As someone who has lived in our nation’s capital for some time now, I understand that danger is real. Danger lurks in every forgotten backpack, every moving van that attempts to drive up Capitol Hill, each Governor’s plane that accidentally flies into restricted airspace and that reporter you met while drinking heavily at a house party. In The West Wing, hardworking White House staffers were constantly in danger from terrorists – both foreign and domestic – crazy people and the White House Press Corp. But our heroes in the Bartlet Administration usually had some idea why their lives were in danger, or at least someone told them eventually why their lives had been in danger. They had to write speeches! Give briefings! Have long heart-to-heart walk and talk sessions around the West Wing to reveal their true feelings… before it was too late!
Not so much for us lowly inhabitants of DC. Our lives are constantly in danger and no one will ever tell us why. Law enforcement officers are forever directing me: “Cross the street!”, “Unload this train,” “Walk around this single strand of caution tape for no apparent reason and don’t dare ask me why.” Am I ever given an explanation? Noooooooo. Once I was explaining this peculiar set of circumstances to someone in front of the White House and was cut off mid-sentence and told, “We have to evacuate the area.” When inquired as to why, I was met with cold silence.
Turns out there were a few things about danger in the swamp that Aaron Sorkin forgot to tell me. And no, I don’t mean West Nile. That is a whole other blog.
1) The Metro is a hotbed of vigilante justice.
We have already covered my confusion at the fact that no one on The West Wing ever took the Metro. That being said, there are some Metro shenanigans that I’m sure the President and his staff would have at least heard about. Everyone in DC knows that if you see something, you say something. Someone leaves their reusable Whole Foods bag on the Metro, you say something. Someone is transporting a large box and walks away from it, you say something. Someone leaves their backpack next to you on the seat and walks off the train car, you pick it up and throw in off train while shouting, “YOU FORGOT YOUR BAG!” It’s a code that is equal parts concern for the well-being of others and survival of the fittest. It’s not perfect, but it keeps us safe.
2) Your plans are constantly being foiled by things being locked down.
Now you may be thinking, “Stefanie they do get locked down in The West Wing. Don’t your remember the beginning of Season Three?” and you would be right. But they get locked down in the White House. That seems like reasonable place to get locked down. You know where else you can get locked down in DC? Anywhere! You can get locked down in your dorm, house, or office without any explanation. Four city blocks can get locked down on a Tuesday. And if you combine foreign Heads of State, a Nuclear Summit and the Convention Center, the entire city will be locked down for a week. No one in The West Wing ever got a call from their roommate saying, “The police have locked us down and we might have to get evacuate. What should I grab for you?” but I have. I mean, I’m just saying.
3) Sirens constantly interrupt your phone calls.
Washington DC has the loudest sirens – ever. Every day you overhear people saying “Hold on. There is a siren. Wait…okay what did you just said? Why yes I will accept your job offer Senator.” Just how often do you hear sirens in Washington, DC? All. The. Time. When you put the Secret Service, US Capitol Police, FBI, Metropolitan Police Department, Homeland Security Uniformed Police, Transit Police, Housing Authority Police, and the Fashion Police in 10 square miles, there is a siren every 2 minutes. On The West Wing people are constantly wandering around DC having outside meetings with Congressman, Diplomats, and other world leaders and they aren’t interrupted once with the shrill sounds of sirens. It is as quiet as a library. I, however, can’t walk from Starbucks across the alley to my office without it sounding like an air raid.
4) You might be a little paranoid.
As a life long Californian I should know the signs of an earthquake. Do you know how many earthquakes I have experienced? Dozens. I recite earthquake protocol in my sleep. Find a doorway, desk, or strong table, cover your head and wait for the shaking to stop. I worked for the American Red Cross in college. It was my job to stay calm in the face of natural disasters. When DC experienced an earthquake, was I calm and collected? Absolutely not. The building started to shake and I ran down the stairwell and went outside. That is the absolute worst thing you can do in an earthquake. And why did this happen? Because I thought it was a bomb. Living in DC for the better part of a decade has made me so paranoid that I couldn’t identify an earthquake. Maybe it’s time to move.