It was a brutal, nasty campaign. The type that makes a campaign manager want to take a shower after the exhausted late-night drives home at the end of each increasingly stressful day. The type that reminds you that conservative Republicans aren't the only ones who like to play dirty. The type that makes you realize that small campaigns often produce the most outsized personalities. And the type that makes you arrive at the campaign office on GOTV weekend saying, "in a few days, this will finally all be over."
That campaign manager, as you may surmise, was me. And a few weeks before election day, my girlfriend and I decided that we would celebrate the end of the campaign by getting out of Dodge (or, more accurately, Los Angeles) and taking a drive all the way to Seattle and back, seeing friends and sights along the way.
To begin with, it is hard to look at vast expanses of asphalt stretching for a seemingly endless number of miles without being awed and amazed by what it must have taken to get it there, so I must begin by saying that the very trip we undertook would not have been possible without that taxpayer-funded, big-government, socialist institution known as the Interstate Highway System, which was until very recently the largest public works project in the history of the world. Imagine what Presidential Candidate Michelle Bachman would have had to say to President Eisenhower about that back in the day, and how analogous that may be to the current tussle over funding for high-speed rail, which is the new contentious debate over interstate transit in California and many other parts of the country.
Our first stop was at Hearst Castle along the Central Coast of California. And while I might not be a fan of William Randolph, I am certainly a fan of his castle. In the early 20th century, the publishing magnate decided to commit a significant portion of his massive fortune to building a palatial estate in the hills near San Simeon, featuring a main house with hundreds of rooms, several guesthouses, and an outdoor pool with a view toward the Pacific that is nothing short of spectacular. Back then, it entertained all the newsworthy people of his day; today, in its preserved and restored state as a California State Park, it entertains all of us who are looking for an experience that can rival or even surpass a tour of some of Europe's best castles. It leaves one to wonder whether the Koch brothers or any of the other massively wealthy people in our era will leave behind monuments that will entertain visitors long after their deaths (Koch Castle, anyone?)
But for how much longer? A few years ago, the number of tours offered at Hearst Castle had to be reduced by 10% for budget cuts. There is a backlog of repairs that need to be done, and private donations and volunteer power can only go so far. Hearst Castle offers tours to hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. Imagine the devastation to the local economy if Hearst Castle were forced to close for budget cuts. Unthinkable? If California's budget situation continues to deteriorate, you can bet that closure or privatization will be considered for this, and for other state parks. Keeping monuments like this open is part of what California progressives are fighting for in our seemingly endless struggles over the California budget.
A stop in Sacramento offered another inside into the struggle for the future of California. We stopped on the way to Portland to see the Capitol building and do a few surprise drop-ins on some friends in a couple of legislative offices. But as we approached, we saw the building covered with the flashing sirens of police cars keeping order at a large student demonstration.
We didn't have time to tarry and join the protest; we had a schedule to keep. The highest point on Interstate 5 is the Siskiyou Pass just north of the border between California and Oregon. It's over 4,000 feet in elevation, and in mid-March, there's a decent probability of snow or ice after dark, which doesn't exactly constitute ideal conditions for a Prius with no traction tires. But we made it up and overÃ¢ÂÂand after a day spent in Portland visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, as well as Powell's City of Books (two things progressives can't get enough of: science and bookstores!) it was up to Seattle for a brief two-day stay.
The history of Seattle was shaped in an enormous way by struggles between the government and private businesses regarding the public infrastructure of the City, and similar debates are continuing today. In the 1890s, after a huge fire destroyed most of the existing buildings in the city, civic administrators decided they were going to start from scratch and build things the right way. Previously, the heart of Seattle had been built at such an elevation that at high tide, counterpressure from Puget Sound would reverse the sewer system and cause the gravity-operated toilets to flush up, instead of down. After the fire, the city made a decision to raise the level of the entire city to prevent that from happening. But the process would have taken several years, and the businesses didn't want to wait that long to rebuild, and the city had no leverage over them. So the businesses rebuilt at the same level, but the city rebuilt the streets a level higher! If you wanted to go across the street, you literally had to walk out the door, climb a ladder onto the street, and then climb another ladder down to ground level. Eventually, the streets were connected through hollow sidewalks to the second level of the buildings, which then became the new ground floor, but the original first floor underneath the new sidewalks still existed as what was called the "Underground." This Underground housed a good deal of underground businesses until it was finally closed off for good during World War II, but they still let the tourists in.
A trip like this has much to recommend to it. We spend a significant quantity of time fighting to preserve what is great about this country. Its diversity, its scenic beauty, and the right of its people to live as they choose. But there are few things more rewarding than finding some time to take a break and actually go out and visit our country's forests, mountains and coastlines; see the monuments that we're striving to keep open so others can be inspired just as we have been; and visit cities and communities that may have lessons to offer us in how we as local and national activists might be able to do better in bringing change back home with us. So take a break! Go to Netroots Nation, meet some friends and make some plans to visit and see something new. You'll be glad you did!
(Oh, and if you're wondering how the campaign went...I was managing three candidates. Two won, and the third has a very bright future ahead of her.)