The humidity was so bad and the oom so crowded that all the scene needed was a ceiling fan whirring overhead to create an atmosphere akin to the kind you find in movies about people trapped in a Latin American jail.
But this was the Maryland State House, in Gov. Harry Hughes' conference room, and it was a bill-signing ceremony, not the shooting of a film. Bill signings are generally routine affairs and but for its length--Hughes signed 432 bills into law that day--this one was no different.
Except for one fact: This was an ending, a finale. The June 1 bill signing was the last one of Hughes' term. For Hughes it was not a nostalgic scene because he fully expects to be back, applying his autograph to laws for four more years. But for a number of legislators this was a Last Hurrah. Some, standing in the torrid heat, knew it because they already have decided to move on. Others will find out on Election Day.
"It makes you feel nostalgic," said Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Montgomery). "I look around this room and I see some people who I've worked with who I know won't be back, and it's sad. Then there are others who may or may not be back. I have a gut feeling the Senate will be a very different place next year."
Indeed. At least two of the five committee chairmen will not be back: Sen. Edward T. Conroy, chairman of the Constitutional and Public Law Committee, died of cancer last month; J. Joseph Curran Jr., chairman of the Judicial Matters Committee, is expected to run for lieutenant governor on Hughes' ticket.
There are others: Victor L. Crawford, head of the Montgomery County delegation, is not running for reelection. John J. Garrity (D-Prince George's) saw his district wiped out in redistricting and has been waiting breathlessly to see if Hughes will appoint him to a court of special appeals judgeship. Incumbents are facing incumbents because of redistricting. And there are delegates running for the Senate, perhaps as many as a dozen of them.
In all likelihood, by the time redistricting, retirements, job changes and upsets shake themselves out, at least a dozen new senators and 30 to 40 new delegates will be seated here next term.
"There are a lot of people not coming back who we'll miss," said Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's), who had spent most of the past week fending off supporters who were urging him to run for Conroy's seat. "But I guess that's the way it is. The fraternity is always changing."
Fraternity is a good word to describe the atmosphere here. Legislators battle each other all day, often drink too much at night and tell tales about one another always. But when it is all over, everyone kisses and hugs and talks about the good old days.
As the Carly Simon song goes, "These Are The Good Old Days."
So, as Hughes, Senate President James Clark Jr. and Speaker of the House Benjamin L. Cardin methodically signed bill after bill, the legislators lingered, despite the stifling heat. Some ran back to pose for one more picture; others took pictures of each other.
Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery), whose law offices burned down recently, received condolences from his friends and reassured them that all was well. Levitan wasn't taking any pictures, but he came bearing photos he had taken on the closing night of the legislative session. On sine die night, as the clock ran out, Levitan ran around with a camera slung around his neck, looking very much like a tourist.
Many made fun of him that night. But when Levitan produced the pictures he had taken, attitudes changed quickly. Everyone loved the snapshots.
Even Hughes, usually a no-nonsense man in these situations, seemed to be in a light mood. When he had applied the final signature, he started to answer reporters' questions. But the din of the legislators serenading one another was a little too loud.
"Could we have it quiet in here?" Hughes asked.
The room quieted.
Hughes turned to Cardin: "What do you know," he said. "That worked!"
Someone pointed out to Hughes that, after all, he was the governor.
"Oh I know that," Hughes said. "But it's never worked that well before."
Moments earlier, when Garrity joined a group posing for a picture as Hughes signed a bill, someone suggested that he slip in a judicial appointment among the stacks of paper Hughes was signing.
"Cut it out," Garrity said, laughing. Then: "You think it'd work?"
They left finally, many retreating to the bars they frequent during the session for a quick one before heading back to their day-to-day lives or to the campaign trail.
As Sen. Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick) once pointed out, "You run for reelection so you can go to Annapolis, see the guys and have fun."
Those who aren't coming back will miss the fun.