Stateside With Rosalea Barker
Here I am sitting in the Treasury media room, which has a false floor judging by the way it shakes. The building is beautiful. Black and white diamond tile floors. Dark wood paneling. Brass water fountains. Took an effort to get in here… I was told by the security guard at the first entrance to come back around the building and make a right at Thomas Jefferson so I could enter via the bolt. The bolt? I repeat, wondering what on earth that is. Yes, he says, the bolt.
I set off to retrace my steps, trusting that I’ll figure it out by the time I get there. For another thing, I don’t recall seeing any Thomas Jefferson Street in this vicinity. Out in the fresh air, my brain returns. The vault!! I’m on my way to the vault of the US Treasury! Are they gonna lock me in, like the legendary miser who kept all his gold in a cellar and ended up dying in there when a storm blew a huge tree down over the entrance, which was known only to him? When his skeleton was found years later during excavations for an addition to the house, there were gnaw marks made by human teeth on his bones.
The press conference is about the upcoming G7 finance ministers meeting, and I’m astonished to see the AP stringer has written and filed his story from his laptop-with-wings even before the rest of us have gotten out of our seats. Postscript: As for TJ, that was a statue not a street. And actually it was Alexander Hamilton, but I probably heard the name wrong in the first place.
The cab driver took me to the south parking entrance of the Pentagon instead of the north, but he didn’t charge me for his mistake. He also wised me up as to why all the flags are at half staff. Who died, I asked rather stupidly as we drove in circles around The Five-sided Casket of Death. This is the military, he replied, people are dying every day. (Then again, Secretary Gates began the press conference by remembering Admiral Crowe who had died the previous night and I think that’s a more likely explanation.)
I’m sitting in the waiting area until somebody comes to escort me to the briefing room. I wish I had some food and water… People are walking by with food from a cafeteria that must be nearby but I’m not allowed to go anywhere without an escort. Maybe my Kiwi friend sat here when he visited the Pentagon years ago. But this all looks brand new. It’s also on the side that was hit on 9/11, I’m guessing, because of the boarded up windows. Oh, no it’s not. I just asked. This is corridor 8 and it hit at corridor 5.
The wire service photogs who were waiting with me have gone with someone else but my escort hasn’t arrived yet. When he does, he leads me through a labyrinth of freshly painted and refitted passageways with shiny new prints of war paintings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Princess Leia and Chewbacca ascending one of the shiny escalators, it all looks so Brand New Movie Set. (And those silly anti-war people think the DoD appropriation is being spent on the war in Iraq!)
In the briefing room, I sit three rows back and wonder why the front row is left empty. A nicely dressed young woman who sits next to me asks if it’s okay to sit in the front row. I don’t know any reason why not, I say, and have cause to regret it later when I try to get a photo of the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, and get only the back of her hairdo instead. She is a radio reporter from Afghanistan, here also for the second presser, which is with Afghanistan’s Minister of Defense.
In between the two briefings, a couple of Army guys come in, and one of them stands up at the podium and has his photo taken by his mate using a cellphone. I guess he works for some Army communications unit somewhere and someday hopes to be here at The Big House. There’s something kinda down-homey about Media Central of the World’s Only Superpower being a tourist stop for the World’s Greatest Warriors. It’s like watching a Roman soldier posing for a chalk drawing on the footpath where Julius Caesar uttered E tu Brute!
A third press conference is mysteriously suddenly announced at the end of the Afghanistan one. It’s going to be about MRAPs we’re told, but I have to leave. No better than a tourist myself, I excitedly ask the person escorting me out of the Pentagon if I can take a photo of the ANZUS Corridor. The ‘NZ’ stands for New Zealand, where I’m from, I say. She didn’t know that. And I’m not allowed to take photos. The ANZUS Corridor features un-shiny, un-new pictures of the World War II collaboration between our three great nations. The wood paneling is nice. Probably came from a Pacific Island somewhere.
Postscript: The third press conference announced a whole lot of contracts that had been let out to the industrial half of the military industrial complex, including one that was in the trillions being awarded to a company in Kansas to make MRAPs, the heavily armored vehicles that can resist IED explosions. Couldn’t help but recall how the Commandant of the Marine Corps had said a couple of days earlier that the Corps was becoming a land army because of the weighty equipment it now has to ship overland wherever it goes.
The contract announcement was kinda like Monty Gates dropping a 16-ton weight on CMC Conway’s head, I thought, when I read the news. Turned out there were three too many zeroes in the press release. Maybe even in the contract. (And those silly pro-war people think the military knows what it’s doing!)