While I was in Washington, D.C., recently, I had a few interesting moments.
The first night, I was waiting in the hotel bar waiting to meet other NRAC (National Rural Advisory Committee) members for dinner. Two people sat down next to me and were discussing restaurants in the area and they asked the bartender if he had heard of a particular hot spot. He had not, so they asked me and I reported that although I had heard of the restaurant, I had not dined there. It seemed to me that they were looking for recommendations, so I pulled out the list of about 20 restaurants the concierge had printed off for me and began to point out places where I had eaten in the past and which ones I thought they might enjoy. The gentleman then inquired about what I thought about the hotel and I said I thought it was a great place to stay. This is the hotel the government uses for the NRAC when we are in D.C. for this meeting. He smiled and told me he was glad to hear I liked the place, since he was the general manager! The hotel was the Sofitel, a French hotel. He then bought me a glass of wine and we had a delightful conversation until my colleagues arrived.
The next day, I was leaving the meeting room on the second floor and was invited into one of the elevators with the general manager and two other gentlemen. He greeted me and asked me how my dinner was the night before. I told him it was excellent and went on to say with a smile that we had eaten in his restaurant. The other men were speaking French. The elevator abruptly stopped and the control panel went dark. We were stuck! One of the men in the elevator with us was the French ambassador to the United States. He had just given a speech to the media down the hall from our meeting room. We engaged in a wonderful conversation about our new president and his popularity in Europe, French versus California wine (we agreed to disagree on which was better), and his take on the global economy. Meanwhile, the general manager nervously talked in French on his cell phone to his maintenance staff outside feverishly trying to open the door.
At one point the lights went off so all four of us powered on our cell phones to light up the elevator. I showed them a silly picture I had taken the day before of the U.S. Capitol when I was on the Hill meeting with staff members of our congressional delegation on building support for the legislation they have introduced on the “Tweener” Medicare payment issues. I explained I tried to take the roof off the Capitol to see if Mr. Obama was inside!
The maintenance staff opened the door about 40 minutes later and we were all pulled up and out of the elevator which had been stuck between floors. I saw the general manager again later that evening and he bought me another glass of wine with a twinkle in his eye and said although he had never been stuck in an elevator before, he was sure glad to have been in there since the ambassador was on board. I must admit, I was glad to have been there as well, because it is not everyday a country boy from Iowa gets to have a one-on-one conversation with an ambassador!
On my flight home from Washington, Karen and Jim Nussle were on the same flight. Unlike the French ambassador, I do know Jim pretty well going back to his days as the U.S. Congressman from northeast Iowa. We worked together on a number of rural health issues. He was a member of Congress that truly cared about rural healthcare, understood the issues, and was a strong voice. I had not had a chance to talk with him much since has appointment as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. You know; the guy responsible for helping to draft the federal budget and responsible for managing the largest financial enterprise in the world…the U.S. Government! Basically he was the CFO for America. We talked between flights for about a half hour and I was just mesmerized as he talked about daily meetings with the President…sitting in Situation Room at least one day a week. He was in the room for every major decision made by the President over the last couple of years!
For a government wonk like me, the conversation was tantalizing. What was President Bush really like? How about Chaney? Jim was gracious and friendly as always and seemed to enjoy talking about it all in past tense. I asked if he was relieved to be out from what must have been overwhelming stress and a look of relief spread across his face. He did say it was absolutely fascinating…the understatement of the week!
You just never know who you might run into when traveling to our nation’s Capitol…for me it was a very memorable 24 hours.
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