I have trouble reconciling these two views on our nation’s capital because the contrast between them is so stark.

Many years ago, after a couple of days spent with an old college buddy in our nation’s capital, I was waiting in the station right there in down town Washington, D.C., for the train back to Philly and New York. An older man sitting in the station’s grand waiting room, with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, caught my attention. He seemed all right, so I didn’t bother him until I saw him again on the train.

I took a seat opposite him and asked if he was all right. He said he was OK, just sad and disappointed at his visit to Washington, D.C., and felt like crying. He’d spent his whole life working for the post office in New York City, had never taken a vacation and never traveled beyond the city limits. He was proud of his work record and said he knew every postal zip code for Manhattan, the Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Now retired, he had used his life savings to visit the nation’s capital, with its grand, old buildings with marble floors and white stone columns, the broad boulevards, green parks and reflecting pools.

So I asked why the tears?


The Capitol is seen through razor wire at sunrise in Washington, March 5. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

He said, “It’s all dirty and smells bad. There’s litter in the streets, crap on the sidewalks, and the stone buildings are not white like the pictures, but are all brown from dirt, smoke and bird droppings. It’s not what they show in the magazines and the movies.”

I had to agree, but couldn’t console him. I think he expected too much.

More recently, the nation’s capital seems pretty much the same to me. With the votes all counted, some new personnel in place and old staff to back them up in the halls and offices of the grand, old buildings with marble floors and white stone columns, the broad boulevards, green parks and reflecting pools, it’s pretty much the same as before. But a new crowd laments their disappointment.

I watched as the reporter held the microphone up to the party official and asked him what he thought of our nation’s capital. Clearly sad and disappointed, he threw his hands up in a hopeless gesture, leaned back and let out a big sigh. He reached out, took and carefully adjusted the microphone, and spoke very forcefully.

He said, “We don’t send them to Washington to follow their own conscience or do what’s right. They represent us, so we expect them to do what we tell them to do, whether they like it or not.”

I think he expected too much.

Orrin Frink is a Kennebunkport resident. He can be reached at [email protected]

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