October 9, 2013

Scenes from a Government Shutdown

It's been interesting being in DC during the federal government shutdown, even though I no longer am a federal employee and never was involved in the political scene. I went to work as usual, and nothing really changed for me. But still. You could feel the difference in the air.

At first it was the little stuff, like having my metro ride be just a bit less crowded since there were fewer workers commuting from the suburbs. There were the cute discounts and promotions that went up all over town, like free sandwiches and extended happy hours, and clever jabs at Congress written on chalkboards outside restaurants. Then it was tense comments from people whose partners or friends were stuck at home due to being furloughed, and the news bits about the uncertainty of when this would all end.

It wasn't until last weekend, though, when the hubs and I strolled around downtown along the Mall that we realized how eerie it was that on a beautiful sunny day, the Mall was practically abandoned. With all of the Smithsonians shuttered, the tourists had nowhere to go, and the streets were quiet. Pedestrians eyed DC Police uneasily, as though even the sidewalks were restricted territory, and metal barriers became a common sight. It was sad and strange, and suddenly the shutdown seemed very real.

Some places, like the White House, retained their onlookers, but even those groups weren't large enough to be called a crowd. In other places, the barriers had been peeled back or pushed to the side, signals that people were quick to disregard the new boundaries. It was here, along the National Mall, that the tension seemed the greatest. Would that cop yell at us to move along and go back to the sidewalk? Would that family be escorted away? It was uncomfortable and strange, yet we experienced a brief relief from the tension with the comical sight of a lone metal barrier in the middle of the grass reading, "Do not enter." Its ineffectiveness was laughable and signaled to us once again just how absurd the entire situation was.

It seems that there is no end in sight to this shutdown, yet we all hope that we'll wake up tomorrow and learn that we've moved forward somehow. My city is sad, and the novelty has worn away. We've been thrown off, and we're starting to feel dizzy from being askew. It's not right to have DC feel like a ghost town, and I just hope that we get our life back soon.

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