Ms. Smith Goes to Washington

Okay I admit, my impact on things certainly isn’t much akin to Jimmy Stewart’s iconic Mr. Smith.  But I am gaining some great experience.

I’m approaching the end of week 3 of my internship, and its been a busy few weeks!  Going into the job I had no idea what to expect.  I took it because it sounded different, I didn’t have anything better to do, and I was desperate to not be a temp anymore.  But I can now say with certainty that I made a good choice.

On a day to day level, the job is not all that glamorous – I am basically an errand girl and assistant to assistants.  Here is the breakdown of things I do:

–       Answer the phone and take messages from constituents (many of whom seem to think there is a genuine possibility that the congressman would talk to them personally if only I would tell him they were on the line)

–       Enter call data into the correspondence system

–       Scan in mail and send the digital copies into the system

–       Group mail, email, and faxes from constituents into their proper categories

–       Occasionally babysit the front desk

–       Run errands (ie, to the supply store or to other offices to drop things off)

–       Give tours of the capitol to visiting constituents.  I haven’t done this one yet because my first tour cancelled on me, but I’m all trained up and ready to get my pep on!

But even though I’m an Assistant Assistant, I’m working at the center of governance in the United States, what’s there to complain about?  (Except for not getting paid, of course.  But I’ve already come to terms with that.). Its an exciting place to be, and pretty much everyone is young.

Some fun facts about the capitol:

1)     The Capitol buildings are all connected by underground tunnels.  There are literally miles of hallways that you can walk through all day and never see the sun.  Some are brightly lit and busy, others dim and creepy.

2)     Since apparently Congress and their Staffers don’t want to ever leave the hill to take care of anything, the Hill is complete with any service you could possibly need.  There are cafeterias, a post office, a coffee shop, a dry cleaner, a barber, a gift shop, an office supply store, you name it, you can get it here!

3)     Some of the elevators are labeled “Members Only”.  That means I can’t go in them, apparently.  (But its recess and all the members are gone, so who cares!)

4)     Speaking of Recess, who knew I would ever be heard to utter the phrase “I hate recess”?  The child inside me is screaming out in terror.  But in all seriousness, recess is insanely boring, because the Hill is like a ghost town and there are no errands to run that get me out of the office.

5)     Congressional mail goes through radiation (or something) before it goes to the direct office.  Sometimes this makes things stick together.

6) I can call the Congressional Research Service and make them look up anything I want.  And they have to do it.  Apparently, the CRS are essentially intellectual servants.  (My only limitation?  Interns can’t give them time limits, and also they won’t write term papers for us.  But they’ll do just about everything else!)

I’m figuring things out, and becoming more comfortable, and more absorbed in the goings on here.  Though of course, there are always a few hiccups.  I arrived on Day 1 already well-acclimated to answering the phone, so that wasn’t a problem, and the data-entry required of me does not involve excel, so I was safe again on that one.  But without fail, my sense of direction performs consistently poorly in new settings.  So it should be a shocker to no one that my first couple of days in this labyrinth were a tad overwhelming.

My building is shaped kind of like a letter “H”, so that leads to some confusing fun.  The first couple days I had some technical difficulties exiting the building, of all things.  Even once I got the path down, I discovered some more trouble when that entrance started closing before I left, which resulted in a panicked flurry around the building trying to get out.  But I’ve acclimated, and until the Congressman comes back and I have to make the long trek to the Cloak Room again, I think I’ve got all the regular routes down!

All I have to worry about in the meantime is the crazy callers!  (By crazy callers, I mean the ones who don’t just call with a concern, I mean the people who call to rant at me for 40 minutes, or the lonely old people who want to tell me about their day and their grandkids). You can get better strategies, but it never totally becomes easy to deal with the loonies!

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