So much subject matter and research material. So little time have I carved out to write. I went away for five days the end of March to write. I was successful in playing the character of Linda Malcolm the whole time. Five new stories from that trip have been reviewed by my writers’ group, and those stories await my edits. I’m tempted to snag one of those and send to you, but you won’t see them until the book comes out! Instead, I’m reflecting…
Our family went to D.C. for a few days over spring break. Will was supposed to go there with his class in March, but it was over the weekend of his State Gymnastics Championships. The District left me with a twisted impression that I can’t shake.
The headlines in the newspaper the Wednesday we arrived in D.C. addressed concerns about security on the south lawn of the White House. According to USA Today, the secret service wants to move crowds back away from the fence enclosing the south lawn. Around 100 people have tried to access the ground in the past three years; of those, 95% had a history of “mental illness or emotional disturbance.” Construction of a larger and stronger fence is expected to start later this year.
Yet when we followed the sounds of a band that were coming from the south lawn, we saw a crowd of people streaming along the driveway right up to the steps of the White House. We asked a National Park Service volunteer what was going on: the annual garden tour of the south lawn – free to the public with no pre-reserved tickets or background checks.
Two hours later we returned at our assigned time, free tickets in hand, and passed through a checkpoint set up by the Secret Service, much like airport security. We stood a few feet from the steps where the Obamas departed from the White House for the last time.
The United States’ capital of freedom had sharp shooters pacing back and forth on the rooftop of the White House. Secret service agents stood shoulder to shoulder with National Park Service rangers throughout the property. At the Rose Garden. Outside the Oval Office. Next to the White House Kitchen Garden. Blocking the entrance to the hidden children’s garden. “Have a look, take a picture, then move along.” No dawdling near the White House.
The Oval Office
The Beast, the presidential state car, was parked on the drive behind ropes, guarded by secret service agents. The small garden nooks of outdoor seating areas brought a movie-reel to mind: one of past presidents and their families casually gathering in their backyard. The Kennedys, Johnsons, Nixons, Fords, Carters, Bushes, Reagans, Clintons, and Obamas. This, the people’s house, which those families had the privilege of living in the last few decades.
Throughout the surrounding area, we frequently saw uniformed secret service agents like those at the White House; they were dressed like police and all wore bullet-proof vests. They had insignia on their vests that identified them as secret service detail. At the Treasury building, the guard was armed with an automatic gun in hand. Not slung over his should, but at the ready.
While human security was thick, the presence of barriers around all federal buildings – as well as some private – was heavy. As a gardener, at first I was impressed with the size of the planters on sidewalks along the buildings. They were gigantic, four to six feet long and either rectangular, square, or circular in shape. The vessels are made of at least 6-inch thick concrete, reinforced on the inside with rebar, not visible to tourists. The plaza area immediately outside the glass entrance to the FBI building had several planters creating obstacles for people to navigate through to get into the building; their purpose is to stop vehicles from ramming through the glass entryway.
Block after block was lined with these barriers. Some were filled with grasses, but many had expired tulips or volunteer greens from last year.
Around one building, the idea of concealing barriers as planters had been completely abandoned and each planter was filled to the rim with gravel.
The 1995 Oklahoma City truck bombing was the precursor to these dystopian planters. The concerns over security from that domestic terrorist act to 9/11 and present day threats has left a dark cloud over the city representing our country’s freedom. The visual tension created a shadow of palpable, foreboding fear.