This morning, I crossed the street at 2nd and Mass. Ave NE listening to a Planet Money podcast and instinctively pulled one ear bud out. The one on my right side, which is where I would pass Peter Bis.
Camped under that one tree on the corner by the Exxon station, he’d be clutching his grimy cup o’joe, waiting to call out whatever pleasantries my pace that morning would allow.
Like many others trekking from Union Station to Capitol Hill during weekday rush hour, I roused from my commuter stupor only slightly to notice that the only thing in the shade of that tree was an old styrafoam cup and a couple cigarette butts. Pete wasn’t there.
When I got to my office I found out why. A Hill resident blogged early this morning that “the flashing blue & red lights outside my apartment window were not for some drunks getting in a fight. They were for him.”
After years of greeting Capitol Hill folk, befriending Washington Journalism Center students and spinning conspiracies to anyone who’d listen, the man who slept in the Exxon garage reportedly died of a heart attack last night. Peter Bis was a Hill icon for congress members, staffers and residents alike, and he made a particular impact on WJC interns, for whom the promise of that cheery “Two days till the weekend!” bookended days filled with both uncertainty and triumph.
Not much was ever sure about Pete’s past. Even his blog – full of colorful and incoherent musings about government conspiracies, his relationship with Princess Di and betrayal by the CIA — was reportedly dictated to “a friend.”
But the man called “ruthlessly pleasant” and “an unofficial neighborhood watch” by important Capitol Hill neighbors was a fixture of encouragement and attentiveness in a transient city.
“I know most of these people, I know who should be here, who doesn’t be here,” Bis told NPR affiliate WAMU in a 2006 radio interview. “I know when they get their finger cut, if it’s getting better, when they get a hair cut. They know I keep an eye on it.”