From couriers to Bush, all live differently now
In the nation's capital, it is no ordinary time.Skip to next paragraph
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A young president, just eight months into his term, comes before Congress and calls for American resolve in the face of a long-term, new kind of war. His wife, acting as a sort of new national pastor, appears on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and bathes viewers with assurances as comforting as the soft-blue outfit she wears.
On Capitol Hill, as all over the city, security is tight. Couriers - those guys in Lycra carrying pizzas and urgent documents up and down the halls - are banned. When the trunks of cars heading into Capitol lots are opened, the guards actually look inside.
The culture of Washington has been transformed by the events of Sept. 11 - in ways the people who work here are only beginning to understand. People are striving to maintain their routines. President Bush, for instance, still comes home to his two dogs, his cat, and his wife, and is still able to sleep soundly. But his words this week echoed the thoughts of many in official Washington: "Life around the White House or around the Congress," he told reporters in the Oval Office, "is not the way it used to be."
Most noticeable is the clampdown on security. Awake in their beds at 4:30 a.m. or out on their lunchtime break, Washingtonians can't escape the roar of fighter jets, which patrol the area 24 hours a day. On Massachusetts Avenue, known as "embassy row" for its many consular buildings, police are parked at nearly every corner. Officers astride horses now patrol Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House.
The White House Press Office no longer divulges to reporters - via pages or e-mails - Mr. Bush's schedule or whereabouts, unless he's staying "on campus." When the president does move, he doesn't travel in the usual helicopter. Returning from Camp David on Sunday, Bush and the first lady arrived in a VH-53D - a bigger, faster bird also used by Air Force special forces.
In recent history, every threat to the capital (there have been more than the average American might think) has changed the way of life here. The 1971 bomb in a Senate barber shop brought television cameras down the back corridors - and the first security IDs. The 1983 explosion that reduced portraits of Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner to shards led to the installation of airport metal detectors on the Hill.
During the Gulf War, officials installed pop-up vehicle barriers. (The car belonging to the architect of the Capitol was once hoisted aloft on one of these.)
This week, signs of change are more subtle, but everywhere. Besides the couriers, journalists are having their wings clipped a bit: Press credentials, for example, are much harder to get now. New evacuation procedures are being worked out on the Hill, and members of Congress can no longer bring family or guests through checkpoints without a screening. Across the city, Washingtonians from all walks of life are talking of upgrading their own emergency preparedness.