(Photo: A timely window display adorned with umbrellas)
Nothing screams power like Washington D.C. during Inauguration Weekend. On our flight to DC from San Francisco, I sat next to a lovely, slightly older woman who is probably in her early forties. Let’s call her M. Butterfly – no relation to Puccini or David Henry Hwang – for her über social skills. We struck up a friendly conversation about the inauguration (“this flight is like the ‘Inauguration Shuttle,’ ha ha”), airline food (she was eating her Boudin chili bread bowl, and I a bento box from the forgettable Japanese restaurant at SFO), traveling (we both loved Turkey) and cultural issues (neither of us married someone of the same ethnic background).
Then, the following events transpired:
1. M. Butterfly reveals that she is actually a state judge. Immediately, I slide my copy of US Weekly behind my other magazines, and for the rest of the flight resigned myself to reading the marginally more respectable Esquire with Shepard Fairey’s portrait of President-Elect Obama on the cover. I’m sure you’ve seen this mix-media stenciled collage of Barack Obama, but here it is to the right, lending a modicum of legitimacy to my reading material. Worse, I had not realized that Esquire was a men’s magazine (ah, the depths of my occasional ignorance). Thankfully, M. Butterfly gives me her copy of the New York Times, required reading for any “elitist” (you know, people like Obama).
2. M. Butterfly chats with Older Bearded Man three aisles down, then introduces him to us. After OBM (Old Bearded Man) leaves, she remarked, “He is so nice and down to earth considering he is married to a Congresswoman.” AK and I are surprised.
3. After 5 hours in the air, our plane makes an emergency landing at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Apparently a passenger had a cardiac arrest (hope he is okay – luckily for him there were 3 or 4 doctors/nurses on board). We were now scheduled to land at 3:00 a.m. East Coast time (been on the plane since 4:30 pm – argh!). M. Butterfly and I have more time to chat. I find out that her husband has been commuting to DC for work.
3. At baggage claim, M. Butterfly introduces us to her husband, who gives off a Rahm Emanuel presence (smart, intense, workaholic) without the gangster vibe (no dead fishes here), plus a few of their other friends. One of their friends comments to Mr. Butterfly that “you only have 4 days left – are you guys ready?” AK and I decide that he must work for the new administration, which is why he has been in DC the past couple of months.
4. OBM introduces us to his wife, the Congresswoman (they don’t know that we know). She’s nice enough. We ask about where they live. They mention that they have a house in the Bay Area and on “the Hill” and laughs about paying two sets of bills (don’t taxpayers pay one set?). AK and I feel out of place.
5. Mr. Butterfly runs into his favorite professor from Yale Law School. Introduces us to the professor. She jokes about “we need to get M. Butterfly a judgeship in DC.” AK and I have difficulty following their conversation. Mr. Butterfly then introduces OBM to the professor as “the most prominent trusts and estates lawyer in California.” AK and I continue to feel out of place.
6. AK and I slowly slither away from this informal gathering of the power elite. We bid adieu to the group.
This is the interesting thing about the nation’s capital – status and power is palpable here, even if you care very little for it. I always know when I’m back in in this town, even if I had forgotten its quintessence. Welcome to DC!