PART TWO: Showering with Bob Dornan and Strom Thurmond
My tour convenes at an abandoned junior high school in the middle of a rather depressed-looking downtown White Sulphur Springs. It is here that the Greenbrier tour bus picks up the common, non-resort guests such as myself. My 30-person group is composed mainly of Friends of Private Ryan and their wives. Generation X is nowhere to be found.
Once we've all boarded the bus, our guide Mary—50-something West Virginia native—takes the microphone, introduces herself and instructs the driver to start rolling. Along the way, she points out the railroad that was used to transport the 25-ton blast door that we will soon be passing through. In a matter of minutes we are at the grand west entrance to the Incredible, Colossal Congressional Biosphere.
Jim, a 38-year veteran of the hotel's janitorial service, opens the vault door—which is mounted on massive, springed hinges. We are cautioned that when the door closes it will make an extremely loud noise. We begin walking down the long tunnel that leads to the shelter's decontamination entrance. Piled high along the walls of the tunnel are freeze-dried food packages. These are leftovers from the government's non-occupation occupation. About half way down the tunnel, the door finally slams shut and it sounds like a cannon going off. My fellow tourists look like they are going to have domino-effect heart attacks. As they used to say in the B-movie prison pictures, now we know it's for real.
We reach the decon area where—had there ever been a nuclear war—our brave congressmen would have stripped, showered and donned olive green bunkerwear with white sneakers. I momentarily flash on images of:
(A.) Bob Dornan passing the anti-radiological soap to Strom Thurmond.
After "Decon" the physical plant awaits us. This massive area is basically a network of thousand-gallon water tanks, heaters, two-story generators, numerous vents, and pipes. While undeniably impressive, I find this part of the tour rather boring. Scaled down, this could be the basement of my old high school. It is not until we get to the "pathological waste incinerator" that my interest returns. Mary stands next to this ghoulish, retro furnace and stammers out what everyone has already figured out for themselves: This thing was for cremating irradiated lawmakers.
The bicameral dormitories are our next stop and they are quite Spartan. Army barracks for people who, for the most part, avoided the draft. No, the Majority party did not automatically get the top bunk. In fact, we are told for much of the shelter's existence it was somebody's GS 8 job to maintain and update the nameplates on the beds! I ask Mary to repeat this factoid, so I can write it down verbatim. Unfortunately none of the nameplates were left behind for our amusement. Outside the dorms are "lounges" with couches, TVs (cartoons?), exercise bikes and magazine racks. It was some other drone's mission in life to make sure the magazines were current.
One level up from the rank and file dorms, are the majority/minority leaders' quarters. Relatively speaking, these "cabins" look like Waldorf suites. Perhaps this explains why only the Speaker toured the facility when it was functional. It was the kind of perk that was strictly for his eyes only.
Like college, the cafeteria is located down the hall from the dorms. Mary doesn't comment on the permanently posted sign outside the dining hall listing the hours of service. Though the hours are generous (breakfast 6-8AM, etc.), it would seem our leaders would not have the option of post-apocalyptic midnight snacks.
The actual dining space looks like any other government commissary. That is to say, pretty boring. However, according to the Post expose, there were once paintings of pastoral scenes mounted on the walls to relieve claustrophobic tensions. Not mentioned in the Post story was whether the artwork would do anything for the hunger pangs when the Raman noodles ran out six months into Year Zero.
On our way to the shelter's sickbay, Mary asks us to take notice of the numerous digital LED clocks adorning the doorways along the hallway. She notes that these clocks were installed to keep potentially shell-shocked bunkerites oriented. Since I am touring the site in peacetime and STILL feel disoriented, I conclude that the industrial psychologist that recommended the clocks must be the same genius that came up with the cafeteria "window" paintings.
The hospital has twelve beds (with a TV above each and every one), a lab, an operating room and, perhaps most disturbingly, an isolation chamber for stir-crazy senators. It is worth noting that, despite the inevitable stigma of being placed there, the isolation room would have certainly been a step up from the dorms.
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