Anonymiss in DC

{January 22, 2009}   Inauguration

You know, in the last week or so, I kept dreading inauguration and the massive influx of clueless tourists standing on the left side of escalators as trains sit on the platform, pushing their strollers down crowded sidewalks at a snail’s pace, stopping at random to snap photos, and so on and so forth.

It didn’t even occur to me that what would bug me the most wouldn’t be the tourists– at all– but rather, the ubiquitous, inefficient, disorganized squadrons of policemen, Secret Service agents, TSA agents, and National Guard troops.

I’m trying to be straight here, so I should let you know that I’m not a big fan of authority. I hate people telling me which way to go (unless I’m asking them!) and telling me what I can and cannot do.

But even if I loved law enforcement on Monday, I think I would have hated them by Tuesday.

Allow me to elaborate.

Monday night, I actually go all hardcore and camp out in my downtown office with a couple of coworkers so we don’t have to commute into the city and report for volunteer duty by 5 am. It seemed like a good plan, until Tuesday morning, when we emerged from my office before dawn only to discover that we couldn’t get anywhere near our team’s meeting point because the cops have blocked off all possible routes.

They tell us to walk south towards the mall, which is kind of out of the way, but we don’t have a lot of options, so we walk.

We walk about three or four blocks, only to be told by a very unfriendly Secret Service agent that we should turn around and go back north.

“But the police told us to go south!”

“Just-just go north.”

So we walk back the same way we came, and the cops tell us, again, to go south. We tell them that the Secret Service told us we had to go north, and they are puzzled. They say they are going to walk down the 3-4 blocks to find out why there’s conflicting directions being given.

I’m sorry, but haven’t these people heard of Walke Talkies? Isn’t this like, I don’t know, the most developed country in the world?

Needless to say, by this point we’re late and slightly annoyed, but the policeman smiles good-naturedly at us and says “Well, just think about all the exercise you just got.”

Luckily, just in the nick of time, I remember that it’s not a good idea to punch police officers.

There is literally nowhere to go but the wrong way. We can’t go north on 17th because we can’t cross Pennsylvania Avenue. This means we also can’t get near any of the several metro stations nearby. We also can’t go south on 17th towards Constitution or the mall because of the Secret Service dude, and we can’t go east, because that would involve crossing 17th street, which is also closed for no apparent reason.

So we go west, get to the corner of 18th and Penn, where there are several police officers being asked questions like  “I want to go to the parade route. How do I get there?”, “What’s the fastest way to the mall?”, “I have a purple ticket for inauguration; where is the entrance?”, “Where is the closest metro station?”…. which they are answering with “I don’t know”, “I’m not sure,” “They didn’t tell us that”, and “I don’t know this neighborhood.”

A huge crowd of disgusted early birds therefore begins trekking south on 18th street, and we join in. We get down towards the Washington Monument, the millions of port-o-potties, and larger and larger masses of confused people trying to jump fences and concrete barricades without falling, tripping, or getting run over by the buses and police vehicles on Constitution Avenue.

And there are more cops, and more Secret Service guys.

And apparently they need something to do because they are closing more streets, and giving our more misinformation and more “I don’t knows.” Some of them are apologetic about the fact that they have no idea what’s going on; most don’t care and just want you to keep moving on.

We still can’t cross Pennsylvania.

We walk all the way down Constitution, past the Archives…trying to find someone who can tell us what to do. We call our team leader a bunch of times…

We trek over to the metro station at Archives, and I’m about to run down an escalator, when a Secret Service guy shouts out “EXIT ONLY!”

I almost have a coronary. Exit only?!

“So where do we go to get on the metro?? We need to get to 7th and D and we can’t cross Penn!”

“You’re going to have to go to L’Enfant Plaza.”

“I don’t know where that is.”

“Go back and turn left.”

“How many blocks?”

“About 8.”

“Is there any other way to go?”

“I don’t know. I kind of doubt it.”

8 blocks?!

Someone else tells us that L’Enfant is closed, so who actually knows what’s going on….

Did I mention, by the way, that it is FREEZING COLD? Like, you know, REALLY REALLY REALLY COLD? And windy? I’m wearing long underwear under my pants, some kind of thick meshy Northface shirt under my wool sweater; I’ve got my ski gloves, ear muffs, a wool hat, and my HUGE and unfashionable snow jacket that goes down to my knees. I’ve got the hood up over the wool hat and the earmuffs, and I’ve got a huge wool scarf wrapped around my neck and part of my face. I’m also wearing two pairs of socks, one of which is merino wool.

…And I’m still cold.

We keep walking down Constitution until we get to a huge, steel gate which they’re not opening until at least 7 am. Crowded in front are tons of people; many of them volunteers who also can’t get to their teams. People are asking the security guards questions, but again, they don’t know anything at all.

We walk back down Constitution towards another gate, and eventually decide to just hang around that area, because they’re supposed to let people in at 7. Nevermind the fact that the whole point of our getting there at 5 was to be able to get into the Pennyslvania Avenue neighborhood before the public, because we were supposed to be volunteers. Apparently they don’t care who you are or what kind of paper you have; you ain’t goin’ NOWHERE.

It’s very peaceful watching countless buses full of security officers idling with the heat on on Constitution Avenue as the sun begins to rise…


Especially when you have resorted to jogging in place, waving your arms around, hugging your friends, and finally, stannding behind a large stone sign to get out of the wind.

Luckily, eventually, the buses start unloading, and we get a sense of the sheer number of guys in uniform around us.

Unfortunately, we don’t care, because we’re cold, and we know that they’re just going to create more traffic jams and misinformation.

We wait in front of the gate where they are setting up the metal detectors– endlessly– and just a few hundred feet off– we see Pennsylvania Avenue– AKA the promised land. They tell us we can cross it when the gates open at 7.

Or, at 7:15, “in a few minutes.”

Or at 7:30, “any minute now.”

We get through security finally, around 7:45- 8:00, walk by a row of at least 25 port-o-potties, and get out to a metal baracade. There are policemen down the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they say we can’t cross to the other side of it.

Luckily, we are not the only ones not having that. There’s practically a riot, with people waving tickets and screaming about how the guard gates told us we could cross once we got through security. They look a little bit nervous, and finally agree, smugly, to let us go through with credentials. “As soon as you start pushing, we’re closing it up,” they warn, as if anyone cares what they have to say.

I don’t have any damn credentials, but I somehow manage to get to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and hallelujah! My volunteer coordinator coordinator is there!…. and he has no red volunteer hats, no credentials, no maps, no nothing.

(On the plus side– he does have hand warmers– one per volunteer– and I’m entertained for a couple of minutes by shaking mine vigorously to try to get it to release heat, which it eventually does. Ahhhhh, circulation.)

By this time it’s after 8, we’ve been up for four hours– and the parade doesn’t start till 2:30. There’s nothing to do till then. We’ve made it! Great! We’ll get some food!

Except there’s no place around that has coffee or bagels or anything at all that would be useful about to go into hypothermic and/or hypoglycemic shock.

That’s intelligent.

Awesome planning.

So we face our next crossroads: do we stay in the parade route zone and freeze/starve for 6 hours but virtually guarantee ourselves close access to the parade route or do we throw our hands up, walk out of security, get hot food and drink, and risk not being able to get back in?

I bet you can guess which path three super pissed off, freezing cold, starving people chose– especially after seeing our volunteer coordinator leaving.

Fortunately, after stuffing my face and practically pouring hot tea down my throat in a heated cafe, I was feeling a little more human.

Still, we made the executive decision to bag the volunteering thing. It was insane. Instead, the son of my boss, who we’d just met up with, suggested we head towards the mall to try to see the actual swearing-in.

And it’s like a lightbulb goes off in my head.

Obviously, seeing and being there for that moment is what I really what. That’s what this day is really all about.

So we start a long trek towards the mall, and I know, almost instantly, that this was the right call, because I can feel the positive energy overtaking me.

People are playing drums in front of big American flag banners.

Someone shouts out “OBAMA!” and everyone cheers like we’re in a football stadium.

People are selling buttons and t-shirts and posters and magnets and hats and gloves and flags and keychains and necklaces. Some of them are decked out. One guy is wearing a jacket and a hat COVERED in Obama buttons.

There’s a guy walking in front of me trying to carry a huge framed portrait of Obama.

Another person walking by is wrapped in a brightly-colored fleece blanket emblazoned with a picture of Obama.

Fathers are carrying their heavily-bundled kids on their shoulders so they can see above the massive pilgrimage towards the National Mall.

There’s just this energy in the air. For once, we’re all on the same page, if only for a little while. I realize that I’m living and breathing history.  Everyone is excited and happy, and you can almost feel the hope that our almost-new president has inspired in all of us.

We do, eventually, make it to the mall, and I have never seen so many people in one place in my life, and probably never will again.

And it’s like a big family reunion. No one’s pushing each other even though we’re crammed in there like sardines. Instead, we’re making small talk. One woman asks us if we can help her fix her camera.

Basically, we’re all just waiting to hear from the guy who’s made us all believe that we can, in fact, fix this country and create a better world.

And then it starts. At first, we can’t hear the sound– we can just see the Jumbo-tron, and no one has good enough eyes to read the closed captioning.

But that’s not a problem for long, because simultaneously and without prompting, people all around me pull out old-fashioned radios, pull the antennas up, turn the volume all the way, and share the good news with the crowd.

We cheer for Obama and Michelle and Sasha and Malia, and for ourselves. And then we all just listen, and are, predictably, but no less impressively, awed.

It’s beautiful. It’s historical. I’m thrilled.


Afterwards, we all get trapped like rats on the mall and someone starts a “Let us out!” chant, and someone faints, and Secret Service does nothing, surprise, surprise.

But I’m glad that I was there, and I will never forget it.

Patrick says:

Wow I guess I’m happy that my hassels weren’t as bad as your hassels!

anonymissindc says:

hahaha…i sound so bitter!! sorry! it really did work out in the end, and i’m glad i went…

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