There is something about being with people whose career or lifestyle is different than mine that turns me into a chameleon and lures me into feeling I belong.
It’s a little dangerous.
Take the time my friend Tracey, who worked in D.C. on some committee, invited me down to watch the Fourth of July fireworks from the balcony of the Capitol.
Forget leaving in the morning to get a spot like everyone else, then trying to shoehorn your car into a space on the George Washington Parkway and hoping this year you won’t be ticketed or towed. Forget begging everyone in your group to carry a backpack stocked with restricted beer or hard lemonade. Forget bribing your 10-year-old to carry four bags of chips. No. Being connected meant I didn’t have to concern myself with any of that.
We left Tracey’s townhouse a mere half hour before dusk. We took her car to the Capitol and, after the requisite dog-sniffing, mirrors under the car look-see and hand over your passport for the “are you on the list?” identification, we rolled into the Capitol’s underground air-conditioned – I kid you not – parking garage.
We went up the private elevator dragging a cooler of margarita mix, Cuervo, limes and kosher salt. We trekked through the marble hallways past the statues of Ethan Allen and the “rest of the gang.” One becomes very flip in flip-flops. We were alone. No tourists taking selfies. No staff members flitting about. No one blocking our path anywhere. A private stroll through the iconic building.
We ended up on the balcony, right between those massive marble columns that show up in the background on the PBS Fourth of July special every year.
Stretched out on the Mall below us, sweltering in the 100-plus degree heat, 3 million people sat on blankets, fanning themselves and waiting for the show to begin. We sat on chairs. In the shade. Above the masses like the scene from “Evita.” Sipping our drinks and wandering into Tracey’s air-conditioned office to cool off when it got a bit too toasty. Or to use the private bathroom. I’m not sure what the 3 million down there were doing, but I was covered.
I snuck glances through the impressive arched windows to the office TV tuned to the special and tried to spot myself. I morphed right in, leaned against the columns, nodded to folks here and there. Passed the artichoke dip. Would I like some Brie? Of course. Some beef skewers, perhaps? Perhaps. No bags of chips here. I acted blasé about the surroundings, but, oh my God, look at the chandelier in the room behind me!
I practiced my Queen Elizabeth wave, hardly moving my hand, until I noticed a few people below were actually paying attention and starting to wave back.
Being on that balcony gave me a fleeting feeling of why people in Congress don’t want to give up their day jobs. The power to remove oneself from the hassles of everyday life and gain access to things most Americans can only dream about is quite a perk. Albeit for me, power by association, but power nevertheless.
What bothers me is that I felt smug. Like I belonged there. Right. I just happened to know someone who worked at the Capitol who could bring friends over.
Unfortunately, that sip of being different from the masses tasted better than the icy margarita Tracey handed me.
And I love margaritas.