"Our Trip to Washington, DC: Mission Successful"

by Bill Buck

A little more than three weeks before President Clinton's Inauguration, our web design company Percepticon received word that we were being cordially invited to take part in the 1997 Inaugural Celebration.  We would be co-producing and implementing a live "Webcast" of the 2-day festival, a first in Inaugural history.  Indeed, Percepticon had only recently established itself as a trailblazer of this cutting edge, live Internet broadcasting technology.  "It's new.  It's cool.  It's... Webcasting" someone's cheesy ad copy could read.

One of the better qualities of the Clinton administration was its (mostly Albert Gore's) understanding of the Internet's potential to: increase much needed cooperation and understanding across national borders; skyrocket the potential of "wide lens" education for students and young people everywhere; and help build the metaphorical "Bridge to the 21st Century" which was of course the Inaugural Celebration's theme.

Our flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC brought with it a good feeling.  For me and many others, being in our nation's capitol always seems to bring a sense of respect for the country and an austere recognition of our role in helping to sustain and nurture the oldest, most established democracy on the planet.  Besides, this occasion marked the re-election of the highest quality administration I'd seen in years (not saying much).

Stopping in Houston was the most notable part of the flight. The food certainly wasn't very notable.  I got off the plane during our layover to check out the local flora and fauna.  Sure enough, I saw my share of cowboy hats and the like.  An interesting conversation was overheard while waiting in line to get back on the plane.  Two gentleman in front of me compared seating assignments:

"Hell, ah got 24-C!"  one remarked.

"Ah, back of the bus, back of the bus!" the other replied. 

Welcome to the south, I thought. ...Now go home!

My customary national travel companion, an issue of USA Today, warned in colorful splendor of the cold and hostile weather conditions in The Capitol that week.  My colleagues Patrick and Todd and I were at least comforted by the thought that we would be in a heated tent while we worked.  Also, I had come prepared with an assortment of winter clothing, which I had found while scouring the depths of my storage closet.

I'll never forget walking through the icy wind toward our massive tent pavillion on the Washington Mall early Friday morning, January 17, 1997.  Venturing out from our warm taxi to the tent, situated in front of the Smithsonian castle, we basically experienced the beginning stages of frostbite.  We looked forward to experiencing the warmth of our workspace and all the accouterments that would undoubtedly accompany our high-tech "Technology Playground exhibition" where we would be on live display for the weekend's 50,000 visitors.

We walked into a condition in that tent which was identical to the weather outside.  A little under 20 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact.  Yes, my friends, this was not a joke.  We were actually freezing.  My mind began to wander, began to grasp for some form of explanation, maybe even some consolation.  We're facing the conditions our ancestors faced, I thought, as they struggled to tame the wild frontier, struggled to build a more perfect union out on the frozen prairie.  Without coffee.

Troopers that we were, we turned our focus to the task at hand: setting up our computer stations.  Word came that the IBM booth was having technical troubles... some of their hard drives were literally frozen and were not starting up.

Eventually, as we shivered through our work, we set up our computer stations (which had turned on successfully, unlike poor IBM's) and we then began to think about food.  What, no food?  You mean, no one thought of catering for the 60-odd people who were setting up in this tent?  After some digging, my inquisitive and persistent American spirit learned of a hidden bucket of donut holes and a canister of watery coffee in one of the trailers...