One Weekend During the Government Shutdown

Practicing Portuguese

At work, there are a couple of people that speak Portuguese. When I discovered this, I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to bend their ear, but I decided not to. I thought that it was probably best not to overwhelm my colleagues with my passions. Instead, I joined a Portuguese speaking group on a local social media website and listened and talked in Portuguese with native speakers and Portuguese language enthusiasts like me. I took tutoring sessions, met some great pals, and improved on my language skills. I felt good about my language skills, and three months ago in July I booked a small vacation to Lisbon for birthday in October, which ended up being during the government shutdown.

Washington, D.C.

Before leaving I packed one carry-on bag, containing my very old Windows XP laptop, one additional pair of jeans, four shirts, my passport, two credit cards, and makeup.

It was Saturday around 3:00 p.m. during the first week of October. I saw debris on the street heading to catch a taxi in Washington, D.C. I live in the District, in a neighborhood named Columbia Heights. The streets can get a little grimy here, but they are usually swept clean by the late afternoon on a Saturday. I wondered if the debris was one of the signs of the government shutdown.

Although the local D.C. government has been using reserve funds to keep local government working, I am not sure how that impacts street sweeping on weekends. (Washington Post article "Nine ways the shutdown will get more painful as it drags on" By Brad Plumer, published on October 10, 2013 discusses the impact of the government shutdown including services in Washington, DC.:  )

The taxi ride through the city on the way to Reagan National Airport showed deserted streets; no tourists, volunteers, or workers in streets that were very recently robust. I remarked on how you can see the impact of the government shutdown. If you were not already sobered by the news, you were certainly sobered by the nearly empty streets.

Reagan National Airport

I arrived at the airport ahead of time and waited for my flight. The airport looked deserted. The taxi cab driver remarked: it looks like you're the only one here. My stomach turned; I felt guilt. I had planned, booked, and bought my short vacation for my birthday three months ago. I even prepaid for my hotel to lock in the rate. I budgeted the weekend on a small budget, and colleagues and friends encouraged me to go. So, I pushed forward, took a breathe and walked in to the airport.

My stomach fell. The airport looked deserted. It was sad to see. I walked up to the ticket agent hoping to feel out the mood and see which gate I should go to. She looked like a nice woman. I said: Hello, I have a flight from here to Philadelphia then on to Lisbon. I showed my boarding pass. She had an attitude and said: What are you giving me this for if you already have your boarding pass; go to gate 22. I said: Thank you.

I passed through security and headed to my gate. I looked around and the gate looked empty. I took a picture. I sunk in my chair by two women also heading Lisbon. Then, big band music began to play through the area. I began to feel better. I wondered if the airport felt gloomy enough to other people that someone decided to play cheerful music. I was wrong. Apparently I was waiting for my flight near the USO Lounge. They welcomed "military personnel traveling through Reagan National Airport" ( They made a cheerful noise as they clapped and danced to the sounds of big band music by the USO Lounge in Reagan National.

The flight to Lisbon was smooth. Besides the disagreement on the plane about one woman's black brim hat taking up too much space in the overhead compartment, and the gang that formed to insist that she move it or wear it, the flight was great and we got to our destination safely. When the woman finally retrieved her hat after the seven hour flight, she placed it on her head and wished everyone happy travels. No one seemed to care what she said or even to recognize that she spoke. We waited to exit the plane and eventually stepped outside to Lisbon, took a joyful breathe on a clear day and waited in the taxi line.


I got in the taxi to go to my hotel, and I spoke Portuguese to the taxicab driver. He asked me where I was from. After I told him, he said in English: Washington, DC, it's shutdown, they have a lot of problems there. In Portuguese I replied that there's a lot of problems everywhere. We agreed, and he talked of the sights that I should see like the Marques de Pombal on Avenida Liberdade.

Indeed, I did walk to the Marques de Pombal, it was beautiful and looked like the shopping district in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. mixed with the unique quality of UC Berkley, and sprinkled with a few palm trees. I also went on a bus tour to the countryside and tried the local liquor in Obidos called Ginja. You drink Ginja in a small chocolate cup and eat the cup after you're done. I also walked around Lisbon sightseeing.

Each evening during my short visit to Lisbon, I checked email, twitter, Facebook, and turned on the news. I watched the news in English: BBC News, Sky News, CNBC's Squawk Box. They all heavily covered the government shutdown, possible default, and made predictions. I also turned to Euronews in Portuguese, but the broadcast team talked too fast for me to catch without closed caption, except for when they showed the U.S. Capitol and announced: Government Shutdown. I well understood what the Portuguese speaking broadcast team was discussing then.


Overall, my short trip to Lisbon was fantastic. The timing became awkward since it landed on a weekend during the government shutdown. However, since it was paid for, I went on the trip. I remember speaking Portuguese, meeting nice pals, and sightseeing. I also remember watching the news in Lisbon and feeling somewhat embarrassed that the government shutdown. Now that the government shutdown has ended we all hope that things will return to normal very soon.

Tracy Woodard is the Legislative Librarian at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, Washington, D.C.