The night before we had eaten dinner there after a long workshop day. We met our waiter then, he of the comically bad toupee with strange curls. But he liked us and treated us well. He was also rather flamboyant for the slightly stuffy hotel. He was a perfect character.
On the night of the debate, the wood-paneled rooms that made up the bar area were packed with very dignified folks in smart clothes, including a number of women in serious business suits. We sat in the back of the room. Once the debate started, we were making comments back to the television and to the moderator. And at some point we noticed we were the only ones -- I mean the only ones -- talking. At all.
It remained that way for most of the first half of the debate. My friend and I would make a few comments when we just couldn't keep quiet any longer. The rest of the room was silent -- until the "women in binders" comment fell off the screen and the multi-cultural women in front of us had to respond and laugh in disgust. Mitt's "I saved the Olympics" comment didn't fare well with them either.
A group of men showed up about halfway through the debate and sat in the only remaining corner of the bar. They started to talk back to the screen and the man in front of them turned around and told them to shush. These new guys were lobbyists (we learned later) from Boston. An exchange ensued with middle fingers flying and requests to "go up your rooms if you want to watch in silence" and other spicier exchanges.
When the debate ended, I asked some of the women seated in front of us why they were so restrained. They said, before we arrived, the shushing man had shushed all of them and they decided to just stay quiet and watch.
The lobbyists said they came to D.C. about once a month for a week. They always stayed in this same hotel and they loved it. Except for this night. We learned they skied in Park City and one guy even had family that lived in the valley.
On my plane ride home I was placed in the middle seat. Seated on the aisle was a man who appeared to have played pro ball for the NFL. And I once again learned never to make assumptions. It turns out he was headed to Vegas to help with a convention and his company runs an IT group that troubleshoots for a health-care company. He doesn't gamble. He told me about his girlfriend, who is an author with a published book (I knew the title) that has just been optioned for a movie.
He asked what had brought me to D.C. and I told him about my workshop. He knew all the characters. When I started to tell him about viewing the debate in the hotel bar, how strange it was, he jumped ahead to the punch line: "Let me guess, you coulda heard a pin drop in that bar."
I just stared at him and said, "Why yes. How did you know that?"
"Politics are The Business of D.C.," he said. "Everyone has a contract or a job or a partner who is working in some capacity because of who is in office or who is running for office. Nothing is more serious than politics in our town."
We had mutual views about the election and about health care and what makes a dance company great. When I deplaned in Salt Lake City I wished him well on his week of tech challenges in Vegas.
I rode home thinking about the Founding Fathers, geek that I am, and how they never intended for government to become business and industry in its own right. I thought how beautiful the buildings in D.C. were with the leaves just now changing in the warm fall days. Those building that have withstood centuries of elections and change in the exact same capital city. I thought about our waiter in the toupee that had no curls on the second night we saw him and was riding a bit high on his head. And all the people of color in that bar. And the simple fact that, after the election, the government will go through a process where perhaps a new party and man will be in The White House or the same man and party will continue their work in The White House and all this will happen in a bloodless, military-free fashion. And I was reminded that none of this works, none of it, if we waste our right to vote. The simple right people round the world are still fighting to have.
I'm gonna study the issues and the candidates in the races I'm unsure of and then I will exercise a new privilege, the ability to vote early, maybe this very Monday in the Park ...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.