CATHE AND I are in Toronto for he weekend, on our first visit since moving back to the States in 1977. It's refreshing to see friends from the Toronto Star again -- a lively bunch, telling stories and tossing out ideas rather than Discussing Issues and Programs.
We fly back to Washington in time for me to join the Good News Players at Nancy Schantz's for a reading of "The Lady's Not for Burning." It's a play I suggested we read because of a long-remembered line, but we stumble over the poetry the first time through. We will keep looking for something to put on, trying "The Crucible" next. We seem to be into witches. MONDAY
This morning the consumer affairs staff -- Lee Gray, Charlie Horner, Gail Boyle and I -- begins a series of meetings with representatives of consumer and citizens' groups, asking for suggestions on content and participants for a conference in May on transportation and the consumer. Before the end of the week, we are scheduled to talk to the Consumer Federation of America, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the National Self-Help Resource Center, the Automobile Owners Action Council, the Alliance for Volunteerism, the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs.
The first people we meet quickly raise a sensible and sensitive question: Who'll pay for the travel to Washington of grass-roots organizations with small budgets? I promise to see if we can find some money to pay for those who would make a "unique and valuable contribution" and couldn't afford to come without assistance. I have learned this careful formulation because funding public participation is a hot issue in some quarters.
Business lobbyists have worked out a demonology in which crazy Naderites who have infiltrated the Carter administration slip money to other crazy Naderites outside government to come in and undermine the American Way, which is to say the business lobbyists.
I return a couple of telephone calls, unsuccessfully. It usually takes at least two tries. A government secretary generally won't put through telephone calls if the boss is meeting with somebody, unless the caller is of a much higher rank. Since most telephone calls are among people of roughly equivalent status, a lot of messages get taken. TUESDAY
The conference-planning meetings continue. I hadn't realized how much work was involved. I sort of thought everybody just showed up at the same time. We also get together with Richard Cuffe and Sue Johnson of Esther Peterson's office, one of those invisible meetings of the staffs of the visible that, one hopes, lay the groundwork for things to happen.
Before the day ends, I have the painful duty of telling Atla Carroll, my secretary, that eight memos have to be retyped for a different signature. She isn't fazed, being experienced in the ways of government, and bats them out without a flaw. Who signs letters and memos in Washington, and who drafts them, are protocal questions whose delicacy would challenge the Mandarinate of Imperial China. Once I got somebody in trouble with a letter I drafted, but once -- and only once -- I achieved the ultimate triumph of drafting a reply to a letter I myself had drafted. WEDNESDAY
Tom Catlin drops by on behalf of the Consumer Information Center, the centralized distribution source for consumer publications from federal agencies. Not surprisingly, since problems with automobiles are the No. 1 source of consumer complaints, he tells us that our pamphlet on the subject is in great demand.
Lunch with some colleagues at a government cafeteria. The government clock -- inaccessibly high on the wall -- says 7:30. Farther off than usual. Clocks run on time and are synchronized in even the cheapest newspapers because they know time is money. But GSA buys battery-operated clocks, presumably from the lowest bidder, and inaccuracy is the norm.
I meet with Karolyn Reynolds of DOT's intergovernmental affairs office and Sam Podberesky of the general counsel's office. The question is revision of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the challenge is to allow increased public access to the federal decisionmaking process without allowing unfair influence by some parties. It's not a theoretical concern, as parties at interest will sue at the drop of a hat. Luckily, however, I can confine myself to espousing noble principles. It's up to people like Sam to work out the language. I'm like Will Rogers, who suggested that the way to get rid of submarines was to bring the oceans to a boil -- then left it to technicians to work out the details.
In the evening, I help my son Olaf prepare his science project by blocking out, in pencil, the lettering on the poster. The theory is that 13-year-olds sometimes do things like leaving out letters. I show, however, that parents are not immune, as I carefully print "spacraft" for "spacecraft." THURSDAY
Staff meeting with Ray Warner, deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs, who spells out Secretary Adams' plans to follow up on his challenge to the auto industry to build more fuel-efficient cars in the late 1980s. We also learn that the proposed Amtrak cutbacks, which will go through if there isn't a congressional veto, will affect 250 congressional districts.
Back in my office, I get a call from a woman in East Stroudsburg, Pa., who reports that she was loading groceries into her car when a gust of wind blew the cart into another car. It caused, she says, $84.80 worth of damage to the car without breaking the eggs in the shopping cart. As a nurse, she wonders why we don't package people as well as eggs. FRIDAY
Olaf's exhibit delivered to school, I meet with Cesar DeLeon of the Materials Transportation Bureau to go over a study of truck routes through New England for liquefied natural gas (LNG), on which the region depends for heat in the coldest months. I am to take part in a Boston briefing on the study, in my role as an enhancer of public participation. Afterward, DOT will come up with some recommendations.
The issue originally was whether to route the trucks around, rather than through, highly populated areas like downtown Boston. But the study turned up the curious finding that the LNG trucks tend to roll over more often than other trucks, presumably because of a higher center of gravity. So far, none of these rollovers has resulted in a spill and fire but the contractor doing the study has suggested that drivers be trained to avoid rollovers. SATURDAY
The Bantam hockey team for which Olaf plays goalie has a game at 7 a.m., but Cathe draws the duty so I sleep in. In the late afternoon, my nephew Gordon comes by to be introduced to Olaf's collection of fantasy games -- Melee, Death Test, Dungeons and Dragons.
These games, the rage among Olaf's contemporaries, are noteworthy for a couple of reasons: first, the bloodthirstiness of the battles, whose outcome is determined by die rolls, and second, their noncompetitive nature. The battles are between us humans, armed with pike axes, crossbows and the like, and a mostly nonhuman bunch of gargoyles, goblins, wolves and bears who inhabit the maze we're in. Does this tell us something about the next generation? If so, what?