I recently was afforded the opportunity to attend a training session for conservative activists at Leadership Institute in Arlington, VA, right outside of Washington, D.C. This organization offers many different types of training: digital media, on camera interviews, blogging, communications, campaign management, youth leadership, and much more. If you are interested in increasing your influence in elections, improving your skills in public relations, or how to get your message out, you should strongly consider attending a session or two at Leadership Institute. The prices are very affordable, and the training is second to none!
While attending the two day session, I chose to stay in the dorms (no additional cost) on campus. I do not enjoy going to new places and trying new things. Knowing this about myself, I contacted Rachel at LI more than once to ask questions about the event and the facility. She answered them all patiently and kindly. However, I failed to ask everything I wish I had known.
Therefore, I am writing this blog to fill in some of the blanks. Had I known these things in advance, I still would have gone, but I would have prepared a little differently. Keep in mind that not all training provides the opportunity to stay in the dorm, but if it does, this information will make your stay more comfortable.
Rachel had told me that check-in was not until 5:00 PM; however, if you arrive early, they do allow you to drop off your luggage. If you’ve never been to D.C., or even if you have, you may want to consider flying in early in the day and doing some sight-seeing. Washington, D.C. is the government and history junkie’s version of Disneyland, so don’t miss it.
If possible, plan to fly into Reagan National Airport (DCA). It’s a short ride on the Metro (that’s the D.C. subway system) to Leadership Institute. The airport employees are incredibly helpful and will direct you anywhere you need to go. So don’t be afraid to ask how to get to the Metro.
Once in the Metro station, you’ll see several kiosks where you can purchase a Metro card. Do some research before you get a card so that you will know how much the fare is at the time you will be traveling (the link is below) and the route you’ll need to take. Do NOT worry about this! Not only do the Metro employees know this process inside and out, they are very good at answering questions and are extremely helpful. Most of the local folks are really gracious toward visitors, and they are often glad to answer questions, too. Furthermore, there are maps and other signage to help direct you both in the Metro stations and on the trains. The most important thing to know is that the direction the subway is headed is NOT listed as the next stop or even the next major stop, but as the last stop on that line. For example, to get from Reagan to LI, you will probably take the Blue Line toward Largo Town Center, the last stop before that train turns around and comes back.
When you arrive at the Clarendon station, take the escalators to the top (just follow everyone else since they are headed there, too). Once outside, you will want to turn to the right and head toward that intersection. You will need to cross to the diagonal corner. If this confuses you, ask someone where Trader Joe’s is and head in that direction. Once you get to Trader Joes, continue walking. When the red awning is overhead, look above the door and smile. You will have reached Leadership Institute.
After you get checked in or have dropped your bags off, go sightseeing for a bit. The Metro is FAR easier to navigate and much cheaper than a cab. You’ll want to wear your tennis shoes since there will be huge amounts of walking. While maps make it appear as if things are close together, they are not.
Now about the dorms…. First, you are not checking in to the Ritz-Carlton, so bring your best attitude. All the beds are bunk beds. The mattresses can best be equated to a hunk of granite, which is very fitting considering how close you are to the nation’s capital where so many buildings are constructed of granite. This is a firm-on-steroids-type mattress. If this will bother you, you may consider bringing an eggshell mattress or an air mattress.
The temperature, as it is everywhere, is relative. Remember, you are sleeping in a room with many other people. My roommates covered the gamut of ranges between those having hormonal hot flashes to those with no discernable blood pressure. But because we were all trying to make the best of things, blankets were shared and layers of clothing were added and removed as needed. Everyone really was quite gracious. Come prepared to do likewise.
Then there is the bar next door. It is wonderful, if you like chicken quesadillas and cosmopolitans! It is not so good if you are planning on going to bed early. You must understand that the women’s dorm room (I’m not sure about the men’s, but it is just across the hall) is directly underneath the bar. On Thursday and Friday nights, there is a live band playing in the bar, very loudly. This is not the regular “very loudly” that can be overcome with a good set of earplugs. It is, instead, the “very loudly” that causes the concrete block walls to vibrate. Remember, I have witnesses to attest to this.
The way I figure is that you have three options. First, you can bring earplugs and an extra pillow with which to cover your head and hope for the best. Second, you can stay in the room and visit with your new roomies with background music supplied at no extra cost to you. Or third, you can remember the axiom ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ and head over to the bar for chicken quesadillas and cosmopolitans.
Finally, there’s the community to consider. You really are in a very nice part of town, but the 1984 song “The Freaks Come out at Night” is applicable. Since I wasn’t leaving until Saturday, some of my classmates and I went dancing in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday evening (comment on this post if you are a ballroom dancer and I’ll give you details). When we got back to Arlington around midnight, we were hungry. The bar above the dorm was packed so we opted for a restaurant just across from the Metro stop.
Keep in mind that we entered this restaurant (that serves great sliders and chili!) at about 12:30 and it was empty. We assumed that they were getting ready to close. We assumed incorrectly. Over the next ninety minutes, the restaurant filled to capacity! As we left to head back to the dorms, we noticed that the sidewalks were equally crowded. We saw a fight break out across the street from us and watched as the police arrived.
The rule: do what your mother always told you. Do NOT go out by yourself this late at night! Take a buddy. Take a cell phone. If trouble gets stirred up, go the other direction quickly.
I can say with no hesitation that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at LI and the classes that I took. I learned a lot from them and have already put the information to good use. I hope your trip there will be even better armed with the information in this post!