A Trip to the State Capital

State Legislative Building, seen from across Capitol Lake.

Monday, February 10, 2020

My paid gig landed me a day at the state capital. Woohoo! Other than a quick drive by on a Sunday shortly after I’d moved to the area, I’ve never been there. Today gave me an opportunity to get up close and personal. To save myself the hassles of traffic and parking, I left my Sport Trac at the office and hopped on the bus.

Looking up the grand marble staircase to the rotundaThe late morning riders were an interesting bunch. They all seemed to know each other and talked loudly about their socio-economic issues. I didn’t pay much attention, trying to give them as much privacy as I could. However, one of the group caught my attention and asked me about my tent, where I was living, and whether I needed anything. I thought these were odd questions, but I talked about my tents for a few minutes, ignoring the part of her question about where I lived. I told her my cold weather gear kept me plenty warm, so I liked winter camping.

It wasn’t until I got off the bus that it dawned on me she was asking which tent city I lived in. She thought I was homeless.

I was touched. I figured from the bits of conversations I overheard and the way people were dressed that they were either homeless or on the edge. Here she was, without a lot herself, willing to share what little she had. I wish now I’d paid her more attention. What a kind gesture! I felt humbled.

Closed senate chamber doorsWhen we arrived at the Transit Station, rather than catch the Dash to the capitol campus, I decided to walk. It was only a mile up the hill, and I wanted to get in my steps for the day. The walk didn’t take long. I checked the campus map on the corner for my building and found it in no time.

A coworker offered me a tour after my shift, and I happily accepted. He knew the campus really well as he had been there many times, and he pointed out buildings as we made our way to the Legislative Building. The Legislative Building is the focal point of the campus, and its impressive dome can be seen for miles. This dome is the tallest self-supporting masonry dome in the US and the fifth tallest in the world. That, by itself, is pretty impressive!

A grand marble staircase leading up to the rotunda greeted us as we stepped inside. People in suits and ties were scurrying up and down the stairs and through hallways, on their way to very important meetings, I’m sure. Even my coworkers were dressed to the nines. I felt very much out of place in my yoga pants, thrift store blouse, and bright blue Hoka One One running shoes with fluorescent orange shoelaces. For me, this is “dressing up.”

Columns, cornices, gold leaf, Tiffany, and Washington's bustWe walked around the staircase, checking out the ground floor offices of the governor and lieutenant governor. Their titles were lettered in gold on frosted glass windows high above the open heavy wood double doors. I was very surprised by the lack of visible security. I’m sure it was there; I just didn’t see it. No armed guards, no metal detectors, and no gates to go through. Everyone was just walking around freely. I mentioned this to my coworker who assured me that security was there, closely scrutinizing everyone.

A group of tourists stood in the hallway, listening to a tour guide as several groups of school children wandered about, talking excitedly. The north side of the building had a grand marble staircase matching the south side, where we entered. We made our way past the tourists and children and climbed the marble stairs. A massive 10,000 pound Tiffany chandelier the size of a Volkswagen bug hung fifty feet above the rotunda, framed by columns and cornices, all marble and gold leaf. In my small town experience, the rotunda seemed huge and extravagant and awe-inspiring and elaborate and terrifyingly formal. Everything gleamed and spoke of eloquence and elegance. I felt uncomfortable and intimidated. The marble and brass and gold leaf seemed to scream at me to go back to the woods where I belong. But, this is my government, too, so I did belong.

Senate ChamberAfter snapping a few photos of the rotunda, we continued up the stairs to the second floor. My coworker pointed out the doors to the senate and house chambers, where they do their official government business. The heavy doors were closed and roped off, so we climbed a very normal-looking stairwell to see if we could get a look from the balconies.

Although the balconies were closed, they were not roped off, and the attendants let us sneak inside. We went into the senate chamber first after depositing our bags outside the door. The chamber floor was empty, except for the rows of desks, all facing the front of the room. Electronic voting devices sat on each desk. A grander desk sat at the front, facing the rows of desks, and behind that, some tall chairs I can only describe as “thrones.” Again, marble, Tiffany chandeliers, and gold leaf added to the room’s grandeur.

Temple of JusticeThe house chamber was similar, except it had a lot more desks. After we headed back downstairs, my coworker took off for another meeting, leaving me to wander on my own. I headed over to the Temple of Justice, just north of the Legislative Building. I wasn’t as brave on my own, however. I thought about my coworker’s warnings about the “invisible” security and didn’t venture beyond the front foyer. I really didn’t want to inadvertently go where I shouldn’t and get thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and frisked by State Troopers. As much fun as it sounds, today was not the day for that.

I looked around a little bit, took some photos, and then headed back outside. I remembered from the campus map I’d looked at hours ago that there was a path some place along the northern end of the campus that led to the Capitol Lake trail down below. I’ve been meaning to check out that trail, but hadn’t wanted to deal with the hassle of downtown traffic and parking. Since I was on foot today, now seemed like a good time. View from the path leading to the Capitol Lake trailI walked around to the north side of the Temple, and sure enough, there was the path, switchbacking numerous times down the hillside to the lake trail below.

It didn’t take long, and I was back at the Transit Station and then back at the office. I wasn’t that impressed with the Capitol Lake trail. For a city trail, it was OK and had great views, but it was flat and not really very interesting. I like mountains and trees and challenging terrain.

That’s what I call home.