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In Session, Out of Sorts

The delegation's logistical stress has been made even worse in the past few years with the advent of the dreaded 6:30 a.m. subcommittee meeting -- an occasional fact of legislative life that is the object of vigorous bipartisan condemnation.

It's one of the few things that can convince Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) to break form and get a hotel room rather than make his nightly 97-mile drive back home. Marshall, 60, is spoken of reverentially by colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his Herculean resolve to head home most nights.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) relaxes with his Fender guitar in the guestroom of friends Fred and Polly Helm. (Jay Paul for The Washington Post)

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Full Report

Hmmm . . . 194 miles, round-trip . . . assuming an average speed of 70 miles per hour . . . let's see, that should be just a little under three hours a day in the car, right?

"No comment," Marshall says.

"I go over speeches and reports in my head. I'm not as smart as I appear -- I just rehearse things, that's all. And lobbyists are charming, but I'd rather be with my wife."

Some legislators, like Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax) are not in such a big hurry to get out of Richmond. Of course, neither would you be if you lived at the Jefferson Hotel. With its 70-foot-high lobby ceiling and grand staircase, the Jefferson, built in 1895, is the grande dame of Richmond hotels. It may be the grande dame of southern hotels. It's Puller's home from Sunday night until Friday morning during session.

In the past, Puller, 60, bunked with roommates and rented apartments. But after suffering a mild stroke in 1997, she realized "it would be easier to live in a hotel, where they'd change your sheets and do the laundry, that sort of thing."

Though she has little time to do much more than sleep at the Jefferson, Puller appreciates how the staff looks out for her. "They'll carry my coat up to my room for me," she says. "At first I tried parking in their self-park lot across the street, but walking up the big hill to the front door was just too hard. Now they give me free valet parking. They're very good to me."

Puller's friend, Del. Kristin J. Amundson (D-Fairfax) lived at the Jefferson in 2000, her freshman year. "It was quite lovely," she says, "but I lost my shirt. Quickly I realized that while I didn't need to stay in some pest-hole so that I could bank my per diem, neither was I in the financial position to subsidize the Commonwealth of Virginia for the privilege of coming down here. I had to strike a balance."

Not long ago her friend, Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria), whose struggle with cancer has prevented her from attending the current session, asked Amundson if she knew anybody who might want to rent her two-bedroom town house in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood for the session's 46 days.

"I leaped on it like a drowning woman," says Amundson, 55, a member of the General Assembly's small Democratic minority. "I'd been to the place; she's always had functions there for Democratic women. So I knew it was pretty. And I have a little cat who has to come with me, and I thought it would be easier for the cat."

Thus did she come to rent Van Landingham's house, which she describes as "a cross between a bed-and-breakfast and an art gallery. All this gorgeous stuff of hers" -- Van Landingham is an accomplished painter -- "is hanging on the walls. To walk into this lovely, tranquil, art-filled environment, especially on a day when you've just had the snot kicked out of you, is wonderful."

Everybody has their own particular way of winding down after a tough day.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), a self-described "metal head," likes to plug his Fender Stratocaster into his headset amplifier and crank out old AC/DC tunes.

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