Each morning, I wake an hour before my alarm, and residual weariness keeps me in bed until it goes off, but the worry of missing it makes me roll over with a start and check the clock every five or six minutes. This carries on until my phone vibrates itself off the shelf and onto my head or I decide to wake up early. As soon as any noise is made louder than a breath, a small dog starts barking and doesn’t stop until I’m gone. A hand-me-down Keurig brews my coffee while I work through some mimicry of a meme workout from the Internet. There’s no counter space for the little pot, so it sits on the floor while I iterate through kettlebell exercises; must be careful not to knock it over. By the time my shower’s done, my coffee is a drinkable temperature, so it gets sloshed down my gullet and I’m driving the ten miles downtown.

The neighborhoods between sleep and work are varied in income, ethnicity, and potholes per yard. I start out in a fairly mixed (but still predominantly white) middle class neighborhood with very few potholes, pass near some upper-middle class homes with late-model Lincolns and high, dense fencing, and move for the majority through lower income areas with plenty of Supermercados and restaurants I would not be welcome in. The potholes are at their worst immediately after I cross into the official downtown, and construction on every road means I’m weaving 17 feet of steel around traffic cones and bimbo-boxes to avoid bouncing pedestrians off the bumper. State law tells us all that pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks, which they take to mean as “pedestrians have the right of way everywhere.” Pedestrian (the city type) and pedophile both share a similar connotation in my mind for the atrocities they regularly and impulsively commit. My only regular solace until I’ve parked is the music I choose to play on my drive in, trying to drown out the constant scraping of the city. I’m at a state agency near the capitol for the summer, so I have to get to the area immediately north of downtown, and carving through the north half of downtown is the quickest way to do it.

Parking at work is left over from a defunct department store that once ruled from sea to shining sea; now they renegotiate contracts to try and scrape what cash they can. This is the inner city, so you have to get your car out of there before 6PM, lest you risk shattered glass. Stuff the radio under the seat, lock the doors, and I’m off to jaywalk to the capitol lawn: not that a rusted and rattlecanned secondhand sedan should be the target of a break-in, but one wouldn’t think the local criminals to be smart. Since there’s no pedestrians about, there’s nowhere for them to hide, and so they stay at home passed out or high for now.

Most of the danger from other vehicles is not from crossing the four-lane street between lot and lawn, but from the more fortunate turning their luxury crossovers into the shaded parking ramp next to their office building. These are, collectively, the House of Representatives (the Senate has their own ramp up near their own office). May Heaven and the Governor forbid that I should grace their grille as they swerve into the ramp at 30 miles per hour in their silent Tesla autos! I round the corner, and with seven stories of concrete out of the way, I can look at the Capitol Hill as I cross to the office.

The sight of the huge white dome jutting into the sky like its more famous cousin in D.C. is my favourite part of each morning. Outside materials are meant to mimic the National Capitol in their white sheen, but the interior is filled with stone and lumber from closer to home. Varied symbols of Liberty, Freedom and Justice scatter across the roof as wooden skeletons leafed over with gold or brass that somehow withstand jungle-heat and desert-cold alike. In the smoggy summer sunrise, a four-horse golden chariot glows a bizarre cherry; on colder, wetter mornings, the ivory and yellow stands out as a fortress of light among the dark clouds. Columns separate the statues of old state luminaries from each other, and the symbolism of the state’s heritage flowers, trees, and grains is chipped into every cubic foot of marble. Churches were once like this with their inch-by-inch devotion to Christ in stone and wood; thus this monument to Government is its own Church of State.

To my right, downhill, is downtown and the River. In the evenings after work, I walk near the River, as it is one of the few places universally designated for “slower” traffic; despite this, cyclists try their best to strike me. Uphill from the River and downhill from downtown are the ruins of the mills that built this region. These stones were carved from the very limestone cliffs they sit on, transformed from 20 feet in the dirt to two-hundred into the sky. Behind their remains lie the dark concrete horrors of Brutalism, corporate towers and hi-rises alike in their base geometry. These are like enough to give a repetitive confusion to the downtown, but not enough to give any sense of coherency or unification; you can get lost for hours near one building you thought was another, but it all appears to be some hasty patchwork from afar. Comparatively little of the city’s older architecture remains from before the Great War, and what has been fortunate enough to survive the post-war expansion either was already a public building or now carries the ugly logo of some big fund. Intricate plasterwork and masonry has been drilled through to mount mass-produced panel lighting that signals services to fellow financial interests while reminding those below of their proper place. The taller corporate towers block the light from reaching their predecessors; I only see the glass facades and grey monoliths rising above the River Valley.

A lone oak reaches over the Capitol pathway, sprawling its branches the size of my torso into what we humans think is our space. Grass around the path is crew cut and tidy to the inch, but the oak rejects any attempts to be controlled, and so we must be content to fill the area around it with concrete: what I stride across as I approach. Food trucks are already lining up for their lunch hour ahead of me, even at 7AM, since the prime spots wait for no one. And though no one’s waiting yet for them, the whole ethnic parade lines up, with most of Mediterranean Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and half of all the Mexican states represented. Bureaucrats won’t walk further than they have to in order to get their diverse and taxpayer-funded lunches that aren’t much more than a cheap grocery tortilla deep-fried around bottom-shelf ground beef, saturated with so many spices they can’t tell it spoiled four weeks ago. I paid $10 per lunch for a week because I didn’t have the time to stop by the grocery store during the week (a near-fatal financial mistake for a student), but I’ve brought my own ever since that fits perfectly into a MOLLE pouch on my bag. Quick detach snackies, and I don’t get stared at since my agency is filled with the sort of people that wear backpacks and tactical gear despite never having touched a gun.

Rounding the corner, I’m in front of the office and under a long row of trees. These give a shade I know will be a Godsend when I leave work in the 90 degree heat this evening; the Greatest Generation knew what they were doing when they laid out greenery. The Boomer-built buildings to the south and east soak up the sun all day and radiate heat instead of providing the comfort that these trees do. That didn’t stop those old farts from trying to leave a mark on something superior; the steps up to the doors were at one point all uniform black stone but now have been partially paved in an effort to make all five of them easier to climb.

Past the “ALL EMPLOYEES MUST BADGE IN” sign that is never followed, and up through the split foyer and security desk. I can smell the cafeteria below, but its prices are worse than the food trucks for things you could get at any 7Eleven; why bother with food poisoning as the cherry on top? 17 bucks for a half-pound of assorted “buffet” and a stale coffee: no thanks. My coworkers told and tell stories of varying hygiene among the cooks and servers, various thefts by kitchen employees, and regular rounds of firing/rehiring, all of which inspire the most supreme confidence in the state government’s ability to run a kitchen.

I carry on into the building proper, which at this level consists of just the elevator lobby. It smells like a government building should in here, with no homeless, but still retaining that depressingly bureaucratic musk born of 60 years of asbestos and lowest-bidder carpeting regardless of how many sweaty IT personnel you shove into it. A bell, the door opens on a mostly-packed elevator, and since I value being early, I shove myself in. The decor in these cars is lacking, with the Capitol Security number engraved on a yellow plate surrounded by six walls of generic faux stone. Why you’d need a foot-square block of pink granite in each elevator’s back wall is beyond me; I guess it drives home some vague point about wasting, but not wasting too much. Nothing built after 1945 could convey anything but some vague point. My workspace is on the top level, and I regularly get the glares of various minorities as I ascend: my privilege is truly evident in this. I’m the youngest person in the building by ten years on a good day, which only serves to further the image that whether I came from wealth (of course I must have, because I’m white), I got a coveted position working with the more prestigious teams. As final proof, I continue walking past all the cube farms the lesser employees are forced into and stride past the giant steel door of my department.