July 29th, 2013

dc

Capitol tours, part 2

I don't remember how many Capitol tours I gave during the time I worked on Capitol Hill, but it was a lot. There's one that stands ou tin my memory, though, and amazingly it's a story I don't appear ever to have told on LiveJournal. I alluded to it once back in 2005, but never got around to writing it up. Hard to believe, because it's a good story.

I was giving a tour to a family of three. We had just reached the Small Senate Rotunda when one of the people I was guiding around, a young girl, developed a nosebleed. There was no bathroom nearby, but main entrance to the office of the Senate Minority Whip happened to be right there in the Small Rotunda, so we ducked in there on the assumption that they'd have a box of tissues or a roll of paper towels or something that we could use to stanch the bleeding. The Whip staff was able to provide us with tissues and a chair for the girl to sit in, and once her nose stopped bleeding we went on our way.

Some time later, as we were walking back toward the Dirksen Building, I happened to spot Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wy.) walking toward us with one of his aides. Simpson was the Minority Whip at the time, so I pointed him out to the family and added that it was his office that we'd stopped in earlier. Apparently, his aide was telling him the same thing, because when we reached each other he stopped, introduced himself to the family, and asked the girl how she was doing. And then, astonishingly, he escorted us to his hideaway office.

I say it was astonishing for two reasons. One is that most Senators are notoriously guarded about their hideaways. Hideaways are private offices in the Capitol for Senators and certain high-ranking and very senior members of the House of Representatives. They're not exactly hidden, but they're usually located in areas of the Capitol that are closed to the public, and the doors are unmarked other than by a room number. Nowadays, every Senator has a hideaway, thanks to some additions to the Capitol but back then space was at a premium and only the longest-serving and highest-ranking Senators were able to get their hands on one. The most highly-prized hideaways were those in the original part of the building. Those have vaulted ceilings and ornamental floor tile; some of them have working fireplaces and spectacular views down the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial.

Sen. Simpson's hideaway didn't have a spectacular view -- I think it looked out onto one of the West Front balconies -- and if it had a fireplace I don't recall it, but it was a gorgeous, lavishly appointed room nonetheless, and impressively large. I would have been impressed regardless; I'd never been in a hideaway office. Sen. Riegle had one, and at that time I hadn't had cause to go there. I don't think he used it very often, actually. If I'm remembering its location in the Capitol correctly, his office in the Dirksen Building would have been almost as conveniently located to the Senate chamber as his hideaway, and the Dirksen office was definitely larger and nicer.

The other astonishing thing about the experience was how flagrantly and unnecessarily nice it was. I was a junior staffer; the family was was Michigan. Sen. Simpson had no particular reason to do more than nod to us as we passed him in the hallway, but instead he went out of his way to do something special for us. And it's not like he had a reputation for being a super nice guy; indeed, at the time he was probably best known for his harsh questioning of Anita Hill at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings. But he couldn't have been more gracious that day.