Life outside the Beltway

Federal beat columnist Mike Causey reminds the majority of feds who live far from Washington to come visit and actually see the sights sometime—and recalls the joys of his own escapes far from the national capital area.

Is There Life Outside the Beltway? Inquiring Washington-area residents want to know. Just as those of you in San Antonio, Detroit, Seattle and Houston probably have both opinions and questions about us in what is locally known as The DMV (for the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia suburbs) which despite lots of diversity, is still very much a government town. As such 

Washington, D.C. is one of the top tourist attractions in the nation. But I don’t think it’s for our natural beauty, good weather or friendly people. Being the nation’s capital, the White House, Congress—and home of free museums—helps. A lot.

And while we are a top must-visit city, I suspect that many if not most people in the America beyond-the-beltway don’t feel much love for D.C.  I suspect many think we are out of touch with reality. Not like most real Americans. Whoever they are.

And from being here and talking with people here about you people “out there,” I think many of us “insiders’ feel the same way. That you are out of touch with reality. Not us. Smug, maybe. But correct all the same. Confession time:

Early in my newspaper career I was assigned to be the “leg man” for our paper’s federal columnist. I would do various things for him, from carrying messages to covering events, for him. Hence the “leg” thing. I still was a reporter on call. But often I was working with/for him.  Especially in the summer of even-numbered years. That’s when federal and postal unions had their biannual conventions. They were a big deal. And a dozen Washington-based publications covered them.

Most took place away from D.C., to be nearer union members. Five newspapers—The Washington Post, The Star, The Daily News and the Baltimore Sun and News-American—covered the conventions gavel-to-gavel. With us were half a dozen reporters from weekly publications—the Federal Times, FEND, the Bureau of National Affairs and sometimes local TV reporters—who also attended and covered the conventions. Everybody had different deadlines. But we usually got together evenings to drink and talk. And it gave us a chance to mingle with the masses—real people, federal workers and union members—who were different from us Beltway types.

I recall one evening, in August, at a convention in Boston. Three of us young, single reporters, went out for dinner. Then to a nightclub kind of place on top of a building with a fabulous view of the city. It was an evening of light opera, of all things. But beautiful. At some point we were joined (or did the joining) by three lovely young women. Delegates to the convention. From real places like Pennsylvania, Missouri and Utah, as I recall. Great evening. Nothing serious. Still we were young and they were charming. Up to a point …

The point being when the other two reporters started talking shop. As in inside baseball stuff.  They got into a heated debate (did I mention there were drinks?) about Civil Service Reform.  Seriously. Snore.

I knew little about the concept and cared even less. Same for the ladies. But my two colleagues were full-time on the federal beat. For them the idea of Civil Service Reform was exciting. And divisive. They went at it, getting louder and louder, while the women looked increasingly bored.  Until they left, quietly. Never saw them again.

After my pals realized the women were gone, they went into after-action report mode. They concluded that the ladies really weren’t worthy of us (they were, trust me!) because they knew or cared so little about the burning issue (in our narrow little world anyhow) of CS Reform.

Now many years after being on the federal beat full-time, I get it. Sort of. I can see, in hindsight why a couple of smart but also naïve reporters—in their nervous proximity to three good- looking young women—could mess up the evening. As they did. And I wonder what they think today about that evening  And I also wonder if the then three young ladies from the real world, Pa., Mo. And Utah., remember that evening. And if they realize they could have found romance, maybe even marriage with three urbane charmers—if they had only shown a little more interest in what really counts: Like Civil Service Reform.

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