Tourist’s guide to the Roundhouse

The state Capitol is once again filled to the brim with legislators, lobbyists, state agency executives, legislative staff members, and thousands of assorted visitors.   If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a trip, to see your representative democracy in action. With any luck, you’ll catch a hot debate or at least see a good show at the noon hour in the rotunda or a lively demonstration outside.

The Capitol is just a few blocks from the train station and an easy walk for the able-bodied if the weather is good. Parking is a problem, but drivers can sometimes find a parking spot in the new parking lot just west of the building. Hint: some parking becomes available after the lunch hour when presentations in the rotunda are ended.

Even on a dull day, you can enjoy the Capitol’s art collection, which is spectacular. The art collection, managed by a foundation, has its own web site,   www.nmcapitolart.org, so you can read about it in advance. Part of the collection is in the new North Capitol annex and worth walking to see if you have spare time.

Unless you call ahead, you might not see your representative, or your senator, at least not up close. Legislators are very busy during the session. When they’re on the floor, you can see them from the gallery but it usually doesn’t help to wave, as they don’t often look up. Lobbyists try to catch them for a word in the halls and sometimes follow them into restrooms. The legislators have a reserved elevator so they can get a minute alone on their way from their offices to the floor. They also have their own parking lot underground, so they can stay dry when the snow is blowing in your face. I have wonderful nostalgic memories about the years when one spot in the underground lot belonged to my husband, and occasionally I got to use it.

Lots of people get sick during the session. Several hundred people are stuck in one building for many hours every day, breathing each other’s stale germs, then stepping outside in the Santa Fe winter and catching a chill. It’s a very dry building. I try to remember to carry a plastic cup or empty water bottle so I can drink often. There are plenty of fountains but if you just sip from the fountain you won’t get enough water. There are plenty of restrooms, too. If the ones on the main floor are crowded, just go up to the third floor.

See if you can find a place to park your coat. You might be able to leave your coat in an office where you know someone. But you must remember that some offices will close at 5pm even if committee hearings are still going on, so you don’t want your coat to get locked in.

The third floor is where all the committee hearing rooms are. The halls connecting to the central walkway look alike, and it’s really easy for a novice to get slightly lost. You can look for the huge buffalo head sculpture and orient yourself by that location.

I confess, I still get mixed up because the building is so symmetrical. On the main floor, I have to read the signs to remember which direction leads to the House gallery and which to the Senate.

Years ago a Capitol custodian taught me to memorize this reminder: “The eagle points toward the Bull Ring.” The eagle is part of the mosaic in the center of the Rotunda floor. Now, if only you knew where the Bull Ring used to be.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2015

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