I had the opportunity to get out of DC this weekend, and to escape the massive crowds of tourists and continual gridlock. But I turned it down. This Inauguration is truly history and I wanted to experience it, feel the excitement, hear the sounds, and see just how big a crowd like this would feel (and fit!) in my hometown. After Sunday’s concert, a few late nights out, and the craziness I experienced on Tuesday, I can say that I am glad I was part of history…but I also glad that Inaugurations only happen once every four years
After getting into Sunday’s concert with less hassle than anticipated, I decided to not worry about showing up at the crack of dawn for Tuesday’s swearing in ceremony. I had tickets for the Blue standing room area on the Capitol lawn, and, from what I remembered from the two other Inaugurations I have attended, you were set to get in as long as you had a ticket. However, I was not expecting the security meltdown that prevented 4,000 ticket holders from getting into the ceremony on time.
I was supposed to enter through the Blue Gate, the one where the generator broke, leaving the magnetometers to be nothing more than useless sculptures of metal. I knew several other people who were unable to get in to the Purple section on the other side of the Capitol, a debacle that has sparked a Facebook group called, Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom.
At first the crowd was well spirited and patient. People were cold but excited. But after it took 2 hours to move the distance of one block, the mood started to change pretty quickly. With almost no communication from the police and volunteers, horrible signage, and a very cold wind picking up, people started to get cranky. And as the realization set in that we would likely miss the ceremony, patience and politeness went right out the window. The more people pushed and started to yell, the faster our desire to stick around disappeared.
The U.S. Capitol Police explain the reason for so many disappointed ticket holders as: too many people wearing bulky coats because of the weather (Washington Post). Hmm, interesting. Isn’t the Inauguration always in January? And don’t people usually bundle up for cold weather in January? Yeah, I thought so. Considering the ticketed section is full or near-full for every Inauguration, I’m a bit baffled by the organizers from the Capitol acting as though they were doing everything for the first time. I don’t know what the real reason for the security failure was, but I feel badly for all of the people who traveled so far, and spent so much money, only to get turned away.
Thankfully, all was not lost for me. The friend I was taking to the ceremony with me got us an invite to a reception at the Willard Hotel, right on the parade route. Since there was no hope of getting to the north side of the city via the Mall, we walked through the 395 Tunnel, which was closed to traffic and opened to pedestrians. Walking through a major highway tunnel that runs directly underneath the Capitol’s reflecting pool was quite the experience and felt like a scene out of a movie where everyone is evacuating a major city on foot.
We didn’t get to see Obama walking the route from our hotel, but had a good (and warm) view of the parade.
And I found particular enjoyment in watching people in the hotel across the street trying to catch a glimpse of the action out of their hotel room windows.
After the President passed by, we headed out to meet some friends at a local bar to watch the rest of the parade on TV. Once it passed and I knew I would have a chance of crossing back over to the south side of the Mall to get home, I headed out to find the streets almost deserted. My very long day ended on a high note as I approached a beautifully lit Capitol, and an empty Capitol lawn, providing a unique opportunity for some pictures.
And if you want more pictures from my weekend, click here.