Saturday, April 9, 2011
Chapter XI: Presidential Limo
You never know what kind of turnout will occur during a public presentation. There are roughly seventy people at the eastern end of the National Mall who are taking their seats. Visitors and delegates often meet at the East Front of the Capital Building. It is only natural to have our guest speakers situate themselves comfortably in such a fashion that would allow for easy transaction of speakers.
The public was not allowed inside the Capital Building outside of designated tours, a few guards smartly stand at attention at the front doors. When the President or foreign delegates are visiting it is customary to screen guests and have armed body guards keeping an eye on everyone. Washington DC has a policy regarding people not entering the general proximity of world leaders, if you enter their bubble and are not invited their body guards and military personnel will simply shoot you. We didn’t have anyone important like that supposed to show today.
The Capital Building is amazing. American Neoclassicism architect spans the magnificent building that started in 1793. It was not finished until 1819. Modern architect have been combined with traditional craftsman skills to create the marvel that easily matched any building built in ancient Rome or Greece. Known for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty", it is prized for its wedding cake cast iron dome. Fantastic artwork and statues such as the colossal statue Freedom greet visitors. A recent addition to the building boasts of the Capital Visitor Center.
I introduce April to a few scholars. Shaking my head in amazement I feel every particle in my body respond like it’s positively charged. I always feel power and humbled in the National Mall in DC. She instantly connects to a writer from England who is a visiting fellow. April and her new friend, Mary Scarlet, instantly hits it off after I tell April that Mary was doing research on contemporary romanticism. Mary has a PhD from Cambridge and could talk for hours. She was working on a new fictional book that had a dark character she liked to talk about. The story was about a modern day kid who is misunderstood by his community. He becomes the next biggest artist even though he is a loner throughout his life. Deep down I found myself wondering if she was the character in the book she was writing.
Sheepishly I tell my wife, “We’ve been here for six months and I never have been in the Capital Building. Is that bad?”
She looks at me and answers, “Yes, let’s go in after this. I would like to get some more coffee.”
I tell her to enjoy the show. At the far end of the lawn there is a private table with refreshments under a beige tent. Everyone important has gathered, there seems to be two groups at the table. The first groups make up the staff and visiting scholars from Congress. The second group had two staff workers from the Smithsonian. I was expecting a few more. I make my way past the podium with the microphone to their table. Behind the microphone is a flat screen that the stage setters put up, right before the steps. It is normal to have a lecturer give visual images with whatever they are discussing. There are a few people I don’t recognize but my pace quickens as I recognize CNN journalist. This is truly going to be a great day.
I can hear Mark joke with the CNN Journalist and the Russian visiting scholar Irina, “…And that’s why the French lost the bid on the original architect design for the capital building.” Mark loves discussing DC’s history and you can see the passion pour from his eyes as he loses himself I his story.
“Michael, I would like you to meet some friends of mine, this is Susan Bishop.” He introduces me to the CNN journalist. For the second time today I find myself not knowing what to say outside of hi. Deep down she stirs a slight memory and for a third time I feel déjà-vu.
Susan Bishop is a striking woman. She managed to get the image down of being a progressive independent female. She is 5’6 and has a stylish short dark hair. She knows how to get her way and her presence draws stories out of people and places. To put it simply, Susan has an Amazon presence that demands respect from all classes and people around the world.
Her crystal blue eyes instantly scan me. How could she do that? I squirm and try to give a charming smile but it comes out more as a grimace.
“Hello, I’m Michael.” I fidget and look for Mark for support. He rolls his eyes and nudges Marvin, another coworker from the adjacent office in the Jefferson building.
Susan smiles, her demure changes and I can see the expression she shows her audience on CNN every night. Everyone quiets down to hear what she says.
“It’s nice to be here. I only have thirty minutes. There’s a conference occurring at John Hopkins University in a few hours, a panel will be discussing the current solar flare phenomena and its consequences on the global market.”
I instantly look to see if the vice president’s daughter has shown up, she hasn’t. Everything seems to be in ready and the seats are quickly filling up.
Susan continues to captivate her us, “Did you guys know that there will be two suns tomorrow?”
We all say no and she continues, “The University will be addressing this through a panel discussion in which astrophysicists will give a full description of what’s going to likely happen. To make it short, the star Betelgeuse is losing its mass.”
Mark gasps and blurts, “Isn’t that the ninth brightest star? What are the implications of the gravitational collapse and earth?”
Susan Bishop looks at him in slight surprise and jests, “I guess you congressman and staff are smart after all! There isn’t supposed to be anything drastic. There will be two suns for a few weeks, no darkness or night. Maybe there will be a higher flux of solar flares and we will be able to see some pleasant atmosphere auras. Some say it could disrupt telecommunications for awhile but it won’t be a big deal.”
Getting a chuckle out of her audience she concludes, “Seriously, can you believe some people? There a few who take events like this and profit of the fear it can generate? It is not like the end of the world is coming.”
Susan excuses herself and heads to her camera man. Media reporters and government staff set up the cameras and microphones in a spot in the shade near a granite wall. There was only one large tent and the stage. The audience was sitting on the lawn and it was sunny. There was no breeze. I notice there are two cops walking a young police dog near the back. The Asians who I saw at the Supreme Court Building have reappeared. As a group they snake into the Capital Building. It is too bad they didn’t stay to see the presentation. I look down at my cell phone and note that the event will start in five minutes.
Moments later Mark leaves our little group at the tent and goes to where the visitors are sitting. He comes back with two people. To my amazement one of them is the redneck I met at Burger King, I think his name was Fred? He seems to be arguing with a younger man who is wearing a disheveled business suit.
Mark looks a little bothered as he introduces the two individuals, “Michael, this is Kyle. Kyle works for the Smithsonian.” Kyle ignores what Mark is saying and instantly walks to his coworkers. The redneck says something thing that I can’t understand and Kyle responds by talking over Fred to his coworker.
This wasn’t cool. I didn’t mind rednecks but this wasn’t the time or place for non professional attitude.
What was going to happen if Susan Bishop caught wind? Why wasn’t someone telling the man to go take a seat?
I’m about to say something when I hear the man in blue jeans and a flannel blurt out, “For Christ sake Kyle! Let me have my grandson and I will leave you alone!”
Mark is at my side and I look at him with bewilderment. He rolls his eyes and mutters, “This isn’t the time for family drama. I would have expected more from the Smithsonian.”
Kyle’s phone rings and he answers as his father continues to belittle him in front of his peers. I feel sorry for whoever is on the other end when Kyle angrily tells his dad, ““You are not important; I don’t care what you want.”
Kyle gets his desired results as his father spurts a few curses. Mark takes advantage of the moment and steps in.
“You folks obviously have some issues to resolve but this isn’t the place. We are about to have national coverage and the vice president’s daughter is coming anytime.” Mark reaches for the rednecks elbow and starts to direct him to where the audience is sitting.
Kyle apologizes profusely to whoever is on the phone and the people around him. He is very embarrassed. His attention keeps on going back to his cell phone and back to Fred.
Susan Bishop is walking back to our table with her camera man. She obviously missed everything and gives the redneck a peculiar look.
We hear the crowd murmur and look out to First Street. Mark stops directing Fred and quickly walks to the stage and microphone.
“It’s the vice president’s daughter. It is show time!” Mark starts to introduce the event while bringing people’s attention to the limo. Everyone at the table takes their designated places. Kyle is still looking at his phone and can’t stop shaking. What was wrong with the guy?
The dark blue limousine is about to come to a stop. I try to get my first glimpse of the vice president’s daughter but the car window is to dark to see past. Outside of Kyle’s outburst and my son not getting on the airplane this was going to be a great day.
The limousine did not stop. Instead it picked up speed and continued to drive forward. Within seconds it sped away.
I could hear Mark lose his professionalism as he blurts into the microphone, “What the hell?” The same thing can be felt and heard from everyone. Instantly I feel embarrassed and mad. Why did they drive off? I’m confused as I take a few steps forward. Who do I talk to when I am the person who is supposed to have the answers? The guest speakers are now asking why the limousine kept on driving.
The guards at the entrance of the building have quickly gone inside but no one seems to notice.
Marks phone rings. His voice cuts through the confusion I am feeling and gives me something to focus on, “Michael! Director Maxwell wants us back at the office. He sounds urgent!” Mark looks down at his phone and curses, “I can’t hear you Maxwell, there’s too much static on my phone. If you can hear me we will be back there within five minutes.”
Mark looks at me with confusion. The audience is now standing and a few people are pointing to the roof tops of the surrounding government buildings. People are taking pictures of the military snipers that appeared on top of the buildings. This isn’t abnormal but I start to feel a sick ball in my stomach. I’m becoming more anxious and I feel a sick ball of dread building in my stomach. I start to think about 9-11 and terrorists. The metal police barricades built in the road activate and rise to attention. It was not going to be possible for anyone to drive on the street.
Looking at Mark I sincerely blurt, “Are terrorists attacking?” It felt stupid as soon as I said it. People around me instantly go frigid and I regret asking.
“I don’t know. This isn’t how Washington DC acted when 9-11 happened.” He lost his phone connection. On the other hand Kyle did not lose his phone connection.
Kyle is sounding frantic. I can’t help myself as I start to listen. Deep down I’m beginning to feel that whoever he’s talking to is connected with what’s happening.
He starts screeching into his phone. I’m about to ask what’s happening but as soon as I open my mouth I’m cut off by something I did not want to hear.
The natural disaster siren for DC could be heard and felt everywhere. It sounded like a high pitch whine, almost as if a old world war two bomber was flying over head. An electronic loop was built into the siren and it was now louder than the people in the audience. I was feeling scared. It was obvious that no one knew what to do.
April was at my side. She too was scared. That’s when it started to happen.
I didn’t understand why Mark was swaggering on the steps. A second later I watched him fall. I didn’t understand what I was seeing and I was about to ask him if he was alright and if we could bring my wife to the office. The stairs behind him looked like they were part of an escalator and started to move upwards a few inches. Just as fast they moved downwards and then started to move back upwards. The stage and microphone simply fell forward with Mark. I saw the screen from the monitor fall on his head but it looked soft.
I feel a lack of space under my feet and find myself falling. I reach out but can’t seem to grasp anything. Everything instantly goes dark as the canvas from the tent encompasses us in its darkness. I hear people scream as the siren continues to send its message of doom.
Posted by Greg L. Miller at 12:53 PM