Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change (and a Few Million of its Closest Friends) Comes to Washington

(by Ari)

Ed. Note: The memory card from my Fuji camera is acting up, so right now I only have pictures I took on my iPhone. I'll try to straighten this out on Wednesday and put up better pics.

Update (Wed. 10:30 AM): New pics uploaded to the set.

I had gone out to the Mall (the National Mall, that is) for the concert on Sunday, and decided that my current gear (wool scarf, gloves and 180s), while passable for a 3-4 hour venture, would be woefully inadequate for what was likely to be an entire day’s outing for the Main Event. So I drove up to Arundel Mills yesterday and outfitted myself with a new hat, a bigger, thicker scarf, and some long johns. Apparently a few thousand other people had the same idea, but I managed to dig through a pile of debris at Moddell’s and get the last adequately sized pair of cotton/wool blend ankle-length long johns in existence.

I went to bed reasonably early last night, and managed to get showered, bundled up, and out the door by about 7:05 this morning. What follows is a rough “twitter-like” account of my perspective on the day.

I get to the Georgia Ave-Petworth metro station as the sun is coming up, and the crowd isn’t too bad. I see that the next train going in the right direction is about 11 minutes away, which is pretty bad for what was supposed to be a rush-hour schedule. I realize that I’m not going to make it to the Mt. Vernon/Convention Center stop before it closes at 7:30. Not the end of the world, but as I watch the minutes tick away, the crowd on the platform continues to build. I notice that the next train will be an 8-car train (the normal length is 6), and I move as far down the platform as I can to get away from the crowd growing down by the escalators.

The train gets there, and it’s waaaay too crowded. There’s no way that people down at the escalators can get on the cars toward the front and middle, let alone the people who are undoubtedly waiting at Columbia Heights, U Street/Cardozo and Shaw/Howard U. I squeeze myself into the last car, and steel grip a grab-bar. As we go by Columbia Heights and U Street, about 10 more people manage to squeeze into the car “Tokyo Style,” but at this point my grip is holding me up as well as some annoying hipster boyfriend/girlfriend. I observe, with some consternation, that the girlfriend is making things worse by leaning into the boyfriend (and by association, into me) every time the train brakes.

We finally make it to Gallery Place/Chinatown, and I am relieved to extricate myself from the shiny silver sardine can. I head up and out as quickly as I can, and make it up to 7th and H. My plan is to get through security toward the Mall at 7th and D, but I hit the wall of people at 7th and E, and it doesn’t look like anything is moving.

I have a quick call with Julian, one of my co-workers, about a project to brief him on a number of conference calls he will be handling for me, as I am certain that I will, at some point, become incommunicado. To my amazement, I have both voice and 3G data service, which I believe to be a small miracle. Maybe AT&T figured out what they did wrong on Sunday.

The crowd at 7th and E is still not moving, and I can’t see if anything is moving through security down the block either. I overhear some crowd rumblings that this entrance is closed, and that the only way to get down to the mall is through the entrance at 12th and E. I head down E Street, and immediately pass a panic-stricken Anderson Cooper, who is undoubtedly trying to figure out how to get down to the CNN set at the Newseum at 6th and Penn. He’s being led down the street by an enormous handler, who is shouting into a cell phone.

I get down to 12th and E, but it’s basically the same scene as down at 7th. Big crowd, people patiently waiting, but nothing apparently happening. There’s even a line forming up 12th Street stretching ¾ of the way down to F. I take a few pictures with my Fuji camera and my iPhone.

An ambulance starts making its way down E Street straight into the crowd. There’s no way it’s going to get through, but it tries anyway. It gets stuck smack in the middle of the crowd. People get a little angry, because a few hundred people have used the ambulance’s wake to insert themselves into the middle of all the people who had been waiting patiently. For the next 20 minutes or so, the ambulance tries to move both forward and backward, potentially injuring a few more people in the process. I amazingly still have a data connection, and keep myself busy texting with friends and reading the news on the USA Today iPhone app.

My co-worker Tom emails me from home to check and see where I am. When I email him back that I’m waiting to get in at 12th and E, he informs me that the news had already announced that all the entrances east of the Washington Monument have been shut down, and that my only chance of making it down to the Mall is to head west toward the Lincoln. Unfortunately, this means that I have to head north up to I Street and around the White House before I can start moving south toward the Mall again.

I get to 18th and I, and become part of the mass of bodies moving south down 18th Street. It looks a bit harrowing, but the crowd is moving at a reasonable pace, and I have renewed hope that I will actually make it down to the Mall today.

I finally make it to 18th and Constitution, and have a clear and easy shot up the hill to the Washington Monument. I move across to the south side of the Monument, in the hopes that the crowd is thinner there, and I make it about halfway between the Monument and 14th Street. Unfortunately, any direct view of the Capitol is blocked by trees, but I have a fairly clear view of the Jumbo-tron.

After some jostling around, I am pretty much settled in a spot next to a nice African-American family from Georgia. I am grateful to be with them, as opposed to being in front of the annoying college kids initially.

The crowd watches the Jumbo-trons and reacts to the various political figures as they are shown coming into the Capitol and announced. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton—big cheers. Dick Cheney in a wheelchair—raucous laughter. George W. Bush—boos louder than Sarah Palin at a Flyers game. Barack—ear piercing screams.

Pastor Rick Warren starts out well to lots of bowed heads. I’m impressed by the inclusive nature of his words, but then he ruins it all at the end by mentioning Jesus—even gives a nod to the reprehensible Jews-for-Jesus with a “Y’shua” reference. Ugh.

You saw it all on TV, so I won’t re-tell it here. We pretty much saw the same thing on the Mall, except with a creepy delay between picture and sound. Some people start moving through the crowd before Obama’s speech, which is not so great for those of us trying to watch and listen.

The crowd breaks up a bit during the closing Benediction, so I start moving back toward the other side of the Monument. I get a few pictures on the way, but my Fuji camera stops working properly, and my iPhone is running low on battery.

I get back out to 18th Street, and start heading north, but it’s really slow going. I decide that there’s no way I’m getting back on the Metro today. Home is at most 4 miles away, and moving feels better than standing still.

I finally make it the 4 or 5 blocks up to 18th and Penn, and though the street is blocked off, presumably for parade marchers, I see that people are moving down the sidewalk toward 17th, in the direction of my old office at 17th and Penn, to which I still have an access card. I make it through the security checkpoint in front of my old building and head upstairs to the kitchen/break room on the 2nd floor.

I come upon a group of about 15 people hanging out in there and watching CNN on the big flat screen TV. I unwrap myself, hit the bathroom, make myself a tall cup of hot coffee, and stretch out in one of the big comfy chairs.

I head downstairs and pick up a sandwich at the Potbelly on the corner. It’s crowded, but I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes. I look around at a few hundred freezing people hanging about at 17th and Penn, and feel VERY LUCKY to go back upstairs to the big comfy chair to eat my lunch. I hang with the group and watch the President have his lunch with Congress, the Ted Kennedy fiasco unfold, and the limo procession up Pennsylvania Avenue on CNN before bundling myself back up for the walk home.

I hang around 17th and Penn for a few minutes having a surreal experience as I watch the color guard and limos I just saw on CNN rounding the corner. I decide that it’s enough for the day and start walking up H to 15th. The scene at 15th and K is crazy once I get out of the no-car zone and back into the real world. The service roads are filled with vendor tents, and military guys in fatigues and fluorescent vests are making their best effort at directing traffic. I ponder the need for the vests, since desert camouflage sticks out like a sore thumb in an urban setting.

I head up Vermont and across Thomas Circle and Logan Circle to 13th Street. The walk feels great, and the big hill up to Columbia Heights really gets my blood flowing again. A man carrying belongings in a few plastic shopping bags strikes up a pleasant conversation with me for a few blocks. He looks homeless, but he tells me he watched the inauguration at home, so who knows?

I make it home just as the last daylight fades, amazed that the walk only took about an hour. As I let myself in, I ponder the coincidence that the sky looks just like it did when I set out this morning. The parade on TV is still going strong, and I feel bad for Barack and Michelle that they will have very little time to change into evening wear for tonight’s Inaugural Balls. I call Mom and Dad to let them know I got home, and they DEMAND that I post the details of my day to the blog.

My iPhone finally gets a whole bunch of email for the day, and I see that some of the attorneys I work with out in San Francisco want me to dial-in to a meeting and clarify some data patterns I had identified to them on Friday. I’m an hour late, but they’re still there when I call, and we have a good discussion.

I sit down to write this blog post.


Marilyn said...

This is one of those instances where being a DEMANDING parent is worth the bad rap. I know you were exhausted, but I am soooo glad you really did take the time to post this last night! I enjoyed it immensely, as I am sure will a lot of other people! You were really in a unique position to enjoy this poignant moment in history. I hope this day really is the fulcrum that will tip the scales in favor of a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Ari said...

I don't know if that's what the fulcrum does, but thanks anyway... :)

Marilyn said...


jmedancer said...

Thanks for posting this, Ari. I really enjoyed reading it. In fact, I wanted to read it, but I noticed Presley's eyes were open and she was alert, which is a rare occurrence throughout the day (baby's her age only have their eyes open about 10% of the day), and I wanted to play with her. I originally thought I was at a standstill. Then, I realized, I could read her your blog. And I did. She loved it too. We especially enjoyed the part about Anderson Cooper. Haha! Thanks again for posting.