June 11, 2012

Crawfish, Caslick’s, and Girl Scouts

By Joe Pluhar

It’s 9 pm on Saturday night, and I’m crammed on the end of a ten person table sitting right by the restrooms (I literally have to move my chair when people open the door) at the Vienna Inn Restaurant. I just ordered dinner with my wife, Lauren, my brother and two of his Naval Academy buddies. The restaurant could have doubled as a high school trophy case/Vienna history museum/food safety test case. As I sat there testing one of the best chili dogs in town, it occurred to me that I have been in town exactly one week. What a week it has been!

To start off, Lauren and I arrived late Saturday night and immediately hit a D.C. area hot spot restaurant, Outback Steakhouse. Nothing like getting a taste of the local cuisine (please note my sarcasm!) I was super-fried from driving 1400 miles in two days and was uber excited to be here. Then, after catching up on some much needed rest, Lauren and I checked out one of the biggest malls in the U.S. (I assure you, I didn’t come to D.C. to go to a mall and eat at chains, but even though I felt like I had packed the kitchen sink, I invariably forgot something.) Then we continued to explore the Vienna area, get our bearings, and prepare for the week ahead. I must admit, I was a little nervous about the externship. Not entirely sure why, but there was a sense of trepidation the Sunday night concerning the month ahead. It felt a little bit like that last night before the start of vet school.

Monday morning finally arrived, and I headed into D.C. to the GRD officein Dupont Circle. Elise Ackley, my extern partner and former SAVMA HOD colleague, and I received a wonderful introduction and orientation to the GRD office, the people, and all of the issues going on in veterinary policy circles. I must admit, I felt a little bit like I was drinking from a fire hose that first day, but the good people here in the office were very patient and didn’t mind all of my questions. Tuesday saw more of the same with meetings on the AVMA Political Action Committee (the group that contributes money to candidates and Members of Congress) and our first conference call. Then things got interesting.

Tuesday night, Elise and I were invited to attend a talk on the increasingly important topic of the declines in frogs and honey bees. I must admit, we were not immediately excited, but afterward we both were really glad we got to go. Not only did we meet some great scientists and veterinarians, we learned a lot about some major scientific issues. We learned that frogs were dying off worldwide because of a fungal infection that causes a thickening of their skin. We also learned that trucking bees around the country to pollinate crops is a multi-billion (with a bee, pun intended) industry, and the numbers of colonies were declining at an alarming pace. Who knows, bee veterinarians may be a thing of the near future!

Wednesday brought with it a mark-up session in the House Appropriation Ag Subcommittee where we got to witness partisan politics up close in personal. While all parties involved were very gracious, you could tell there were underlying tensions within the room when it came to how to spend money. Thursday we attended Capitol Hill meetings with AVMA Executive Board members after a fabulous Cajun lunch at Johnny’s Half-Shell. Even Elise, our resident Louisianan, thought the gumbo and etouffee was outstanding. At lunch, several sitting U.S. Congressmen stopped by, had lunch, and talked to us about our issues and theirs, like “what do I do if my dog eats this.” Every Congressman was great to talk to especially Rep. Kurt Schrader, a proud veterinarian from Oregon. How many people can say they have discussed Caslick’s with a U.S. lawmaker? I have! Friday, we listened in on Executive Board discussion concerning various policy and legislative stances. Then came the girl scouts.

Lauren and I are excited that one of our dear friends from A&M, Kaki Nicotre, is also in D.C. externing this month at National Pork Producers. She is a fellow A&M classmate and policy buff. She had never been to D.C., and we were going to “do the town” on Saturday. Big mistake. As we were driving toward the Smithsonian museums, we were greeted by roadways turned parking lots. Okay, not that alarming considering it is summer in D.C. As we neared the National Mall, we began to see hordes of white t-shirts dotting every spec of green space. As we closed on the Washington Monument, we saw the source. As a part of the 100-year anniversary of Girl Scouts, over 200,000 current Girl Scouts had descended upon D.C. to celebrate, and I swear every one of them was on the mall and brought a friend. And none of them brought cookies! We made it through one museum and decided to take our fun and head to Annapolis for the rest of the day. By the time we made it back to Vienna (our home base for the next month), Lauren and I were exhausted. Hence, why I didn’t mind sitting a foot from the restroom door.

All-in-all, it was an exciting, rewarding, fruitful, and whirlwind first week as an extern-on-the-hill. I tried to say “we fought the Girl Scouts and won” and was corrected to “we fought the Girl Scouts and decided to save our forces for another day.” There could have been a million, and it wouldn’t have lessened the fun I had this week. I look forward to three more weeks and will do my very best to bring you more of my adventures.