Remembering life in Washington, DC

The nation's capitol: Is the heat from the weather or from all the hot air inside the building?
The nation’s capitol: Is the heat from the weather or from all the hot air inside the building?

Amy and me lived in Arlington, Virginia — part of the National Capital Region of Washington, DC  — for 23 years in a move that we thought would last, at the most, two or three 12-month terms.

My plan, at the time, was to work for Congress for a couple of years to learn a little about how Washington and the government works and use that information as a reporter in my chosen profession as a newspaperman.

Didn’t work out that way.  Two years turned into 23, including six at Congress as a press secretary, then chief of staff and finally a special assistant to the ranking member of the Science & Technology Committee.

As happens with others who come to Washington for what they think will be short stays, I got caught up in the seductive power of life in the the aisles of power and corruption.

In 1983, I flew first class to Taiwan with several other chief assistants to members of Congress as guests of the government there to visit the island nation that is a thorn to mainland China.  On another “junket,” Amy joined me on a Congressional trip, aboard an Air Force Transport, to Ireland, London, Rome and Israel.

I spent a week at the Paris Air Show, where military aircraft manufacturers displayed their newest and fanciest offerings to nations around the world.  On another trip, I joined other staff members of the Science and Tech committee to fly to Vienna, Austria, when Russia offered its first report on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and then we drove through the Alps to Geneva for a visit to the World Health Organization before flying to London for another air show of military weaponry.

Amy and I spent New Year in London on a trip to work on a report about world population control efforts.  The report I wrote sits on a shelf somewhere in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington.  I doubt anyone ever read it.

At the House Committee, I worked on the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and was part of the Congressional delegation that flew to Houston for the memorial service.  I participated in meetings with two Presidents:  Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Did my time working in Congress approve the life of anyone in the nation?  Mine, perhaps, but probably not anyone else.

I left Congress in 1987 to become the divisional vice president of political programs for the National Association of Realtors with what then was the largest political action committee in Washington

We sank millions into political campaigns with maximum allowable contributions to candidates for Congress, then millions more in so-called “independent expenditure campaigns” on behalf of favored candidates.

Amy and I attended George W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989 and danced the night away at the ball at Union Station that year and applauded when President Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush took the dance floor.

It was a heady time but one that should have ended years earlier and finally did when I walked away from political life in the 1990s and returned to journalism as a contract reporter and photographer for news services and newspapers like The Washington Post and New York Times as well as magazines.

I flew hundreds of thousands of miles on more commercial airline trips than I can count, spent a week in a gold mining camp in the arctic circle, time in Manila, Hong Kong and other ports of call.

I also started a political news web site in 1994, one that continues to this day.

We left Arlington and Washington in 2004. Do we miss life in the nation’s capital?

We miss the food: Incredible Vietnamese restaurants, Chinese delivery to our home in Arlington at 3 a.m. if we wanted, memorable lunches and dinners at The Palm.  The hustle and bustle of Washington was intoxicating.

We don’t miss the traffic.  We don’t miss the heat and humidity.

And we don’t miss what Washington became after a commercial airliner hijacked by terrorists slammed into the Pentagon.  I photographed that carnage on that bloody day that changed Washington and America.

Washington became an armed camp:  A Patriot missile launcher on the Mall, a military armored car with heavy armament standing guard on the public road by the Pentagon, increased checkpoints and security in office buildings and the anxious looks whenever a plane flew too low overhead.

It was time to leave.

Doug Thompson, Special Assistant to the Ranking Member of the House Science and Technology Committee in 1986, in a photo from a profile in MacWorld magazine.
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