OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
There is so much in this world that I will never understand. It scares me. At the same time, there are things that I know I can understand, with practice, patience, and experience. The world functions through well-oiled machines created and maintained by thoughtful people. I don’t understand all of them… yet. I always believed that the Federal Government would be one of those mysterious mechanisms, governed by workings I would never understand. Thanks to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, I now take the bus to the U.S. Capitol every Monday through Thursday and work in the storied halls of the Cannon House Office Building, inside the hot belly of the beast. My journey to this place is not simple, however. There are steps I must take in order to accomplish my goals. To get to the Capitol, I must first master the Washington, D.C. bus system.
As much as I try to memorize my daily bus route on Google Maps, I never know if I’m right. Sometimes I’m sure that even though I’m running a bit behind, I won’t be late. As I rush up to the bus stop, the bus flies right by me. Other times I make sure to be several minutes early just to find out that the bus had left before I had even walked out of the door. I’m frequently fumbling between my maps app and frantically clicking past local advertisements on the Metro and bus app to see where the best stop is. Inevitably, I walk a little bit farther than I needed to, and I face the DC humidity head-on.
There was only so much I could do to prepare for my first week as an intern. Inevitably, on the days when I feel the most prepared (with a stocked purse and a double-checked checklist), my preparations prove to be unnecessary. It was useless to attempt perfection, but I tried anyway. I held onto first drafts of constituent letters or hesitated before sending an email, terrified that it wouldn’t be perfect. It was scary to put my name on my work, and I scanned my writing for typos and inconsistencies with feverish concentration.
At the end of the day, I realized that I simply must commit to the choices I make, whether it’s to sit and wait for fifteen minutes for the next bus to show up or to try to find another bus line. I pushed myself to take the extra step to volunteer to go to the supply closet in a near silent office. I courageously make the effort to speak up in the office, to ask for help when I feel unsure. I commit myself to learning, even when it felt embarrassing. After all, doesn’t everyone else know how to do this better than I do? Isn’t everyone else completely comfortable with their daily bus route, hopping on and off like clockwork, cool and collected in their seats?
Of course not. The great thing about a public good like a bus system is that even as reliable, necessary, and functional as it is, everyone can have a hard time using it. When a thunderstorm flashed over DC, I joined a group of bus riders waiting outside of the office for the bus. We stood in wet dignity, in the rain, when our bus zoomed by without a second thought. The next one arrived moments later, and we boarded, laughing and smirking, knowing that we all felt silly thinking we were the only one.
As with most things, I look forward to when retrospect makes me feel a bit silly about thinking I was the only one who felt at times isolated, out of my depth, or worried about my capabilities. But I’m never the only one here on this ride. I have the rest of my cohort to laugh and feel with, sharing stories about our office dynamics and making plans to eat together in the dining halls of the Capitol. I will have surprising allies throughout my time here who will make me feel less alone.
As I continue to ride the bus and see an ever-changing city in a new light, I will begin to feel more confident, assured, and in control of my trajectory here. Just as I learn more about my responsibilities as a Congressional intern, I have the capacity to learn how to navigate this city. I look forward to the day that I can say with confidence that I understand the Washington, D.C. bus system.