So the inauguration was kind of crazy. I guess with that many people in one place, things are bound to get a little out of control. I wasn't in the group that got trapped in the "Purple Tunnel of Doom" and didn't get in at all. Whew! I was in the group that got blamed for causing the problems for the purple ticket people.
Let me back up a bit. I got up at 6 and left Allison and Steve's house at about 6:30. They live in a great neighborhood, just a couple of blocks from the Metro station. It wasn't even that crowded. I heard someone say that it was about as busy as a typical rush hour. I didn't go to any of the big transfer stations like Metro Central, which I heard were super crowded. And I didn't even need my fare card to get out. I had read about that in a "here's what the tourists need to know" article in the Washington Post (where I also learned to stand right, pass left, thank you Post!) I had my card all ready, and then there was a man at the exit waving us through without having to put our cards in.
I heard two guys who sounded like they were from New York on the train. One was fretting about where to go when they got off the train. The other one said "Man, just follow everyone else. They're going the same place you are." How right he was! When we got out of the station there was a throng of people, thousands and thousands of people walking towards the Mall. All we had to do was wade into the river of people and be carried along.
My checkpoint was south of the Mall, so I had to walk through the I-395 tunnel to get to the other side. Which was a really cool experience. It was full of people, and there was a group of teenage girls near me, who every few minutes would yell "One, two, three ... OBAMA!!!!!" at the top of their lungs. Up and down the entire length of the tunnel would reverberate with other people shouting and cheering in response.
When I got to my checkpoint, the line was already about 6 blocks long. I ended up standing with a nice couple who were originally from Alaska but are living in DC now. I am very proud of myself for standing with them for almost four hours and resisting the urge to ask them about Sarah Palin. They said they were from the southern part of Alaska, where the average temperatures weren't much colder than we were experiencing that day. They handed out those little hand warmer packs to everyone. I didn't need any, thanks to Spacegrrl! She set me up with hand & foot warmers, and Smartwool socks.
I also stood with a naval officer wearing his dress uniform and no overcoat! He looked so very cold. I offered him my fleece ear band but he wouldn't take it, nor would he take hand warmers from the Alaskan couple. I think he was pretty high up in the Navy. He had lots of ribbon and lots of stripes on his jacket, and other sailors who walked by called him Master Chief. He was very generous in answering our questions about his decorations. He said he was E-9, which must be pretty good because he said his rank was as high as he could go. I found a photo of him on the Navy website (he's the one on the left). He wasn't wearing those medals, lots of ribbons instead. They looked like this. He said the oval one was a "cookie cutter."
Our line moved slowly but surely, edging forward. All morning people walked past us saying, "Is this still the line for silver tickets?" We all thought that was funny -- we'd been there for hours, with a steady stream of people joining the line after us, who knows how long it was by then. The Master Chief said he was going to start telling people "no, it's the line for the porta potties." But he never did.
Later on I met a lady who was celebrating her 80th birthday that day. She said that her daughter had been very active in the campaign in Santa Barbara, and had gotten her the ticket for her birthday. Unfortunately the daughter had tried to arrange a handicapped ticket but they messed up and gave her a regular ticket. She had tried to go in the handicapped entrance but they told her she had to wait in line with the rest of us. She said she could walk okay, but couldn't stand for very long, and I could see she was reaching the end of her endurance. She said they had offered her either a wheelchair or an ambulance but she refused. I think she should have taken the offer; it would have gotten her inside. I lost track of her when the crowd got really bad. I wonder if she made it in.
Around this time was when the crowd started to get bad. We were about 100 yards from the gate (or so I was told; being height challenged I couldn't see a thing but the people standing right around me) and the line dissolved into a mass of people which basically stopped moving. Every five to ten minutes we would move another step or two, which I think might have been due to people crowding in closer, not actual progress. There was no one in charge, no one telling us what was happening, and rumors started to go through the crowd that non-ticketed people had broken into our area, which was now full, and none of us would be admitted.
Lots of people left, including the Alaskan couple I had been waiting with. They said they were going to go home and watch on tv. I was sad to see them go! I thought about leaving, but in truth I didn't have anyplace to go. There wasn't time to get to the general admission entrance, and I couldn't get a cell signal to call Allison and Steve. So I decided to stick it out.
I worked my way a bit farther forward, pretty close to the barricade. The crowd was packed in really close at that point. Everyone pushing, pushing, and there was no place to go. I was standing next to a lady in a wheelchair, and the young woman with her kept yelling "Wheelchair! Stop pushing!" but they didn't stop. At one point I was leaning over the lady, pressed up against the chair, and I was afraid I was going to fall on her because the people behind me were pushing so hard. This went on for about 10-15 minutes and I have to say, it was scary. I had never been in a crowd like that before.
Then the barricades went down and people ran forward. It was this mad rush to get onto the mall. Looking back I'm amazed that no one was hurt. I don't know what happened to security; I never even saw it, much less went through it. We just ran right in. Well, I didn't run. I walked fast enough that the running people wouldn't knock me down. The rumor about the silver area being full turned out to be false. There was plenty of room and I ended up pretty close to the reflecting pool.
Later on I heard about the Purple Tunnel of Doom, which I didn't know anything about at the time. I read in the Post that the Inaugural Committee was blaming the purple ticket problems on us: "...some ticket holders, demanding access to the silver-ticket section, became so rowdy that they knocked over a barricade. Once inside, one witness said, some people stampeded toward the section. As a result, extra police had to be deployed there, leaving fewer to handle screenings in the purple and blue sections." I don't think that's fair. It seems to me that we were in the same situation as the purple ticket people: trapped outside the gate with no explanation. I guess I was just lucky to be with the group that forced their way in, not the group who never got in.
About the ceremony itself I don't have much to say. If you were watching on tv you had a much better view than I did. I was standing near a loudspeaker and could hear really well. I do want to say that I didn't understand the pundits who said they were disappointed in the speech. I found it very moving. The crowd was transfixed. Everyone listened silently; when cheers broke out, they died down immediately so that people wouldn't miss anything.
Another nice thing that happened was during the musical performance. Just as it started a bunch of seagulls flew up from the reflecting pool and started wheeling in circles over us. It was beautiful, and I overheard a funny conversation: "Are those doves? Did they release doves?" "No, they're seagulls." "They released seagulls?" "No."
It was amazing to be in the middle of two million people who felt the same way I did. People were cheering, crying, hugging each other. When Bush's helicopter took off, the crowd sang "Na na na, hey hey, goodbye!" That part was hilarious.
As the crowd began to disperse (during the poem, which seemed to impress absolutely no one) I stopped to take a couple photos of myself with the Capitol behind me. I pulled out my cell phone, and it had been impossible to get a signal before, but somehow a text message had gotten through. It was from my friend Kevin, a short congratulation sent just as Obama was saying the oath. I hadn't wanted to cry in front of a bunch of strangers, and I had held it together pretty well up until then, then seeing that message left me standing there crying right on the mall. I don't think anyone even noticed. Everyone was so euphoric.
The way out was not as scary as the way in, but chaotic at times. A lot of roads were blocked because of the parade route. There was a lot of heading up streets and being turned away, then having to fight my way back through other people trying to head up the same street. Have you ever watched a stick or leaf in a stream, hit a rough spot in the water and spin around? That happened to me. I was trying to get across the street, through a mass of people, and I was being pushed so hard from different directions that I got spun around in a circle. There wasn't anything to do except keep my arms close to my sides and try to keep moving in the direction I needed to go. I have to say, I'm not anxious to be in a crowd again anytime soon. I'm glad the State Fair isn't until October; if it were next week I don't think I could go.
I had to get to Allison's office at 18th and K streets, and I slowly made my way down to the other end of the mall and then north. On the corner right in front of her office there was a man playing "Happy Days Are Here Again" on a trumpet. It was magical.
In retrospect, I would have had a better viewing experience if I had left my ticket at home and stayed with Allison and Steve and their friends Sheri and John and Francoise. They took the bus, stood near the Washington Monument, and had a good view of the Jumbotrons. But then I wouldn't have gotten to walk on I-395, or meet Tom and Liz from Alaska, or the Master Chief. Or get the free button that C-SPAN gave me, or walk the length of the mall, which I had never done before. Or take a picture of myself with the Capitol on my head.