Trip to Washington DC

This will be a full recap about the trip to Wash­ing­ton DC that Har­monie and I just got home from. Here we go… Just before noon, my cell phone rings. It’s a num­ber I don’t know, but since it’s from Las Vegas I fig­ure I may as well answer it. The per­son on the other line was Jessi from Con­gress­woman Shel­ley Berkley ’s office. I had talked to her many months before when I was hav­ing some prob­lems with the Air Force not treat­ing me very well when it came to my ill­ness. To say the least I was con­fused about what she was call­ing about. After a few min­utes of chit-chat, she got to the point. Rep. Berkley was inter­ested in bring­ing an Iraq war vet­eran to Wash­ing­ton DC to accom­pany her to the Pres­i­den­tial State of the Union Address. Jessi had remem­bered my story from talk­ing to her before and sug­gested to the Con­gress­woman that I would be a good choice. I was stunned. This was a huge honor, but I was unsure that we would be able to go. We had yet to travel by plane any­where since I got sick and I wanted to talk it over with Har­monie first. We dis­cussed every detail that would need to be addressed and decided we would go as long as it was not overly stress­ful on us. I gave Jessi a call back and she was ecsta­tic that we would be will­ing to attend. I let her know our con­cerns and she agreed to resolve every­thing pos­si­ble to get us out there. These three days were com­plete pan­de­mo­nium. Con­stant phone calls between Jessi and I col­lab­o­rat­ing the trip details. At times it seemed that every­thing would fall apart and then a few hours later it would all come back together. South­ern Nevada Oxy­gen (who has been incred­i­bly gen­er­ous to us for a very long time) was kind enough to allow us to bor­row some extra bat­ter­ies for my portable oxy­gen con­cen­tra­tor so we would be able to have suf­fi­cient oxy­gen for the flight and trip. By mid­day Sat­ur­day, all the plans were in place and we spent the evening packing. We woke up at 3:00am in order to make it to the air­port for a 7:45am flight. Our brother-in-law Sean, who works at McCar­ran, escorted us through the employee secu­rity and we were very grate­ful for the ges­ture. A few hours later we ran into our first prob­lem. Get­ting on the plane requires the air­line to put me in an aisle wheel­chair in order to get me seated. United Air­lines sent two employ­ees down to help me. The flight was delayed by a few min­utes and they kept com­plain­ing they didn’t have enough help to get me and a few other elderly pas­sen­gers on the plane. When it was finally time to board they were nowhere to be found. Har­monie took our stuff to the seats as I sat stranded on the jet­way. I was sup­pose to be seated first and other help didn’t come until the plane was almost com­pletely full. Poor cus­tomer ser­vice by United Air­lines if you ask me. The flight went smoothly and then when we landed the sec­ond issue arose. I asked the stew­ardess to find out if some­one could help us to bag­gage claim because we had to carry a lot of med­ical sup­plies. They had the employee who helped us off the plane assist us. He pushed me about 50 feet, then pointed down the hall­way and said “go that way” and bailed on us. Any­one who has been through Dulles air­port knows that get­ting to bag­gage claim is no short trip. Not only were we seri­ously upset about this, but the whole way we strug­gled to bag­gage claim the dri­ver who was pick­ing us up kept call­ing my phone. I couldn’t get much recep­tion, but I heard him ask “Where are you all at?” That really didn’t help our sit­u­a­tion. Until we finally got into the car, our arrival in Wash­ing­ton DC was abysmal at best. The third issue was when we made it up to our room at the hotel. We opened the door and real­ized some­thing was wrong. The room was so small I couldn’t get the wheel­chair in about three feet. “These peo­ple just checked us in, obvi­ously see­ing me in a wheel­chair, and they gave us this” I said to Har­monie. We called down to the front desk and asked them to move us into a new room which they did with­out hesitation. We spent the rest of the evening rest­ing in our room and enjoy­ing some good room ser­vice for din­ner. Hope­fully the next day would go smoother! We had a rough night of sleep due to nap­ping the pre­vi­ous evening, but we woke up and ordered some break­fast. Our only planned event for the day was a tour of the Capi­tol by a staff mem­ber from Rep. Berkley’s office. After a very slow cab ride to the Capi­tol (there was a Pro-Life march going on), we were greeted by Dara, the afore­men­tioned staff member. She helped us up to the Congresswoman’s office and although she wasn’t there yet, her office was pretty awesome. As soon as our tour got under­way, we were like kids on a field tour. It was such a great expe­ri­ence to see our nations Capi­tol up close and in per­son. We also received passes to go in and check out the Con­gress and Sen­ate cham­bers where all the vot­ing takes place. We had goose­bumps just sit­ting in the gallery. Plus, I got a chance to see where I’d be sit­ting for the State of the Union the next night. We went back to the Congresswoman’s office and had a nice talk with all the staff mem­bers. We dis­cussed the fol­low­ing night and made sure we knew what time to be back the fol­low­ing day. Har­monie and I also decided to go out for a nice din­ner that night, so we returned to the hotel for a few min­utes and chose a restaurant. Our choice was Ruth’s Chris , an incred­i­bly good steak house with loca­tions all over the U.S. It was great to get out and have a nice din­ner with my wife. By the time our meal was done we were worn out. We returned to the hotel and I started watch­ing YouTube videos to fig­ure out how to tie a tie. To say the least, it didn’t work! We woke up and decided we would spend the day in the room and just relax. This would give us a chance to take our time get­ting ready. Har­monie worked on prep­ping our clothes while I called the Congresswoman’s office and asked if some­one could tie my tie for me. They said some­one could and we all had a good laugh at my expense. We fin­ished get­ting ready and went down to grab a bite to eat. To our sur­prise, our pre­vi­ously ordered handicap-cab was 45 min­utes early arriv­ing around 4:45pm. We expected more delays get­ting over to the Capi­tol, but the drive went very smoothly and we ended up at the Congresswoman’s office about an hour early. In addi­tion, we thought we were run­ning late so we didn’t get a chance to eat. We asked the staff if there was any­thing we could order and every­one agreed on a pizza. Just when the pizza got there, Rep. Berkley arrived. Unfor­tu­nately, she had been held up in Las Vegas. After talk­ing with most of her staff and even talk­ing on the phone with her before we came, it was great to finally meet her in per­son. We enjoyed some pizza and had a great con­ver­sa­tion. We got a pic­ture taken with her and the staff even printed it out and she was kind enough to sign it for us. She let me know the plan was to meet her at a pre-State of the Union recep­tion in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office. We parted ways and some­one from the spe­cial needs depart­ment in the Capi­tol met me in her office to escort me through­out the Capi­tol for the night. Let me tell you, it’s a good thing he was with me all night. The secu­rity was out in masses for the event. Secret ser­vice was around every corner. We arrived in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office and she very nicely greeted us and thanked us for attend­ing her recep­tion. I did not see Rep. Berkley yet, so we parked next to a wall and tried to keep a low pro­file. We were vis­ited by many in atten­dance and then I got to meet Con­gress­woman Marcy Kap­tur [http://web.archive.org/web/20120228045919/http://www.kaptur.house.gov/]. Rep. Kap­tur has been the stand­ing Con­gress­woman in my home­town of Toledo since 1983 (a year before I was born). I have seen her name for the entirety of my life and to finally meet her was such an honor. We talked for a lit­tle while and then she pre­sented me with some Con­gres­sional cuf­flinks. I want to thank Rep. Kap­tur for her kind ges­ture and I plan to keep in touch with her through her office. Rep. Berkley arrived and intro­duced me to some very nice Con­gress­men and many oth­ers. It was kind of intim­i­dat­ing being in a room with so many of our nations lead­ers. I just stuck to being cour­te­ous and shook every­ones hand. It was finally time to head up to the gallery in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Cham­ber where the address is given. When we got to our spot, I was joined by a cou­ple of other dis­abled vet­er­ans. I had the priv­i­lege of meet­ing Brian Kolfage Jr., a wounded Air Force vet­eran who is a triple amputee . Talk­ing to him was so encour­ag­ing because I got to see first hand some­one who has gone through tremen­dous adver­sity and has not only over­come it, he has thrived. I greatly enjoyed speak­ing with him and I wish him, his wife, and his fam­ily all the best. Hope­fully I have the chance to speak with him again. The event began and Pres­i­dent Obama came in to a loud ova­tion, which only increased when he hugged Rep. Gabrielle Gif­fords . His speech was a lit­tle longer than I expected and I started get­ting con­cerned that I would run out of oxy­gen before I made it back to Rep. Berkley’s office. I had to lower the set­ting and I started hav­ing issues with tun­nel vision. I decided it best to turn it back up and make sure we left very quickly after­wards. It was great to be there, but I’ll always remem­ber the amaz­ing view of all three branches of gov­ern­ment being rep­re­sented in the same room. I am proud to be an Amer­i­can and this was a cul­mi­na­tion of what our nation stands for: Democracy. After the speech we rushed back to where Har­monie was in Rep. Berkley’s office and started charg­ing my bat­ter­ies back up. We hung out for an hour or two until the streets opened back up so the cab we called could get to us. We started real­iz­ing that our cab had bailed on us, so two of the Congresswoman’s staff mem­bers went out­side with us in the freez­ing cold to hail us a cab. They were such a tremen­dous help and we prob­a­bly would have had seri­ous issues out in the cold with­out them. Thank you so much guys! We got back to the room around 12:30am which greatly affected our next day. Regard­less, I’ll always cher­ish the oppor­tu­nity that was given to me to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event. Wak­ing up the next morn­ing, I got an email from Jessi that she had coor­di­nated for the USO  to help us later that day depart­ing Dulles and arriv­ing back at McCar­ran. This would make our travel much easier. It was now time for us to go on our tour of the White House, but we had an issue. Har­monie was not feel­ing well and I don’t have enough energy to do late night/early morn­ing turn­arounds any­more. We tried to go, but it was an ill-fated attempted and we went back to our room. We just didn’t have it in us and we needed the rest for our flight home. Tak­ing this break also made pack­ing much eas­ier because we wouldn’t have to rush. We lounged around and had every­thing packed early. The hotel granted us a late check out so that we could con­tinue to charge my oxy­gen machine batteries. When it was time to leave we checked out and went to the lounge to get some lunch before head­ing to the air­port. The dri­ver arrived, packed up our stuff, and we were off to Dulles. Along the way, the USO called and let us know where they would meet us. When we got to the air­port a TSA agent was there as well. I guess there is a pro­gram that if you call ahead of time as a severely dis­abled vet­eran they will escort you through the employee secu­rity check­point. This lim­its the com­pli­ca­tions we might have due to all of the med­ical equip­ment we have to travel with. We made it home and had help to bag­gage claim. We got our stuff with the assis­tance of Charm and Sean and were on our way home. The next few days were spent rest­ing from the pure exhaus­tion we felt from the trip. Thank you for read­ing this very long post about our trip to Wash­ing­ton DC. If you would like to see more pic­tures from the trip, please join the Face­book page today. I look for­ward to read­ing your com­ments about this awe­some trip. No related posts.

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