Wow, this is cool! I never knew this, but anyone can observe the congress in session (house or senate), live, directly from the gallery above. Passes are available on site without reservation.
Today was an important day, with the debt ceiling vote coming, and the entry line was long.
Not unlike the spy museum, photos were forbidden, so let's just pretend that this picture of four packets of equal and a shower cap is our trip to the house and senate.
While we were waiting in line, we learned that protestors in the gallery had disrupted the house, and the whole room needed to be cleared, adding delay to our wait.
Lots of interesting stuff happens in congress. We observed none of it. We arrived in the house during a vote, which basically meant that all representatives were just wandering around the room like they were at a cocktail party. I wanted to see some talkin', so I forced a couple of skeptical boys to stay and watch a room of adults wandering for about a half an hour.
The gallery has an usher of sorts who tries to get the crowds moving along. She must be forbidden by law from kicking people out, because she kept telling us something to that effect. Her message was mysterious and conflicting. She would announce to a group that they would have to leave. Then, she would correct herself, usually to some half standing up guy, announcing that she could not really force him to leave, and if he refused to go, she would not be able to do a thing about it. Said guy would give her a slit eye stare seeming to say "really, you aren't going to stop me?", then sit back down again. Usher woman would back off. This would repeat itself in a minute. It was a bit like a suggested donation, or the little sister who will keep humming in your face until you do what she wants.
The Senate was weird in other ways. First, multiple people told us as we wandered the corredors that children under 6 were not allowed. We could trade off time in the gallery as one of us took care of S, so this was not a problem. When we reached the entryway, we were asked again how old our kids were. N gave the true answer, indicating that S was not old enough. The guard nodded "NO", then said, "he looks 6 today". I agreed, then we all turned to S as the guard repeated the question slowly, "how old are you?". Wide eyed and slightly scared, S responded "6"!
My kids were angels inside, which was sweat off of my brow, because you never know which way that is going to go. The senate was in session, but seemed to consist of one woman speaking from a platform to two guys an four teenage interns. The rest of the room was empty. When she was done, we just watched for a few minutes while the interns occasionally exited the room or moved a pedistal. The four of us watched this in confusion, and the inner guards started plotting ways to get us out of there. It would seem that the inner guards were of a different philosophical bent than the outer guards, and they wanted my (uncharacteristically) silent boys out of there.
S was sitting in N's lap, so the guard had an intern run across the room to let us know that that was forbidden. Fair enough, he took a seat to himself.
Minutes later, the guard sent the intern again, this time because Z's shoe was touching the seat. No problem, he just sat with his feet further down.
Finally, the guard could not take it any more. Running across the gallery, he nearly bumped his head into mine as he asked, "all right, how old is this boy". Repeating the earlier mantra, I soothingly responded, "my son is 6 years old." This response seemed to send him into madness, for he tensed up, stuttered, then simply said, "we don't allow slouching in here."
"Sit up straight", I sternly ordered my boys as I wagged a finger. Z bolted up like an iron rod. Inner guard walked away deflated.
We eventually got tired of looking at an empty room and left.