In yet another demonstration of the power and leverage of the Fellows’ connections, my fellow Fellow, Maggie, contacted me and asked if by Beloved Husband and I would be interested in viewing the National Memorial Day concert from the balcony of the Capitol. I thought it was a wonderful idea, and we eventually settled on the Saturday rehearsal concert, since the crowd would be smaller than for the main event on Sunday.
My BH and I met up with Maggie and headed toward Union Station. To access the Capitol in the evening on a weekend, we needed to enter through the Senate office buildings, where there is a single entrance that remains open 24/7. In the absence of crowds of people trying to get through security, the guards were quite chatty. They looked at the images of the bags we were bringing through and promptly asked if the wine was red or white. The woman who came in after us was bringing snacks, and the outline of each individual cookie was visible on the scanner as well.
The “Chariots of Democracy,” the underground trains connecting the office buildings to the Capitol, don’t run on the weekends, but it is a pleasant walk past all the state flags and state seals, and my BH continues to enjoy his opportunities to see the underbelly of Capitol Hill. My BH and I had scouted out our destination on Friday afternoon, so we had no problem with navigation.
One of the perks of being a senator is that each person has a hideaway somewhere in the Capitol so that he or she doesn’t need to go all the way back to the office between votes on the floor. Some of these are not much larger than broom closets with space for perhaps a desk and a few chairs or a couch, but others are more extensive and more well-appointed. The hideaways have been created as space has become available in the main building block. For example, when the Capitol Visitors’ Center was built, the Capitol Police moved out of their basement offices. The space on the House side was turned into conference rooms since there is no way to create 435 hideaways on that side, but the Senate side made more hideaways so that every senator now has at least a small room.
Maggie works on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, which is chaired by Senator Harkin. As a very senior senator, Senator Harkin has one of the best hideaways. He apparently moved there only recently, and his staff had to convince him that if he traded a bathroom for the balcony that the balcony would indeed be used. We were quite happy to help out on that count! Sen. Harkin’s hideaway was part of what had been the Library of Congress before it was moved to its own building, so it was off a beautifully decorated back hall right behind the Rotunda.
One of the other characteristic traits of the HELP committee is that they seem to have the best food of any group I’ve encountered on Capitol Hill. The rehearsal concert was no exception since there were a wide variety of beverages, cheese and crackers, popcorn cookies, and strawberry cheesecake rice crispy treats.
From our balcony location in the center of the Capitol, we had an outstanding view of the concert stage, and the Megatron screen hoisted over the tent gave us close-ups of the action. It was an excellent mix of music and speeches that paid tribute to our veterans, our current soldiers, and the families of all of them. An actor who has regularly played Jean Valjean in Les Miserables sang “Bring Him Home,” from that show, which was a beautiful fit for the concert. The “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem got me equally teary, although I commented to Maggie that the Pie Jesu is the only easily singable part of that entire Mass. They also honored the passing of World War II veteran Charles Durning, who I recognized from Tootsie, and who had been a longstanding supporter of the annual National Memorial Day concert. From our balcony, we had a prime view of the military trumpeter hoisted in a cherry picker so that when he played “Taps,” the Capitol dome and flag would be behind him. (OK, so I have no idea what branch of the military goes with the red jacket. Any experts in the audience?) My last favorite part of the concert was when the National Symphony Pops played the songs of all five branches of the armed services. I still need to learn the Coast Guard’s anthem, but I’m proud to be able to match the songs with the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
My BH departed at one point to seek out the facilities, and when he came back, he reported the surreal experience of being the only person in the rotunda. He has only ever gone through with me when there were hordes of tourists, so he said that he had a Night at the Museum sense that perhaps the statues might come alive. It was indeed strange to be part of only a handful of people in all of the Capitol; I rather enjoyed the quiet. My BH was also pleased that Maggie and I have not lost our thrill of unexpected pleasures in the Capitol. Rather than hiking all the way back to the Senate office buildings, we ducked out through the carriage entrance of the Capitol itself. I have never been out that door before and probably never will be again, so that was another exciting part of the evening.
The concert should be shown on PBS on Sunday night in most locations, and I highly recommend it as an appropriate way to honor this weekend. When I visited the National Cathedral last fall, the docent asked us to find some way to honor our soldiers and veterans on Memorial Days and not to use the weekend solely to go mattress shopping. I feel that I have done justice to her request.