- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

The A-listers have decamped for Maine, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The president of Iceland showed up at Cafe Milano the other day in shorts — and didn’t have to wait for a table.

There are no galas, no balls, no book parties and no openings.

The month of the living dead has arrived: August, when Congress recesses, President Bush goes to his ranch and lobbyists pack their Brioni ties away.

“It is dead,” said Carolyn Peachey, president of Campbell Peachey & Associates events planning firm.

And for those left behind, hazy, hot and humid is not just the weather. It’s a state of mind.

Lunch dates canceled. Limos un-hired. Invitations un-engraved. Caterers staring at empty souffle molds. The ambassadors go back home. Embassies go on hiatus. Private clubs deserted. Sunday talk shows resort to third-tier pundits.

“It’s a one company town,” said Anne Schroeder, executive editor of Capitol File magazine. “When the cat’s away, the mice go to the beach.”

At summer’s end, Washington slips under a blanket of ennui, unlike any other city in the summer. Staying in town can actually signal a loss of status.

Are we still functioning or just going through the motions?

“It’s very Parisian,” said Brian Hale, spokesman for Patton Boggs lobbying and law firm. “No one’s doing any work.”

At Campbell Peachey, employees have been given a summer perk: alternative Fridays off. “That’s how slow it is,” said Miss Peachey. “But you simply can’t get an answer from anyone on Fridays” in the summer.

In her experience, however, the few events that do take place in July and August usually get a good turnout. “My clients don’t believe me, but people do go because there isn’t a lot going on.”

“Actually, a lot of people are here in town, but they don’t want anyone to know,” said Nancy Bagley, editor in chief of Washington Life Magazine. “It’s downtime. Clean your desk. Answer all those e-mails you didn’t have time to answer.”

Before air conditioning was invented, Washingtonians often traveled to Thurmont to cool off in Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

“That was back in the old days,” said Courtney Hagner of Randall Hagner Real Estate. “How slow is it now in Washington? It’s slow, but people who have the money to buy the house they want will do it … although a lot of people do wait until September.”

Mrs. Hagner pointed out that “Washington is a unique place. It doesn’t step by the same drummer. People come to the center of power and try their luck and then go on. It’s transient.”

The reason the city rolls up the sidewalks in August, she said, is because official Washington packs up and leaves for vacation. “And more people have second homes.”

For good reason. “We can’t deny the oppressive heat and the fact that we’re built on a swamp.” Mr. Hale said.

Miss Peachey says staying behind in Washington in summer is a well-kept secret. “I think people want it this way. A lot of these people go out night after night after night. Everybody sees it as a mini-vacation. I can park. I can get a reservation.”

She sighed. “I think it’s blissful.”

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