I'm one of the few people ever to have puked in the West Wing of the White House (into a ceremonial bowl that was a gift, I think, from the king of Denmark). So I always return to my former workplace with a bit of trepidation. The occasion for this morning's visit was the annual White House Easter Egg Roll--3,000 moderately well-connected adults and their children crammed onto the South Lawn in search of freebies.
In many ways, this event is the quintessential White House experience: Everything's a photo-op and everything's for sale. Parents simmer in half-hour lines for the privilege of snapping a photo of their kid poking a head or limb through cutout holes in stockslike wooden panels painted with eggs and bunnies. It's probably not for the inherent cuteness that entire families endure this indignity. It's more likely because of the sign that says "White House Easter Egg Roll" or the House itself silhouetted in the background. The photos are proof that You Were There. The free stuff comes from the tents, courtesy of a dozen corporate sponsors eager to thrust their wares in front of a few thousand young eyeballs held captive on federal property. The list is impressive indeed. Kodak. M&M Mars. Hallmark Cards. Krispy Kreme (no, I'm not kidding). Paas. Marshmallow Peeps. Dole Fruits. Philip Morris (yes, I am kidding). The Easter Egg Roll is truly a place where kids learn the ways of the Capitol. I overhear one woman tell her 8-year-old charge, "Yes, your mother is famous, but she's Washington famous."
It's partly because of such cramped thinking that I no longer work here. Nearly two years ago I left my job writing speeches for Al Gore mostly out of exhaustion and disgust (see puking incident above). Now I'm a free agent. I'm on my own, a new-economy nomad. I write magazine and newspaper articles, and I run a Web site--all this from the third floor of our Washington, D.C., house. And for the past six months, I've been traveling the country interviewing fellow free agents, free-lancers, independent contractors, temps, self-employed, home-based business people, and others who work on their own. (It's not just for the camaraderie. I'm writing a book.) This week, I'll be doing about 20 interviews in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. And as has become our custom, the whole family is making the journey: me, two daughters under age 3, and my wife, who's now at the wheel.
We're all sardined in our puny maroon Saturn, heading up I-95 fueled by little more than our curiosity about this new work force and several plastic eggs full of free M&Ms.