Dredged from the files of "Sometimes You Just Can't Get No Respect" -- OR -- "The Ongoing Saga Of The State That's Not A State:
[No lie. This really happened.]
I'm somewhere in Los Angeles, sometime in December. The airport van has dropped me in front of a building that looks more like a parts warehouse than a car rental office. I stand in line with my credit card and dreams of riding the freeway in a red convertible. Hey, it's possible.
Soon, the young man behind the counter is tapping my information into the reservations computer. He does this in the spare moments between advising a girl (ostensibly his co-worker), who perches on the counter behind him, on how to text message faster. I don't care. I can already feel the wind in my hair. Then...
"You're from?" he asks.
"Washington," I answer vaguely, more interested in studying the laminated book of rental models. Where is that jazzy red number?
"Seattle?" he asks, typing.
"No, DC," I say. He stops typing, fingers hovering above the keyboard.
"DC?" he asks, frustration creeping into voice. I think he must be annoyed that I'm keeping him from "Speedy SMS 101."
"Yes, Washington, DC," I assure him. I flash my best customer friendly smile back at him. I don't want anything to stand in the way of my date with Red.
"So, you flew here from...?" He is speaking slowly now, in that way that says "dealing with possible psycho before calling security." I point to my driver's license. Both he and the girl stare at it like it's some new species of mold.
All visions of Red vanish from my brain in one irritated poof. Do they really not know there is a Washington, DC? It's one thing to question one's credit or ID; it's a whole other thing to imply one is making up a city of 500,000.
"I -- flew -- from -- Washington -- DC" I say, measuring out my words. He looks at me blankly. The girl on the counter looks over his shoulder at my information, then at me, clearly suspicious of some wrongdoing.
"Our -- nation's -- capital," I try. No recognition flickering to life on either face.
"You know, where the federal government has its headquarters?" Nothing yet. I feel sarcasm rising in me like a holy war.
"Where that man lives in the White House. The guy from Texas, who some of us like to call the President of the United States? Home of the Supreme Court? The Department of Energy?"
I can't stop myself now. Every fiber in me that has ever been rankled by the fact that DC still doesn't have the vote, that we have to get the okay from Congress for everything we do -- from our school budget to the way we run our street cleaning --is now curling up inside me like a tsunami wave ready to burst.
"Remember? Abe Lincoln? The Revolutionary War and the Bill of Rights?! I Have A Dream? The Capitol? The god dammed Washington Monument?!"
Enlightenment snaps on in the girl’s eyes.
"Oh, yeah," she says. "My cousin saw that on a field trip back east once. You mean THAT Washington." She points to something on the computer screen, and Rental Guy types.
"Thank you!" I holler. "At last, a sense of geography!"
"Hey," the guy barks at me, "You don't have to flip, okay?" California Guy and Girl smirk dismissively. These East Coasters are SO uptight.
Fifteen minutes later, I am on the freeway in the last convertible they had on the lot. The top is down, my hair is flying behind me...but, my heart's not in it. They can keep California Cool. I'll take Washington Hot, Sticky, and Unjust. We may not control our collective stateless destiny, but we'd never question that somebody had a home, no matter how long it took us to find it on a map. After all, for over two centuries we've made our own home in a swamp, with scant civil rights, little fiscal control, and even less respect from our "fellow" states.
A few more miles down the road, I start wondering how long it would take me to drive this baby all the way back home.