Thursday, September 3, 2009

Chronicles of Inauguration Day

It's been more than seven months since President Obama was sworn into office. My wife and I attended the inauguration with nearly 2 million of our closest friends. We knew that it wasn't going to be exactly fun. We knew it wouldn't be easy to get to the Mall and back. We knew that it was going to be very cold and crowded. But we wanted to go anyway.

I chronicled our inauguration day experiences in my first ever blog post, but I did it on a personal web page. Now I've transferred it here.

In a speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial two days before the inauguration, then President-Elect Obama said the following:

Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our
resolve as a nation.

The health care reform initiative appears to be one of those false starts. I don't think anyone could have predicted the events of the last two months, but in hindsight, the approach that was taken clearly didn't work. President Obama appears to be attempting a "do over" of sorts starting with a speech to a joint session of Congress next week. I hope that he can salvage the debate, and that much needed health care reform will become a reality.

Below is a reminder of a day when a lot of the country had great hope that Barrack Obama could help bring about real change. The hope is still there, but it's tempered with the reality that it won't be easy.

My brother in-law calls at 2:00 Monday afternoon - the day before the inauguration. Two tickets are available, but I have to find Charles in Tenleytown by 4:00.

Silver tickets. Good news (so we think). Looks like we'll only be three to four blocks from the Capitol.

I expect the lines at the Metro will be long on Tuesday, so I head to the New Carrollton station Monday night to get fare cards. Too bad everyone else thought the same thing, and I am stuck waiting in line for 35 minutes. I stop by CVS on the way home, and I discover that Metro SmartTrip Cards are available at CVS with no lines and no waiting - and I can get a flu shot at the same time.

News reports at 6:30am on inauguration day indicate that parking lots at the New Carrollton and Greenbelt Metro stops are full. So much for plans A and B. Plan C is to park in Greenbelt Center, and catch a bus to the Greenbelt Metro. When a bus for New Carrollton Metro comes first, we switch to plan D, not realizing that it goes to New Carrollton via Montreal. The good news: we got a commemorative bus pass.

The waiting line to get into the New Carrollton Metro station. We're thinking that by the time we get through this line, the government will be back in the stem cell research business and Gitmo will be closed. The line moves quickly, and we are on a train in 15 minutes.

Metro workers did a great job loading the trains fast. We were expecting standing room only with plenty of pushing and shoving, but everything was well organized. We have no complaints for Metro, even though they did hit the old lady in the Gallery Place - China Town station (she lived). As the train passes through other stations, we discover that there is still plenty of parking at the stops that aren't at the end of the lines. We'll keep that in mind for 2013.
By the end of the day, Metro records over 1.5 million trips, breaking the previous record that was set just the day before.

A sea of tour buses is visible as we pass RFK Stadium.

The train goes pretty slow after this point as there are still many trains downtown unloading. Someone on the train receives a text message from "Michelle" telling people not to try going anyplace on the Mall East of 14th Street. Despite the fact that she is the First Lady elect, we don't take her advice.. We have tickets!

The view as we leave the Federal Center Metro and head North toward the Mall. We start walking toward the gates for the Silver ticket area, only to discover that the Silver ticket line is on the sidewalk to the left. We head back to find the end of the line. The line goes four blocks South of the Mall, then three blocks West, and then turns South again. The inauguration is supposed to be an hour away, and the line isn't moving at all. We give up hope of using the Silver tickets, and we head for the "open" areas West of 4th Street.

The ticket areas end up being the feel bad story of the day for many. It turns out that the line was blocked in the front by non-ticket holders, and nobody in this line made it in. Some people with purple tickets were directed to wait in the 3rd Street tunnel, and they were still waiting there at inauguration time.. By the end of the day, a new group forms on Facebook called Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom. The Silver and Purple areas on the mall never fill up. Bad stories galore of people who flew in from out of town, waited in line starting at 7:00am, and didn't make it into the ticket area.

Walking West near 7th Street. The story of the day: AREA FULL. We keep heading West toward the Washington Monument.

Foot traffic comes to a stop. Authorities want all of these people to move off the road, and walk on a six foot wide section of sidewalk to the right of the bus under the right side of the arch. They then make us recite the alphabet backwards before they let us move on. There is no turning back because there are thousands of people behind us, so we work our way through.

The base of the Washington Monument is almost in view.

Yes, the people standing higher than everyone else at the top-center of the picture are standing on port-a-potties.

The first of many tree sitters.

And pole sitters...


"I don't know where they're going, but keep following the people in front of you. That's it, people. Keep moving. Why couldn't you stay home and watch this on TV?!?!" (repeat)

Getting closer. More tree sitters.

And closer...wait, I mean getting further away, further away, further away...

We finally see ground without people for the first time in several blocks.

An hour after we leave the Metro station, we finally reach the South side of the Washington Monument - 12 blocks West of the silver ticket area.

Our view for the ceremony. The rectangular shaped object at tree level in the center of the picture is a "jumbotron" - Latin for "since you didn't get tickets, you have to try to watch this little screen from four blocks away - oh you did get tickets -- too bad for you."

A sea of humanity listens to Obama's speech from 16 blocks away.

The mad post-ceremony dash near the Jefferson Memorial. We don't bother to attempt walking East along the mall to get back to the Metro. We head South toward the waterfront, and then East to the Navy Yard to avoid the crowd. It's a long walk, but it pays off with a seat on a nearly empty Green Line train.

A few stops later, Frederick Strother, an actor from our favorite HBO show (The Wire) boards our train. He's the one with the raised arm in the picture above. He is more recognizable in the picture below playing politician Odell Watkins. I consider saying "hello," but I am told not to embarrass my wife. Opportunity lost. Not sure when I'll have another chance to meet Fred.

Running into actors from The Wire appears to be a favorite family activity. My wife, daughter and family friends ran into Clarke Peters (aka, Lester Freamon) at an Obama rally in Baltimore in February, 2008. Family friend, Sandy, said, "can we get a picture with you and the kids. They love your show." And Clarke said, "are you kidding! You let them watch that?!?!?!" (we don't)

Four days after the inauguration, I ended up on the Mall again, except this time, in the silver ticket area. This would have been our view from the silver ticket area to the Capitol for the inauguration.

And the view from the silver ticket area to the Washington Monument - where we ended up during the inauguration.


  1. Nice travelogue, for lack of a better term.

  2. Didn't know you were a Wire fan, me too. Time on my hands, repo'ing cars in Baltimore, and a certain level of obsessiveness, led to me researching and photographing as many Wire shooting locations as I could. You might find the photos interesting:

  3. Bob, I came across those pics on your site a few weeks back. We still haven't completed season 5, and there was one spoiler in your captions! Ha. We don't have HBO, and we discovered The Wire late. We watched them on DVD. It can be kind of addictive. There was one night where my in-laws were babysitting the kids, and instead of going out, we got take-out and went home to watch a few episodes. Ha!