Yesterday we were scheduled to interview Congresswoman Judy Biggert, a Republican representative from Illinois. I wanted to speak to her because she was a Republican, she was chair of the Energy sub-committee of the Science committee, and because she had spoken out against the budget Bush released as being "counter-intuitive." Our plan was to meet on the Capitol steps (Andrew and I were coming from a hotel, Monica was staying with friends) at 10:30. Having to lug all our gear for a couple of miles down streets and in and out of the Metro stations, Andrew and I were running late. As we were huffing it towards the Capitol, I got a text message from Monica:
"Get here! I am being watched! Here they come!"
Andrew and I finally arrived, but were on the wrong side of the Capitol. There were guards and tourists, and I got out the camera to get some shots of the building and down the Mall towards the Washington monument. I called Monica and she said the guards had been circling over on her side. She had mentioned something to them about waiting for the camera crew, and had given them the shpiel about being part of a documentary group, blah blah blah. It sounded like the "business end" of the Capitol was on Monica's side, so we headed over there.
On this side there were limos, men and women in dark suits and ID tags walking quickly in and out, and occaisional smiling politician posing on the steps with a visiting special interest group (that day it was several hundred blue-jacketed Future Farmers of America), and more guards. Up on the stairs were a couple of guards with semi-automatic rifles and mirrored sunglasses. Naturally, I pulled out the camera and started shooting. Right away, of course, a group of three guards came over. To their credit, they were all pretty nice. Even relaxed.
"What are you guys up to?" One of them said. I told them. He nodded and asked a couple of questions about the documentary, actually sounding a little interested. "We saw you on the other side," he said. Monica was right, they had been watching us. I think he was bored and a little diversion was always welcome. I asked about setting up the tripod and ran into an example of procedure trumping common sense.
"No tripods," they all said. "If you want to use a tripod you have to get a permit."
OK, how do you get a permit?
"You can give me your name and I can contact the sargeant of arms and set up an appointment. Usually takes about five days."
But, it was OK to use the same camera without the tripod. Sure, I can understand that they don't want someone setting up a rifle on a tripod to get a good shot at something. But here I am, holding a video camera, not a rifle. Put it on the tripod: ALERT! Take it off the tripod: yawn.
Anyway, I packed up the tripod and walked off to get some wider shots (I actually used a big orange traffic cone as a makeshift tripod). While I was gone, another guard, this one big, bald, and more uptight, came over by Monica and Andrew with a walkie-talkie. Monica heard him say "I'm standing over here by Brown Shirt. Yeah. Over." Monica looked down. Yep, she was wearing a brown shirt. Then the guard said in a not-so-quiet voice, pointing in my general direction. "Is she with Crazy Pants?"
The other guard nodded. Monica, extremely amused, asked the guard who had been speaking conversationally with us, "did I hear right? Did he just call my co-director 'crazy pants?'" The guard looked a little embarassed and said, softly, "some of these guys are a little more hard-core than others."
But, Crazy Pants??
When she related this to me, I must confess I looked at myself in the mirror every time I went into the bathroom. My pants were black, cotton, nothing special. Monica and Andrew both assured me there was nothing special about my pants.
It does highlight the different world we live in now --- Monica said she remembers a time when anyone could just walk in to the Capitol, go right up to the observation gallery and watch them on the house or the senate floor, and even walk right into the office of your representative or senator. Just walk right in. If you tried that now, they would shut down the capitol and you'd be arrested. Not that you'd ever get that close, with semi-automatic rifles, guards, and their keen powers of observation. They've got you pegged from the moment you step near the Capitol.
But, really. Crazy Pants???