Across the Washington area, tens of thousands of laid-off federal workers woke up Wednesday morning and faced the same uneasy question:
It was midweek, and the first full day of joblessness for government employees furloughed in the federal shutdown. No longer rushing anxiously to get to the office, they were anxiously idle instead, struggling to adapt to a new reality.
Michelle Walton spent Wednesday at home in Annapolis, preparing a work-related presentation that she might not get to give if the shutdown continues. Furloughed from her job as a transplant nurse at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Walton set out for an afternoon walk in the park. Soon, with no end in sight to the impasse between the White House and Congress, she began to think about Thursday.
“Anyone up for a furlough bike ride in Deep Creek tomorrow?” she posted on Facebook.
Henry Reyes, a civilian Army employee from Alexandria, was at a Lowe’s store buying plexiglass for window repair project. Like Walton, “I’d rather be working,” Reyes said. He said his wife told him it was “time to relax.” But he said lounging around the house on a weekday would have felt strange. “I’m not going to,” he told her.
Neither was Mary Siatis, a State Department employee also shopping at Lowe’s.
She finally had time to unload boxes from a recent move, she said. She also organized her daughter’s clothes and gathered up a bunch of older garments to be donated. “I’m making full use of this time,” she said. “My preference would be to work. But I’m going to take full advantage of every second I can, because the weekends are so busy.”
Denise Hawkins, a branch chief with the Environmental Protection Agency, did not get up at 6 a.m., as she usually does, and did not board the Metro for work downtown. She stayed in bed until 8 a.m. in her Bethesda home; she read the newspaper; she played the game Bejeweled on her computer.
Then she decided, “Enough is enough.” And she made a list: Go to Staples. Stop at the cleaners. Call Comcast. Call a handyman. Place photos in albums. Fix the belt on a coat. By midafternoon, she was busy doing laundry.
As the shutdown drags on, Hawkins said, she knows how she’ll handle it. She’ll keep making lists.
When will it end, when will it end? “No one has a crystal ball,” Hawkins said.
In the meantime, Catherine Ker, general manager of Bearnaise on Capitol Hill, said the French restaurant has recorded a 25 percent increase in revenue as a result of the shutdown, possibly because more people than usual are free for lunch and happy hours. She said the late-dinner crowd, coming in after 9 p.m., also has grown.