Swapping DC for a week in America

Strange as it may sound, I’m not a news junkie. I like a short period with limited news once in a while. More precisely, I like a week without politics, without the political noise that overlays specific news events like a wet blanket.

Last week I knew there would be an eruption of partisan discussion after the Mueller Report came out. That’s just about when I left for a trip across America. In my case, that meant a 1,000-mile motorcycle tour to Key West, Florida. My bike has no radio and I like it that way.

I was with a friend of nearly a half century, the kind of friend of whom you have maybe one or two in your lifetime whom you can talk with about anything.

Except politics. When my old buddy tried to bring up this or that, I changed the subject. I wanted a week off from that. Key West is the kind of place where you chat with people at the next table over drinking salt-rim margaritas. People ask what each other do.

“I have a daily radio show about government topics in Washington, D.C.” I say, inevitably eliciting a knowing, “Well you’ve got a lotto talk about these days, heh heh heh.” I explain we don’t do politics, but rather cover the government as a large enterprise and employer, etc.

I always add, “We cover all the administrations straight, and there are plenty of other places to go for politics.” That usually ends a potential entanglement about President Donald Trump, socialism, this urgent fight or that one.

I can certainly hold up my end of a political discussion. I just don’t like to, especially on vacation. When you talk with Americans about anything else, people are down-to-earth and engaging. They don’t spend all their waking hours furrow-browed over politics.

One guy off a cruise ship with his wife pulled out his phone in a Cuban restaurant to show us a picture of the beloved but nearly un-rideable custom chopper he had sold. At breakfast on the Amtrak AutoTrain, which specializes in motorcycles, I sat next to a woman who’d attended the same college I did for a couple overlapping years. We talked about common professors we remember. A young couple was thrilled to be heading to a summer in Maine working for a resort operator.

A break from the incessant and shrill commentary refreshes. But news will find you. Many years ago my wife and I, traveling abroad, stopped at the 1,500-year-old Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. I spoke with a monk  originally from New York whom I asked if he kept up with outside news.

“Well,” he replied, “I confess I do sneak a look at the Yankees’ scores from time to time. And I know about your stock market crash.” My wife and I looked at each other. Stock market crash? This was October 20th, 1987. The day before, Black Monday had occurred. The Dow had dropped nearly 25 percent. No internet back then, no smart phone notifications. We hadn’t grabbed a copy of the International Herald Tribune. Not what we could not have done anything about the crash, but we would have wanted to know.

Today, I jumped back into the news of the federal government with both feet. The White House named a nominee for the Agriculture Department’s chief financial officer, a new director will take over at the U.S. Marshals Service, and a federal employee pay raise became official.

But the rest of America is still out there sipping margaritas in the sun.

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