The Corner

Visiting the Visitor Center

So what does $621 million buy you? Apparently not paper towels in the men’s room. This morning around 9 am, the dispensers were empty in Congress’s sparkling-new Capitol Visitor Center.

I’ve already written about the CVC’s political correctness. Today, I experienced the CVC as a tourist, when I went with my family for a look-see. It sure was convenient to reserve our tour tickets online for the date and time of our choosing. This is a worthwhile innovation. Apart from that, however, the CVC is run with the efficiency you would expect from Congress: We stood in three different lines before we were finally ushered into a theater for a dull 13-minute propaganda video on the wonders of our Congress. The tour of the Capitol itself is the same as it ever was–i.e., perfectly okay, especially given the crowded conditions, though it would be nice if tourists could gain better access to the actual chambers of the House and Senate when they aren’t in session. I neglected to make special arrangements with my congressman’s office, so we missed the House; the Senate was simply closed to everybody. At least one of the gift shops in the CVC stinks (there are two, we went in one)–it’s full of china and jewelry, plus a few uninteresting books. Anybody with even half an ounce of business sense would do a better job of stocking it.

The highlight of our trip was unplanned. We walked through the tunnel to the Library of Congress, where our kids studied the Reading Room from an observation gallery. It may be my favorite interior space in the whole city. We discussed the exploits of Nicolas Cage in National Treasure 2, of course. Also, an exhibit of Waldseemuller’s 1507 map of the New World–supposedly the first map to use the word “America”–is excellent. I have a special interest in the map because five years ago I wrote about its acquisition and pointed out that the Library was slightly exaggerating the map’s significance. I didn’t bore my kids with any of these details, and they had a grand time playing with the computerized displays that highlight the map and what’s on it.

Then we ate burritos in NR’s Hill digs and went home.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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