Ranger Nathan: "Yes, it is!"
9-year-old boy: "Yessssss!"
Each day of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, I felt like one of the troops in the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. I imagine Tom Hanks telling me "I'll see you on the beach," as I exit through the turnstyle and head up the steps to the Mall. Nearly every day, I didn't know what I was going to find myself in the middle of when I got to ground level. One day, it was the 10-mile run blocking the road I needed to cross to get to the office and probably tens of thousands of people crowding the area. Other times, it was just a swarm of people there to see the cherry blossoms. One Sunday, I set a personal best for visitor contacts, handing out 2,000 maps in a single shift, which worked out to a visitor contact at least every 12.6 seconds.
With a government shutdown looming, I was working at the Washington Monument the last day Congress had to pass a budget. We were filmed while packing up at the end of the day, and so I was on ABC's national news for two seconds (:58 - 1:00).
After the budget passed, I happened to become a symbol of government workers' resurrection, carrying the banner for the park in the Cherry Blossom Parade. My coworker was photographed in the New York Times. I'm sure we were all on TV, too. A burning 2011 Dodge SUV stole the show, though, holding up the parade for 15 minutes. I didn't know about it until later that night.
We had fun getting ready for the parade as we were surrounded by organized chaos. Marching bands, balloons, drum groups, rock bands, and clowns surrounded us. Paddles the Beaver got loaded into the back of one of the cherry maintenance trucks, riding the truck bed lift up, the sight of which struck me as outrageously funny. We practiced and debated the merits of various waves, and Ranger Gwinn (see photo link above) suggested the point, wink, thumbs up move, which I used to great delight on a very enthusiastic elderly lady during the parade. Admiring the chaos surrounding us, and fearing the approach of an assortment of clowns, the following conversation took place:
Me: "When you took a job at the National Mall, isn't this what you signed up for?"
Ranger Gwinn: "Yeah, here we are in the shadow of our majestic nation's capital, surrounded by hobo clowns."
We all had a great time in the parade.
Later that day, I was working at VVM when I started getting questions about why there was a long line to get into the Lincoln Memorial. There shouldn't be a line; it's just a free for all up the steps. But the steps were empty. That's because President Obama went into the memorial, I suppose because Lincoln in part represents the idea of reconciliation, and gave a few remarks. I watched him go up and down the steps from VVM, but didn't join the crush of screaming people. You would have thought the Beatles were in town.
So all of that got me through the first two days of my week.
I worked two days at FDR, which provided a nice break and a return to more nature in the middle of my week. I was able to find Caspian terns, hermit thrushes, brown creepers, white-throated sparrows, and an Eastern towhee in the woods and on the Tidal Basin. I also got to practice my FDR program some more. The cherry trees by then were done blooming, but the crab apples were in full force. The week before, I walked through FDR on a rainy, cold, and windy day, and the petals were falling off the trees like snow. As a bonus, no one was around, so I had a nice, quiet, peaceful, beautiful place all to myself for a moment.
On Tuesday, a ceremony to unveil a new plaque at the World War II Memorial was held for Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. I was assigned to work the event, which, for me mostly meant looking official and making sure the color guard had room to maneuver at the beginning of the ceremony. While we were ramping, up I met NPS Deputy Director Peggy O'Dell, who came over to greet me, and came back to tell me I looked "sharp," which was nice. Good thing I remembered to polish my boots the night before. The Deputy Director is the 2nd highest position in the NPS.
Former Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne also paused to greet me on his way in, saying "It's good to be back with you [park rangers]." After the ceremony, he also also patted me on the shoulder and thanked the park.
There were plenty of people at the ceremony that I recognized, and plenty more that I probably should have been able to recognize if I watched C-Span: Vice President Joe Biden, Ken Salazar, Daniel Inouye, Pat Roberts, Donna Shalala, Elizabeth Dole, Tom Brokaw, and of course, Bob Dole. I also noticed Sen. Jerry Moran, from Hays, KS, who was elected to the Senate for the first time while we lived in Kansas last year.
Here's some video provided by the Topeka Capital-Journal.
During his speech, Secretary Salazar was looking me in the eye when he thanked the NPS and park rangers. I felt like I had no part in any of this! VP Biden also routinely made eye contact with me, in large part because of where I was standing.
After the ceremony, Dole stuck around for quite a while greeting attendees. After most of that thinned out, I was able to shake his hand. I told him I had had the privilege of working at Fort Larned back in Kansas and I appreciated his support of the park. He said, "Thank you."