Capitol Hill just lost an icon. Peter Bis, a garrulous homeless man who passed his time chatting up anyone who would listen from his seat on a crate under a tree outside the Exxon at the corner of 2nd Street and Massachusetts Ave., died of a heart attack last night.
Just about everyone who regularly passed him — and that was a lot of people, given his proximity to Union Station and Union Pub — had heard one or two of his stories or catch phrases. He liked to tell passersby (from tourists to interns to congressional staffers) how many days away the weekend was, and he made sure everyone knew not to go skinny dipping, sometimes yelling the warning to people across the street.
He slept in the gas station but kept a pile of belongings under the tree. And when the D.C. city government threatened to move his things, two dozen of his acquaintances — including lobbyists and hill staffers — signed a petition against it. His things remained unmoved, according to a piece from the Hill. He didn’t like the term “homeless,” preferring “political refugee.”
I got to know Pete while I lived for six months in the Heritage Foundation’s intern housing, which was next door to the gas station. When a friend visited, I thought it would be fun to give him a quick introduction to Pete — after all, I talked to this guy just about every day. Forty-five minutes later, Pete had dragged us into the Exxon to show us YouTube videos of a bombing in Russia, invited us to join him for a smoke break, and wept about the death of his ex-girlfriend, Princess Diana.
So he probably didn’t date Lady Di. But I’ve never heard anyone talk about a significant other with as much passion and kindness as Pete. He might have been delusional — his blog certainly suggests as much. But he was also open, funny, and warm. He’ll be missed.