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  • Once upon a time, I believed this would be my next home town. This was where the opportunities for a future I desired in the organization resided.

    I had no desire to go into headquarters in D.C., where I believed things went to die. No good idea, in my mind and experience, ever came out of Washington. They seemed so out of touch with what really went on in the field, there inside the “Beltway Bubble”. It seemed the only time you ever heard from them was when they wanted some ridiculous information which they would never tell you what they needed it for. They were never any help - it was always just a one-way street with them.

    The office in Minneapolis, meanwhile, were really like one of us. They, too, were in the field like we were, and they defined customer service. They were smart and friendly, a place I knew I’d enjoy working. Minneapolis itself was such an interesting town. There was just something about it that marked it as different from any other city I had traveled to, or spent time in. Some essence, some vibe that just resonated with me, a creativity that was palpable, a strange liberal sensitivity, there in the northern reaches of the conservative midwest.

    The Statue of Mary Tyler Moor, rest her beautiful soul, tossing her hat in the air on Nicollette Mall kind of defined the sense of personal freedom the city conveyed to me whenever I came up there. There was even something about the way I saw my wife’s cousin Joey that time, who was supposedly clean and sober in N.A., running down the street, barefoot, kooked out of his brain, down near Prince’s club, that elicited a smile in my heart about this town. It was crazy, unexpected, different.

    As life happened and events transpired, there came a time when my days in Philadelphia were numbered. The writing was clearly on the walls that I would soon have to make a decision about my future in the agency. It all boiled down to one day, in D.C. for a meeting, when the boss of the office here in Minneapolis took me out to lunch, and offered me a job up here, right where I’d always thought my next posting would be.
  • Later that very same day, the two guys who would become my bosses in D.C., made me an even better offer to come to D.C. to build a field supply system from scratch, and to run a field vehicle fleet of 650 cars for inspectors all over the country.

    It was a conundrum for me, all this opportunity knocking on my door all at once. On the one hand, there was Minneapolis, a place I’d slowly come to love and had already seen a vision of my future there. On the other hand, Washington, D.C., a town I had already tried to make a stand in once, and fallen flat on my ass, leaving in disgrace after having blown my life up, once again, there, 13 years before. That was before I’d started working in this job, before I had found the answer to addiction, back when I was still fighting demons daily, and met many of them right there on the streets of D.C.

    Initially, my choice was to do nothing. To stay the course in Philly, hang on to the bitter end in that job until they closed the doors and moved that office to Harrisburg, which was the plan at the time, and then take whatever job they offered me then, which could have been a downgrade and transfer to Harrisburg.

    Harrisburg – that thought was enough to jolt me out of my indecision, and seriously re-consider the options that lay before me. I was leaning towards Minneapolis, even though the job in D.C. was better paying, there’d be more opportunities for career advancement there, and a much greater challenge, setting up that nation-wide field supply and motor vehicle operation there.

    I basically flipped a coin – heads, D.C., tails, Minneapolis – the coin came up heads, so I went to D.C. It all sort of worked out. In many ways, I felt like I was able to bring a little light into the black hole there, and help them understand the field a little better. After being a lone voice for a long time there, when they made a fellow from a field office the administrator of the entire agency, 10 years ago, I had a new partner in crime, and it has now become popular, and desirable, to look at things from a field perspective, not from a Beltway Bubble mentality. I love it! I have thrived under Al’s leadership, as I was singing from that same song sheet for ten years before he got there, and he knew it. The fates have treated me well, beginning with “heads”.
  • Ah, but that part of me that saw the opportunity in Minneapolis has always wondered – what might’ve been? What would a life up here in the frozen north have been like? I quickly remember when our friends Chrissy and Jeff moved up here. A Jersey girl and Chicago boy in this midwest town – it seemed like such a struggle for Chrissy, especially, to adapt to midwestern ways, for beneath the happy, friendly surface, this place was, indeed, very midwestern. Just a different way of life than folks on the East Coast are accustomed to. We tend to be more direct and in your face, what you see is what you get. Out here it was – different.

    It didn’t take long until they fled back to Philadelphia. I know, what looks all bright and shiny on the surface can be tarnished and troubling down below. So, I have no regrets about my decision, about that flip.

    But, I think of “Bizzaro Pete” sometimes when I come out here – that other life, on a parallell track, that might’ve played out, had that coin flip come up tails. It’s always an interesting contemplation.

    I love coming here, but I am always happy to go back home to a place I love, Northern Virginia, and a job where I get to have a significant impact on issues both in the agency, as well as in the larger Department of Agriculture. I’ve been in a position, at times, to be the difference in major policy initiatives, to be the lone voice in the wilderness that eventually kept them from making another silly, beltway bubble decision.
  • I met a street poet yesterday, while out rambling about the streets of the city, a man named Vernon C. Patterson, who offered to recite a poem to me while I stood at the corner of 7th and Marquette Avenues, waiting for the light to turn green. Vernon was a hell of a poet, and really had a gift for reciting poetry. I had about a half hour to kill before a meeting I was going to, so I hung out with Vernon for awhile. I bought his poetry ‘zine, “Yesterday’s Coffee”, and walked with him to Kinko’s, where he had three more zines coming off the presses. I bought copies of each of them, as well.

    Vernon was an interesting guy. I had the definite sense that I’d met him somewhere before, but I couldn’t place it. The name, the look, the way he smiled – there was a sadness there, but also a deep sense of peace, a man who knew himself, accepted his lot in life with a smile, and sold his words on a corner to passing strangers.

    Just now, as I wrote this last paragraph, I think I put it together, where I knew this man from. He was my good friend from my parallell life, on the streets of Minneapolis. Vernon C. Patterson, Street Poet. I went to my meeting, then had a good night’s sleep.

    Good night, Minneapolis. Write on, Vernon C. Patterson.
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