Reporting in D.C.

Every morning I roll over and check Twitter on my phone. Washington, D.C. runs on information, and if you don’t have it, people look right past you. Since I don’t have it, I rely on Twitter.

As a reporter for a D.C. political website, it’s my job to generate stories, often by having uncomfortable conversations with people far smarter than me. You learn fairly quickly what the pecking order is, and you’re nowhere near the top. The top is just a dot to you.

Washington lives on ubiquitous happy hours. You might think, as you read this at a cinq à sept on Prince-Arthur, that this would be glamorous. It can be, but more often than not, it’s just work. Drinks with people you’ve never met can get pretty awkward pretty quickly, not to mention tedious.

To exacerbate the situation, the American capital is obscenely status-conscious. Obscure individuals hand out cards with their national press secretary’s name on it; others have chiefs of staff: the vogue term for a glorified personal assistant.

Lamentably, I have not been entirely immune to this trend, but at least I’ve put a McGill twist on it. I tell anyone who asks that I was a geography and political science student, rather than the other way around, because here poli sci degrees are a dime a dozen. On the other hand, leading with geography gives the impression that I know where Tajikistan or the Republic of Kiribati is. I don’t.

I bumped into a McGill graduate the other day who has found employment as a lobbyist. A regular part of the job: the two-martini lunch. “I guess you’re one of the few whose McGill experience actually prepared you for the real world, eh?” I quipped.

Being a reporter puts you in odd situations from time to time. I once found myself bowling with Mitt Romney. He was in D.C. glad-handing big donors, but rather unfortunately came dressed in a bright white shirt. Incidentally, the bowling alley had a specific rule that customers not wear white shirts. Romney being the star attraction, I suppose they made an exception. But there are reasons for rules: Romney ended up with a bright Jesus-like glow because of the black lights, a glow that followed him for most of the night. That is, until some savvy “personal image strategist” handed him a blue bowling shirt.

To steal a phrase, D.C. is not a place to take friendship personally, which is truly regrettable. Though it’s possible to find a trustworthy friend here—former Tribune editor and superstar Politico reporter Byron Tau, as well as erstwhile Canadian studies scribe Thomas Lamberti come to mind—there’s a certain level of skepticism that you have to bring to every situation, not to mention a certain amount of ego that you’re forced to check at the door.

Life after McGill can be exciting, but nostalgia kicks in from time to time. Go out on a Tuesday night, or have a beer in class. Do it today, because pretty soon you’ll be a chief of staff to the personal aide of the assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Agriculture, and you’ll wish you had.

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