As I walked up Pennsylvania Avenue toward Capitol Hill, a police cruiser turned to block cross traffic from Seventh Street. Helicopter blades fluttered and pounded overhead.
“Mind if I ask what's going on, Officer?” I said.
“President's coming,” she replied. “Stand back on the sidewalk, please.”
Looking back down America's main street last Friday, I saw the lights and the vehicles moving my way at a good clip: four motorcycle cops, Secret Service agents in SUVs, two presidential limousines (one said to be more heavily armored, carrying the leader of the free world), a trailing ambulance, police cruisers and more vehicles for White House staffers and others.
The motorcade quickly thundered by, a sight to see. Washingtonians may be used to these midday incursions, but the unexpected presidential procession surely quickens a visitor's pulse.
An hour earlier, my wife, our son and I had finished a tour of the White House, where we stood on the familiar spot in the East Room — with the long, red carpet in the hallway to the rear — where President Barack Obama last year announced the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden.
In a year divisible by four, a nation divisible by partisanship soon will decide whether Obama or Mitt Romney will live in that house for the next four years.
With mere weeks before Election Day, debate season is upon us. But of one thing, there is little debate — this old federal city, whose elected inhabitants increasingly frustrate us with their inability to work together, nonetheless can still stir the soul.
We proceeded to Capitol Hill, where Elizabeth Urrutia, a staff assistant in the office of Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, escorted us on the underground tram and then through the Capitol itself.
The rotunda statue of Ronald Reagan — the president who implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”— stands over a pedestal that includes pieces of the Berlin Wall. The likeness of William Jennings Bryan, the great orator of Nebraska who ran three times for president, stands with others in Statuary Hall.
Little legislation occurred in the Capitol this year, and practically every member of the House and Senate has left until after Election Day. A lame-duck Congress will return toward the end of the year.
For now, it's all about what happens on Nov. 6.
Preparations, though, already are under way for Jan. 20. Urrutia, from Hastings, Neb., showed us the interior steps that will be used by the winner of the election, his family and other dignitaries to reach the spot outside where the oath of office will be administered.
Carpenters already are building the stage for the inauguration.
The domed superstructure of the Capitol, believed to be the 9/11 target of Flight 93 before brave passengers rolled against terrorists — who then crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field — marks the spot where much history has been made.
Some of it is lesser known. Chief Justice Roger Taney, who served from 1836 to 1864, had a large clock installed in the old Supreme Court chamber of the Capitol. He was so unhappy about people showing up late, the story goes, that he had it set five minutes ahead.
The clock still runs five minutes fast.
Not to get ahead of ourselves, but time is ticking on pressing national problems — and it would be great, regardless of who is elected next month, if elected leaders cooperated for a change.
The brunt of the tourist season ended in August, so early fall was a good time to see official and unofficial Washington, night and day.
As millions of others have, we walked the National Mall, viewed sacred documents at the National Archives, stood reverently at the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War memorials, peered up at the Washington Monument and walked the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech there in 1963, a close ally standing by was the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Saturday at FedEx Field in nearby Landover, Md., Ralph David Abernathy IV, great-grandson of the civil rights leader, scored a 76-yard touchdown for my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati, in a 27-24 win over Virginia Tech.
Yes, a football game is what brought us to the D.C. area, but we made the most of a long weekend: the Smithsonian's Museum of American History, with Dorothy's ruby-red shoes from “The Wizard of Oz” and much more; the Newseum, dedicated to the First Amendment; the stunningly powerful U.S. Holocaust Museum; the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
I hadn't visited in years. Now, when practically every issue becomes a political football, a real game of football was a good excuse to go to D.C. and renew acquaintance with history and the seat of government today.
Competition can bring out our best in sports, politics or other areas. But real achievement? That usually involves cooperation and teamwork.
Contact the writer: