Photographers' Blog

Naked ambition on Capitol Hill

February 11, 2013

Washington, D.C.

By Jonathan Ernst

Police were shutting down intersections. Tensions were high as I begged an officer to let me down a back alley to a secret parking lot I know about – this is Capitol Hill, but it’s also my home. I found my way to the church’s back lot, threw open my trunk, grabbed a pair of bodies and lenses and made sure I had a few memory cards.

The U.S. Capitol was a blur on my right behind the pulsing lights of police cruisers as I hustled over to Pennsylvania Avenue. In the tony northwest quadrant of the city, the White House is this street’s most important landmark, but here in the gritty Southeast is where the real city rubs up against the federal government.

It was brisk, and the wind was really blowing through the breaks in the buildings around me. I was excited. My blood was pumping. This is the city where important people do important things. A city of naked ambition, exposed agendas, bold truths and bald lies.

This is the city built on Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and, well, Washington. I could see the four of them up ahead me, in fact. In their boxer shorts. Surrounded by mostly naked people. Who had been drinking. Which is also, if you dig up a collection of the city’s more sordid headlines, pretty much par for the course.

The four ex-presidents, the Washington Nationals baseball mascots known as the Rushmores, had joined about 1,000 runners in their skivvies as they poured out of bars and taverns to start Cupid’s Undie Run, an annual charity event to raise money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Co-founder Bobby Gill corralled runners with a bullhorn, wearing a bright red top hat, bright (and tight) red “I’m with Cupid” briefs and nothing else. He told me they had filled all 1,000 slots for this year’s run in Washington, and since starting the event in 2010, have already expanded to 18 cities. Runners across the country raised over $1 million on Saturday, Gill told the cheering crowd.

A modest few wore their underwear over running clothes, but apparently it didn’t take an act of congress to get the rest of them into bikini briefs, bras, panties, lacy things, and other assorted unmentionables – most in Valentine’s Day shades of red and pink. They took off at a very modest pace, past the venerable Library of Congress, north to the Supreme Court, which, ironically, is not naked these days, but covered with a construction tarp. There were many stops along the way for runners to take snapshots in front of the Capitol dome as they passed it on the way out and back on the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) route.

This is a neighborhood where serious breaches of decorum can get you indicted, disbarred, censured, recalled or even impeached. But on this day, for these cheeky Capitol Hill mischief-makers, they bypassed the usual tearful press conferences and simply retired at the end of their term. All were re-admitted to the bar.

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