Sunday, January 25, 2009

the inauguration

I promised I'd say something more... I spent the weekend unpacking and need some down time so this will be a long post telling the story of the crazy day of the inauguration...

So we started out the day getting ready before the sun came up.  We all drove down 50 to Roslyn to park the cars and get on the bikes to head over to DC.  As we neared the exit to go to the parking garage... it was blocked off. Um... OK. So we are in the cars now in a line of not moving vehicles getting routed off on some ramp going nowhere. So there was the pause... the guys pulling out their cell  phones to revisit the plan... and then the idea hit... jump the median. Luckily it was a small median but we whipped a U-turn and took the first exit off the highway and were on our way again to the open parking garage.  The nice cops watching must have been laughing.

We parked the cars and put the bikes together and started assembling the 5+ layers.  Once we were all geared up from head to toe with only our eyes uncovered. We headed across the closed bridge into Georgetown. The streets held the occasional car but on the way in it really was mostly taxis, limos, and public safety vehicles. The sounds of the streets for the day really were sirens as ambulances bustled around and the police whooped to clear out the way. Traffic was relatively light but we mostly stuck to the sidewalks.  Once we got within a mile or so of the National Mall the traffic started getting heavy. It was one of those moments I always read about in books, saw on tv and pictured in the movies... riding our bikes single file through the traffic- sliding by the nearly parked traffic including buses. Marty led the way and Jeff took up the rear as we dove through the thick of it. We rode by crowds of walking people and so many street "vendors" who were hawking their wares it was stunning. I'm not sure if a single one had a permit but everything looked the same since it was my 3rd day on the national mall.

We finally made it to Jeff's friend's place and parked the bikes. At this point it was hot... in that I'm going to be freezing as soon as my body realizes how much it has been sweating way. So we left the bags- shoved all the snacks/hand warmers/supplies into our many pockets. with 2 layers of fleece a jacket and a couple of other layers the pockets were plenty. We headed down the street anxious to get into the line. We started following the signs which seemed a bit bizarre to me b/c I thought we had to head south but they directed us the same way as the guys. Then as we got close to the security check points for the gates the chaos took over. We left the guys to find the purple line and we girls headed for the silver section that we had checked out the day before. We asked a local PD who directed us along where the signs were going... which still seemed odd to me but we started ducking through lines. Except we ducked through like 5 purple lines. I figured there must  be multiple security areas or someone had designated feeder lines b/c I was trying to have faith in the system but really... it looked like no one knew what was going on and there was no overall directing going on by anyone in uniform that I saw. 

We girls got closer and closer to the area we were being directed towards and it was odd... there was a blocked road to the right  then as we moved forward it was a wall... like the on ramp/off ramp to a highway kind. On the left was a tall building that looked locked. As we started to turn the corner there was  a crowd standing and cheering at a TV camera with no law enforcement presence. It just screamed to us confined area/tons of people/BAD idea.  We retreated a half block or so and moved to the sidewalk.  It looked like the area we were being directed to was the 3rd street NW tunnel. We realized we needed to be on the other side of the mall and that following the signs and directions provided was not a very bright idea. So we looked at each other and did the oh goodness they're opening the gate soon and we're not in line yet we better scoot. 

We weaved through the getting frustrated purple lines ducking around people. I led the way relying on all those skills I learned in Jr. High crowds (see mom I did learn something in public school!). Plus, I'm taller so I'm easier to find in a crowd. We headed up past the Capitol  building again and then started our way around at least 2 blocks out. As we headed down 2nd St NE we turned down D St. When the crowds started getting thick we started realizing that every time the crowds thickened there was no telling why they were waiting or if it would move again. We passed by Orange and Blue lines which seemed confused but a little less confused than purple and yellow on the other side. We realized that people were avoiding the natural hazards- trees, rocks, bushes so we tried to stick closer to them. After getting stuck a couple of times in seemingly unmoving crowds we managed to get to the start of the silver line. The line didn't seem to be moving much if at all but we needed to get to the end of the line so we started moving faster. We ran into members of the general public who stated cops told them to enter at the silver section- we mentioned it was tickets and moved on.  We abandoned the walking for jogging... I really can't remember the last time I ran- years at least since the high school cross country days but I was keeping up. Every time we noticed a narrowing in the street and the crowd stopping we would duck a block over and continue shadowing the line. After mapping where we traced the silver line... once we ducked under a street overpass that almost looked like a road block but we never showed a ticket... the line extended over a mile long and when we found the end of the line it was circling a block.  We went around the last block and the line looped into itself. We were standing there a bit flabbergasted. At that moment of course we ran into someone Susan knew.. Dr Z and his daughter. We were discussing this odd line arrangement and you could hear the confusion brewing when one of those people with little red beanies who apparently were volunteers started directing people down Independence Ave.  So here we were at the end of the line that was crawling along... all one mile or so of it for the silver section and we were being directed to totally bypass the line and it was after the gates had opened... what to do?   

As people turned on their heel and headed down the street we decided to follow directions ;-) So as we are cruising down the street my sister calls and I briefly answered and let her know we were getting closer and it was chaos and we weren't in yet. Sometime after that moment my cell phone "flew like it fell from a helicopter" and hit a very nice 8th grader who turned it over to her teacher (who later called my mom who gave him the number where I was staying and we arranged to return it the next day). But back to the story... I warned you it was long...

We ended up making it to security... please note not a single person looked at or checked our tickets in any sort of significant way though we occasionally held them in our hands.  We walked up to the security screeners.. um pretty sure it was TSA... as we walked up Susan had a plastic bag in her hand with our food- the directions stated no bags and only snacks. As we walked through there was no noticeable scanning equipment and both Susan and I had cameras on us. Hers was actually IN her jacket pocket and she didn't even need to take it out. I guess they figured we were too far away to do anything b/c all I had to do was unzip my 2 jackets and they patted down my waist but it was nothing compared to a normal airport TSA basic inspection and they didn't even check my ankles really which having hung out with a number of cops I know is kinda a basic check.

So we made it through security and into the big section of the silver but not the part closest to the reflecting pool where we wanted to be. So we found the cross over walkway and started lining up with a small group of people. The gates had been closed for a little bit and were being managed by a Border Patrol law enforcement guy. At one point the gate opened and the crowd surged forward and the Border Patrol guy quickly closed the gate leaving us 3-4 people from a 8 foot chainlink fence with about 50-100 people behind us. It was one of those oh goodness moments... lodged in a crowd trying to get through and when the gate closed I heard a "rush the gate" and lots of booing- granted most of it was from some high school boys. So those of us with calmer heads let them know they weren't helping and got them to calm down. Unfortunately the law  enforcement officer was very soft spoken so none of us could hear his instructions when he did say anything so all directions through the crowd were done by that old game of telephone- repeating  the message to the next person in line. It really looked like we weren't going to get across which since we could see so much room across the street in the gated area just seemed wrong.  Then fate intervened and 2 wheelchairs were directed to our gate. Now mind you they are trying to get up to the gate so for them to move forward we had to move back, for us to move back tons of people had to move and it was difficult to say the least. But luckily the law enforcement guy decided to let the wheelchairs through and then us but only if we promised to move slowly... apparently there was a trampling earlier in the day in the area with a minor injury. So the wheelchairs were let through, the kids behind us stayed quiet and we made our way very calmly across the street to the better side where we realized quickly that the reason there was so much room was that people had basically smashed the dividing fence between the grassy area and the reflecting pool down. In all the other areas the gates were chain link fence, metal waist high dividers, and metal mesh... here it had been plastic which looked like fencing used to capture snow drifts that wasn't even waist high. Needless to say it was easy to get over the trampled fence so we walked closer to the reflecting pool... then we noticed people were walking around the reflecting pool so we decided to follow suit. 

We ended up in front of the Ulysses S. Grant memorial just across the street from the blue/purple section. We were in the rowdy section and if they all had tickets I am one amazed person. People were draped across the statues and lined up everywhere. We ended up standing amongst some bushes under the theory of the day- the closer to nature we are the less likely people will try and get closer to us. We broke out the hand warmers and had our sandwiches while waiting for everything to begin. The many many layers worked out well for us- I really appreciated the USAF military issue thermals and camo gortex pants I borrowed from my gracious sis. GSA got that gear right. 

The highlight of the inauguration- Obama's speech. I am not sure who he intended it for or what he wanted to say exactly but what he said spoke too me and it was neat to see the hands waving up on the podium and hear the words. During the actual swearing in we could see the colors moving around and the people so while we were about a quarter of a mile away we still could see what was going on a little bit. 

The hmmmm factor of the inauguration ceremony- the booing. I mean it we were in the rowdy section. Neither of us gals are fans of booing and being surrounded by it was a bit unnerving. They booed the wives of Bush and Cheney (which seemed very low class to me) and the first Bush... I think they meant to boo the second one. Oh though I couldn't help when after they figured out the current Bush was on stage they sang the Nah Nah Nah Nah, nah nah nah nah, hey hey hey goodbye song. Seriously how high school?

Everything went pretty well (besides the booing) until after Obama's speech. No one really had and order of proceedings so most people thought that the ceremony was over- also the  next thing up was the poet and they had turned the sound down or speakers went out or something b/c we couldn't hear her. My personal guess is that they turned it down for Obama's booming voice and forgot to turn it up. So for the poet, benediction, and then the closing song people were streaming everywhere and it was really hard to hear. People were taking pictures and chanting Obama and walking around. Once the ceremony was over we started our way back to the meeting point. It was people people everywhere. Oh and when the helicopter with the former president flew over everyone waved a very happy good-bye and cheered. It is the dawning of a new age and we are excited about the new leader.

As we walked back we laughed at the signs for the colors realizing how poorly  the ticketing section was working.  We did not hear a single megaphone the entire time. There were no directions for feeding the entry points or any officially flagged areas for people to line up. The lack of direction seemed stunning since we come from the incident management background and have seen the direction of numerous people before. It seems that the 240,000 ticketed people were expected to mostly direct themselves to the entry points. We finally reached the guys and learned to our horror that they were not able to get into the purple section. The gates  closed 20 feet in front of their faces and they were unable to get in.  There were thousands of people who did not get in... Luckily for us the guys waited for us to get out to sheppard us back to Virginia. The guys agreed with our assessment of the lack of guidance to the gates and the mingling of the general public added to the chaos. We all think they might want to consider hiring concert organizers next time... we didn't hear about any major problems on the rest of the National Mall but really the National Park Service was in charge of that part so it was a bit of a different flavor.

We met up again at the house where we stashed the bikes. We started up the hill to Georgetown passing by the insanely crowded metro stops and passing the areas they were setting up for the evening balls. We cruised up the streets with people walking around and made it back over the bridge to Roslyn. We went to the parking garage and noticed that the garage door was shut. Um.. and for awhile the gate wasn't opening with the pass card- what was that about plans? The poor guys were dealing with Murphy all day.  Luckily we made our way in at last and got the cars so we didn't have to do to plan b as the guys called it- calling the wives.  

It was an amazing crazy complicated day. By the end we got Susan off to the airport after about 25 wrong turns (who let the map makers loose in a city of road blocks?) and on her way back home before bouncing to another town. I was dead tired and packing for the next day of finding lost cell phones and getting home traveling by foot, bus, metro, airplane, and driving a car. The guys while frustrated at least were rationalizing that they didn't invest major money into the excursion- only time. It was so worth everything- I was compelled to go- I made my flight arrangements the night of the election and I am excited about the direction this administration is taking us... I enjoyed the new Secretary of interior's address to the employees and as the year goes forward I look forward to discovering what things will come up in the new year...

I've unpacked all but 2 boxes now, most artwork is hanging on the wall thanks to a little help from my friend, and the plumber finally got the plumbing fixed and I am getting ready to drive to work in the Monday morning snow... for some reason it seems to snow on Monday. So it's time for me to crash I spent much more time writing this than I meant to but at the same time I thought it was something some of you might get a kick out of reading.

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