in front of Reagan International, Harvey and I said our goodbyes. I closed the door on his millennial 4 door Japanese import with the baby seat in the back, and took one more look back at Harvey in his once crisp, freshly pressed suit, turned wrinkled and slightly disheveled… Yep. Victory. Thank you sir. Now it was time for Taps. As I crawled to the ticket counter to check my tiny bag that now, for some strange reason, felt like a ton of bricks, I could hear the trumpet playing my swan song. I was so tired that dropping dead actually sounded reasonable and acceptable. Two planes, three airports, and an hour drive home with my wife on the phone keeping me from becoming a traffic fatality… Was it all worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes. Have I learned something, something important enough about our system of government, something that I can pass on to others that might benefit all of us? Yes. But, you’ll just have to wait… for Part 4.