Eight years ago this week, I arrived in Washington from Portland, Oregon. My plane touched down on New Year's Eve, and the city was in a deep freeze. I took the Metro to my one-room apartment. I'd never seen it before. And I'd never met my roommate before. She was already living there. We'd found each other on Craigslist. I slept on the pullout couch. The place was hardly big enough for one person, let alone two. I had just graduated from college, and I was deep in debt. I had an unpaid internship at NPR.
The next morning, New Year's Day, I walked to the NPR building, just to make sure I could find my way. I stood in the lobby and looked at the photos on the wall. Scott Simon. Robert Siegel. Linda Wertheimer. And the woman I'd be interning for, Nina Totenberg. They were people whose voices I'd grown up listening to.
The Clinton administration was ending, and the Bush administration was on its way in. Nina took me to one Washington party after another. At the Kennedy Center and the Supreme Court. I'd make a beeline for the free food. Then she would point out the senators and Supreme Court justices. One night I came home and called my mom. "Mom, I just spent the evening talking about literature with Justice Anthony Kennedy!" She was happy for me, but I'm sure she would have rather I chatted with one of the Court's liberals instead.
A few weeks later, it was Inauguration Day. There was freezing rain in Washington. NPR was broadcasting live from outside the Canadian embassy. My job was to run bag lunches from NPR to the hosts and reporters around the city.
That year, Barack Obama was a member of the Illinois Senate. Sarah Palin was a small town mayor. Sept. 11 was still just a day on the calendar. We were not at war.
Now, eight years later, crews have erected the inauguration platform outside the White House again. When I first showed up here on New Year's Day, I never thought I'd consider Washington home. I never thought I'd be a journalist. Let alone fill in as host on this show.
People in Washington have played guessing games about who might challenge Barack Obama for the White House in four years, or eight years. Could it be someone we've never heard of? Someone who right now is toiling away in state government?
Or governing as mayor of a small town somewhere?
Could someone who right now is an intern, deep in college debt, sharing a one-room apartment with a stranger, be an NPR host eight years from now? I don't know if that will happen. But I know it could.