Soapbox goes to D.C.

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Last week, the soapbox traveled to the council meeting in our zombie-infested small town. I went along too. After all, someone had to carry the soapbox and fight off all those slow moving non-thinkers: the zombies — not the council members.

At the meeting, I discovered a huge increase in water bills was due to an unfunded mandate from the federal government. Once home, with the soapbox safely locked away in the basement with the spider crickets, I started to make plans. Someone had to tell those folks in Washington how their unfunded mandates were affecting the little people – little people like The Wife and me. A trip to our nation’s capital was in order.

First, let me say when it comes to airlines and all those “upgrade” charges, I’m not a fan. After getting a great price online for tickets, I realized no seats were assigned. Seems if you want to choose your own seat, it’s an upgrade. Not wanting to pay extra, I decided we could get our assignments at the gate. Unfortunately, this was only the start of upgrade charges.

A carry-on is free, but want to take a suitcase? Well, that’s an upgrade and an extra charge. While The Wife squeezed a week’s worth of clothing in a small carry-on, I once again fought off spider crickets in the basement. With over-packed suitcase and soapbox in the backseat, we headed to the airport. Little did I know we weren’t done with all the upcharges.

Seems there’s a weight limit of 50 pounds per suitcase so our super heavy over packed carry-on was considered a suitcase and had to be checked – another upcharge fee. Unfortunately, my trusty soapbox was too large to be declared as a carry-on so another checked luggage charge was incurred. Think this was the end of the upcharges? There were more to come, and we hadn’t even boarded the plane. And we still needed seats!

At the gate we finally were assigned seats, but not together. If we wanted to spend the next two hours rubbing shoulders with complete strangers, we could keep our seats; otherwise, we could choose to sit together for yet another upcharge. This was an upgrade I immediately paid. I like rubbing shoulders with The Wife. An Easy Comfort seat, one with extra legroom, was another upgrade. This we decided not to do. After all, how cramped could it be?

I’ve never sat in the very back of a plane before. We were together, but The Wife and I occupied the last two seats that didn’t recline. Since I wasn’t in an Easy Comfort seat, only one inch separated my knees from the seat in front of me. If the person reclined, it was gonna be quite painful. Luckily, a reclining seat must’ve been an upgrade, and the person didn’t want to pay the extra amount. It being an early morning flight, I thought breakfast would be served. Silly me. We did get a bag of peanuts. Guess who can’t eat peanuts?

We finally landed two hours later, and no, there were no extra fees to get off the airplane. After claiming our super heavy suitcase and trusty soapbox, we boarded the Metro and made our way to the hotel. Note: Washington’s Metro rail system is really cool … when the air conditioning isn’t broken. It was broken for our entire visit.

The METRO trains run on time, with few delays, and makes the commute into the city much faster than fighting the D.C. traffic. That is, if the trains aren’t down for repairs. You guessed it. Some of the trains were down for repairs making the wait for a transfer over 25 minutes. Fewer trains, folks crammed together, no air conditioning, a super heavy suitcase, and a soapbox. Our trip from the airport to the hotel was less than enjoyable. We actually had more room in those super cheap seats at the back of the plane. But I was on a mission to speak to Congress, and nothing was going to stop me. Or so I thought.

Checking in at the hotel, we found our room – directly across from the elevator. Want a room away from the elevator? That’s an upgrade. After a good night’s sleep, the soapbox pontificating would begin. First stop, the House of Representatives, and then on to the Senate, and if need be, straight to the President. He may even want to borrow my soapbox for his speeches.

Woke up early the next day, got ready to go and went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast at fancy Washington hotel – a $22 upgrade, each. During breakfast, The Wife smiled over her cup of coffee and said, “You do know that Congress is out for recess?”

The trip wasn’t a total loss. We spent the next four days visiting with her family and touring the National Gallery of Art. I asked if they wanted to display my soapbox as a work of art. They said they would have to get back to me.

Late Sunday we returned back home happy knowing my mission was accomplished. We got to spend quality time with family, and I taped a note on Congress’s door to give me a call about all those unfunded mandates. I stored my soon-to-be work of art back in the basement and went to bed wondering if the National Gallery of Art would soon call.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is storiesbyrick@gmail.com. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]