Wednesday, February 09, 2005

A Day of Discovery


Back in 1976, my dad got the idea that we should visit our grandparents in Philadelphia. Since this was also the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, he also decided we should see the East Coast of the United States, and so after driving more or less straight up through the heart of America to get to Pennsylvania, we returned home by the Eastern Seaboard, visiting many of the original colony states, and of course, Washington D.C.

We arrived in D.C. Friday July 2, and on Saturday, Dad decided we should visit Congress. My dad was always the sort of fellow to just assume he could do whatever seemed like a good idea, so we didn’t call ahead, but just got on a bus and walked the rest of the way to the Capitol.

Congress was adjourned for the holiday of course, especially with many celebrations for the special day (I note that the celebrations for declaring our Independence got a lot of attention, while the 1983 Bicentennial of our Constitution, which actually made the plan work, got short shrift), and so much of Congress was closed and locked up, including the offices for all the Representatives. Not at all dissuaded by this, my dad decided we should visit our Senators, so off we went to their offices.

There was nobody around for most of the offices, but the doors were open and I remember I got the strong feeling we weren’t supposed to be just stomping through the place, but my dad was at full speed and had us in firm tow. There was a desk at Senator Bentsen’s office, in which sat a forlorn staffer, who patiently explained to my dad that unless we had a meeting assigned in advance, we could not see our Senator. Undaunted, my dad set off for Senator Tower’s office. A few minutes later, we were poking our heads into rooms in a suite of offices which at first seemed to be empty. My dad found one guy with his head hunched down, working on some paperwork, his suit jacket hung on the chair back. It turned out to be Senator John Tower himself.

OK, I admit my first reaction was less than imposing – here was this short, ordinary guy in a rumpled shirt and pants, working at a desk on a Saturday. He didn’t seem to mind us coming in unannounced at all, and appeared to be genuinely pleased that we took time to see him. My dad spoke with Senator Tower for a while about bills and laws, while I craned my neck to try to see what he was writing. I suddenly realized that Tower was answering his own mail, in his own pen. Personally, my hand cramps up after a couple hundred words, so I was a little surprised to realize Tower had worked his way through more than a dozen letters when we showed up. Tower’s office was a lot like anybody else’s, and looking back I am still surprised that he didn’t have the usual ‘I love me’ trophy wall that adorns most politicians’ places. Maybe it wasn’t his regular place, but he looked at home in a normal hardwood swivel-chair, with papers everywhere. It also occurs to me now, that Tower’s office had the look of a man who wasn’t worried about image nearly as much as getting work done.

Am I saying that John Tower was some kind of people’s hero, just because we caught him at his desk on a weekend? Not at all, though it does suggest something to me that one Senator had a staffer parked out front to keep people away, while the other left his door open, and took an hour out of his day just to talk with people from his state. Of course, I give both Senators credit for being at their offices on a Saturday of a holiday weekend, when almost everybody else was out of the place. As I wait for responses from my present elected Representative and Senators, though, I think back to one little day in the Summer of 1976, when I got a personal sample of how Congress treats their supposed bosses. And for whatever else was wrong or good about John Tower, on that one day he impressed me that he was serious about his job, his duty, and his honor. Wherever you are now, Mr. Tower, I remember.

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