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‘117 minutes’ at the Capitol

Am I coming or going?

by Tom Chillemi

The first trip to anyplace new, especially the Virginia State Capitol and General Assembly, can be overwhelming.

But, the universal code was another indication I was out of my comfort zone. “I’m not in Urbanna any more.”
The power-charged atmospheres inside the legislative offices and Capitol made me feel like a rural resident, out of his element (which I was).

I was there to get photos of legislative page Allison Crittenden of Deltaville (see related story). I wanted to get into the gallery overlooking the House chamber to shoot from a different angle when I saw a line stretching up two flights of stairs. I imagined there were many more people on the next floor waiting too.

As I hesitated, I saw one of those symbol signs for the restrooms. Above the male figure was an arrow pointing to an elevator and another arrow pointing up. I felt good having deciphered it.

But, the universal code was another indication I was out of my comfort zone. “I’m not in Urbanna any more.”

H-m-m. I could take the elevator to the next floor and not have to walk past as many glaring eyes of the people in line. I talked to a young man in a blue blazer (there are a lot of blue blazers at the Capitol) who I thought was in charge, because he was telling people in line, “We have to keep the hallway open.” He wasn’t a page, but had probably taken over after an officer told the crowd to keep the hall open. I told him of my plan to take the elevator to the next floor. “Hey, go for it,” he said.

Smooth elevator

Once in the elevator I pushed the 2 button and waited . . . and waited. I don’t like elevators, there is always the chance of being trapped if the electricity goes off. I’ve been known to let a packed elevator go on without me. The only thing worse than being trapped is being trapped with a lot of hysterical people (including me).

Finally, it felt like the elevator moved. I wasn’t sure if it was going up or down—I didn’t know which floor I started on. I had been so focused earlier on getting my photos, my internal GPS was overloaded.

Have you ever jumped in a moving elevator? If it’s going down you get extended time in the air. If it’s going up, the jump is shorter.

So I jumped . . . twice, since the results were inconclusive. I thought, in a Forrest Gump voice, “This is the slowest elevator I’ve ever been on.”

The elevator stopped. Again, Forrest Gump spoke to me, “This sure is a smooth elevator.”

And I waited . . . and waited for the door to open. Oh no! I’m trapped. A moment of terror. I looked at the control panel. There were more symbols, hieroglyphics. We’ve regressed back to the Babylonians. How much harder would it be to also print “open, close or stop”?

I found the correct button (on the first try) and the anxiety melted away, but only briefly. 

When I got out of the elevator, there, waiting on the stairs, were the same people, only they had moved a little. How long had I been gone? I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I hope no one had noticed. Where is that young man in the blue blazer? I wonder if there was a security camera in the elevator?

I ducked back into the elevator. I now knew I was on the second floor. So I went up to the third floor, and asked directions to the restroom. A security guard pointed and told me I’d have to go through the metal detector. That was the first time (and hopefully the last time) I ever have to be scanned to go to the bathroom.

Walking down the stairs, I ran into Jock Collamore, a Deltaville native I’ve known for years, who is now a Capitol Police Officer. What a break. He took me to the front of the line and introduced me to a man in a blue blazer and told me what to do to get a photo from the gallery. Eventually, I got my photo of Allison Crittenden passing out papers on the floor of the House of Delegates.

Tick, tick, tick

All the while the parking meter was ticking. The parking garages had been full, so my car was on the street.

I had set my cell phone alarm so I wouldn’t be late. I hear big cities, such as Richmond, contract with tow truck drivers, who patrol like buzzards looking for a meal, to enforce parking. And they only take cash.

There was a phone number on the parking meter, “Park by Phone.” I guess that is the number you call if your vehicle gets hauled away.

I got back to my car with 3 minutes left on the meter. Before the time or I “expired,” I was eastbound with the windows down. The wind was liberating.

I blew off lunch with a buddy.

There really is no place like home.

posted 02.18.2009

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