Friday, December 5, 2008

The Inaugural Onslaught

By John Gilstrap

Forgive me for wandering from the topic of writing, per se, to something that's been bugging me.

Five days out of every week, I commute from the Virginia suburbs into Washington, DC via Metrorail. Generally, it’s a half-hour drive to the station in the morning, then a half hour on the train, topped by a three-block walk to my office, which is itself three blocks from the White House. Until I took my job with the trade association, I’d never worked downtown. Washington is a beautiful city, so there’s something attractively urban to me about the commute. Most days, it’s an opportunity to read in peace amidst a couple hundred strangers.

n its busiest, craziest days, Metro sets new records that top out somewhere south of 850,000 passengers. That includes commuters and tourists in the high season, along with Independence Day celebrations when about a million people flood the city for the fireworks. During those occasions, for security reasons, the Metro stations closet to the action are all closed off, forcing revelers to flood fewer stations located quite a few blocks away. Imagine thousands of people crammed onto an underground train platform, each of them wanting to get on the next subway. It’s actually scary when you’re in the middle of it. That’s why I never go downtown on the Fourth of July.

On January 20—Inauguration Day--DC government officials are reportedly anticipating a crowd of four million people to observe the festivities. That’s four times more people than Washington has ever seen for an event! Each of them needs to get in and out of the city, and, presumably, at some point during the festivities they’re going to have to eat. More than that, they’re going to have to pee—or, worse yet, make big potty. I don’t care how many porta-poops you import; there’s no way to support that much excrement.

Judging from the barricades that are already beginning to be staged around the city, huge swaths of preferred viewing real estate are going to be closed off to mere mortals to leave plenty of elbow space for the bigwigs. Widespread street closures will make parking garages inaccessible, which will in turn force hundreds of thousands of would-be drivers onto the subways for which access will be limited.

Now let’s throw in the security checkpoints that will search all purses and bags within X yards of the Capitol Building or the White House, along with the fact that a huge percentage of those being searched wouldn’t know which building was which without a picture to guide them. The mind boggles.

I personally don’t have any hard plans for that day, but I do know precisely where I will not be. What do y’all think? Is any historical event worth that much inconvenience?


  1. I'd like to know where all four million of these people plan to stay. I know there are a lot of hotels, but enough for that many people???

    My older son just started a job as a visitor guide at the Capitol last week. Fortunately, the Capitol will be closed on Inauguration Day so he can stay home. He found an apartment in Woodbridge (anything closer to DC was too expensive) and takes the train to work every day. He gets a lot of reading done!

  2. John, you forgot to mention the weather. Chances are, it will be extremely cold--just one more thing to add to the discomfort factor.

  3. JOhn,
    I live in Laurel, MD, and agree with everything you said. My ex was considering going down, and my 17-year-old daughter wants to go badly. She's getting the word that she can take the day off school to watch on TV if she likes, but there are too many things that can go wrong on the Mall. I work downtown myself, and won't be caught dead anywhere near there.

    I've told my daughter everyone who has a chance should go to an inauguration; I attended Clinton's first. Just not this one.

  4. Joyce,
    You ask where people are goig to stay . . . Take a look at Craig's List and see the booming cottage industry of private home rentals to Inauguration visitors. People are making hundreds--in some cases, thousands--of dollars to let perfect strangers into their homes for a few days. Yet another thing that I simply don't understand.

  5. John forgive me for stepping on your blog. I had it set for midnight, but I thought tomorrow was the 5th. I tried to kill it, but I couldn't make it so.

    Plus you don't understand money???

  6. I know some people who are planning to camp out on the Washington Mall--this really will be an amazing event...