Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Wonders of Washington DC and the NSNC Conference

US Capitol Building, Washington DC

“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” ~Eckhart Tolle

In June last year I made a giant leap out of my comfort zone and embarked on my first solo overseas trip. I left my home in the little rural town of Barham (population 1200) in Australia and travelled 17,135km to the city of Hartford on the eastern side of the United States, to attend the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) annual conference. To say I was feeling nervous as I walked up to the conference’s registration desk that year would be an understatement.

What a difference a year makes.

On the back of what turned out to be one of my most memorable life experiences, coupled with wise words of encouragement from my middle son, Sam, I decided to do it all again and return for this year’s NSNC conference being held in the US capital, Washington DC.

With thanks to social media and email, I'd been able to stay connected with many of the NSNC members in varying degrees, read their latest columns and caught glimpses into their lives via their photographs and status posts on Facebook.

On Thursday 26th June around lunchtime, I checked into the Washington Plaza in downtown DC; my accommodation for the next three nights and venue for the 38th annual NSNC Conference. Far from last year’s feelings of anxiety and nervousness, this year I was positively tingling with anticipation at meeting my fellow NSNC conference attendees.

Named after the first US President, George Washington and founded in 1791, the US capital is a beautiful city and home to a multitude of monuments and museums.

Although I would have loved to visit all the Smithsonian Museums, time was not on my side. I walked down to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and spent a fascinating few hours of the afternoon wandering around the largest historical air and spacecraft collection in the world.
The birth of aviation: original 1903 Wright Flyer

Dinner that night was a happy reunion with NSNC members at Logan Tavern a few short blocks from the Washington Plaza.

The next two days were packed with entertaining, inspiring and knowledge expanding presentations from the numerous conference speakers. An impressive line-up that included Pulitzer Prize winners, nationally syndicated columnists, authors, political reporters, veteran journalists and feature writers.

A couple of hours of free time on the Friday afternoon saw me whisked away with Lisa Smith Molinari from Newport, Rhode Island and Ginger Truitt from Lebanon, Indiana, for a walking tour of some of the Washington monuments and memorials.

We started near the World War II memorials and made our way past the Vietnam Memorial, up to the Lincoln Memorial, looked back towards the Washington Monument, walked past the Korean War memorials before hopping into a taxi back to the Plaza.
The Washington Monument

Dinner that night was a private NSNC function at the US Capitol building for the presentation of the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award. The US Capitol is one of the world’s most recognised buildings and home to the United States Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives). The building is impressive, to put it mildly. Construction of the huge neoclassical styled brick building began in 1793 and is clad in both sandstone and marble. The massive, iconic cast iron dome was added during substantial extensions in the 1860s.

Such a special occasion and highlight of this year’s NSNC Conference, you’d have thought I would have paid attention to the schedule… but no, I managed to get my times mixed up and missed the bus…

Situations like these are always made so much more bearable when you have company and as luck would have it, I met up with NSNC scholarship recipient, Maya and her lovely mum and they too had missed the bus. A few moments later a very nicely dressed couple approached us outside the Plaza and asked if they could give us a lift to the Capitol. (Thank you God.) Our rescuers turned out to be Claremore industrialist and Chairman of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission, Phil Albert and his beautiful wife, Jo.
Outside the US Capitol Building
Capitol Rotunda

Once we’d cleared security into the Capitol, we were given a quick tour to see the bronze statue of Will Rogers (part of the National Statutory Hall Collection). We passed through both the National Statutory Hall and the majestic Capitol Rotunda (located below the Capitol dome) on our way to dinner.

NSNC Members beside the bronze statue of Will Rogers inside the US Capitol Building
During dinner we listened to Will Rogers’ great-granddaughter, Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry, announce Michael P. Williams from the Richmond Times-Dispatch the recipient of this year’s Will Rogers Humanitarian Award.

Sitting there I felt overwhelmed and humbled; I live in a tiny rural town in Australia, and yet there I was, on the other side of the world, having dinner inside the US Capitol building with the members of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. The unexpected paths you end up on in life never cease to amaze me.

The following afternoon we had a short break between the end of the conference presentations and our dinner and tour of Howard University. With the help from my friends, Ginger and Lisa and Amanda Beam from Jacksonville, Indiana, we managed a quick walk around the block of the White House, so I could take a couple of photos. 
The White House from the north

The White House from the south
With just enough time to enjoy a quintessential American cocktail, we made our way to the Hotel Washington’s rooftop bar overlooking the White House. On Lisa’s recommendation, we ordered Long Island Iced Teas… at least Lisa, Ginger and I did… Amanda “the-cold-war-is-over” Beam ordered a Moscow Mule…
Lisa, Annie, Ginger and Amanda

Long Island Iced Teas are a lethal concoction of vodka, tequila, rum, gin, triple sec, coke and God knows what else… I was quietly relieved I only had time for one.

Dinner that night was at Howard University and included the presentation of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award to Pulitzer Prize winner, Gene Weingarten as well as the presentation of the NSNC Column Contest Awards.
Gene Weingarten holding up one of his Pulitzer Prizes

With the conference formalities concluded for another year, it was back to the Washington Plaza for ongoing celebrations and discussions in the NSNC’s famed Hospitality Suite.

Later that night, I couldn’t help but reflect on Sam’s wise words of advice when I’d been agonising over whether to return or not for the 2014 NSNC conference:

“Mum, you went by yourself last year and met great people and had a great time but if you never go back, that trip and the people you met at the conference will just be a memory but if you go back one more time, those people will become true friends. I think you should go.”

Thanks Sam.

Annie Barr


  1. Oh, you procrastinated in telling this tale, and I had procrastinated in catching up on my blog readings, and oh, what a treat to relive such fun, FUN experiences. Your son is so wise, and you've sealed lifelong friendships, like mine. More adventures to read and I can't wait.

    1. Thank you Suzette! Yes, stay tuned for the next instalment... Behind the Barr in Boston!! Hopefully it won't take me a further two months to write :)