Monday, January 19, 2009

Avoiding Metro like the plague

I’m taking it easy in Maryland for the rest of the day – it’s a madhouse out there. I went to Capitol Hill to pick up my Inauguration tickets and have lunch with a friend at Union Station at noon, and was appalled by the scene. I was thinking about going to the American Indian museum to see the exhibits I missed in the summer, but it occurred to me that all of the three million tourists who didn’t arrive over the weekend are arriving today, and today is the day they’ll all be doing their tourist thing at museums and attractions around the city.

I know Union Station pretty well; as the Senate-side Hill Metro stop, lunch destination, liquor store, free WiFi hotspot (in places), closest movie theater to my summer apartment, and train station to BWI, it was the center of my universe for about five months. I barely recognized the place today – dozens of new kiosks had been set up inside the station (especially in the food court), and dozens of unlicensed vendors hocking cheap Obama gear outside. There were plenty of Obama gear vendors here this summer, but for every one summer vendor there are at least four now. I chose to get all my stuff from the more legit official websites, like these rock glasses from the Inaugural committee. The worst piece of vendor merchandise I’ve seen was a Che Guevera-style painting of Obama complete with red background, beard, and beret. I’ll have a picture of it once I’m back in NH and can upload my digital camera. All the pictures in this post are cell phone shots of today’s Union Station. I also have better camera pictures of today coming once I'm in NH.

I’m watching the National Mall crowds on MSNBC from my friend’s Maryland apartment. It might be fun to see all that live and experience it myself, but it just isn’t worth trying to get around DC. It’s not the public crowds or porta-potties that scare me, but the transportation snares. I never left Union Station or Columbus Circle so didn’t get to experience the inner-city Metro stations, but things on the opposite side of the platform looked pretty crazy. According to about an hour ago, “There are long lines at the ticket kiosks at Metro's Union Station stop, with people standing 10 deep. The trains are crowded almost as bad as rush hour, reports the Post's Mary Beth Sheridan.” Also, from another WaPo post: “Metro says yesterday's crowd for the inaugural welcoming ceremony and concert at the Lincoln Memorial set a Sunday ridership record of 616,324 trips, surpassing July 4, 1999 which had 540,945 trips. And the event went relatively smoothly, with no major malfunctions and no accidents.” Four of those trips were mine – if I weren’t here, it would have been 616,324. And of course, tomorrow they’ll have millions.

The problem is that so many of these folks are new to DC. Technically speaking I am a tourist myself right now, but having lived here I know how things work and don’t need to triple-check myself to get around. That can’t be said of 90% of the other folks here. I spent 15 minutes waiting in line at a Metro ticket machine behind just three people, but finished purchasing my own ticket in just 30 seconds. (Man, how I wish I hadn’t forgotten my SmarTrip card in NH.)

Tomorrow is going to be a zoo. I’m going to Metro in around 7am and not touch the subway again until I’m ready to leave. I’ll try not to transfer lines, but I don’t know how I can do that coming in. We’ll see. In fact, it must be getting worse out there as I type, as I just got an unexpected text message announcing the unscheduled closure of the Judiciary Square Metro F St entrance.

One thing I've noticed about the crowds is this, and keep in mind it's all anecdotal: the crowd seems to be a mix of younger white people and all ages of black people. The friend I'm staying with agrees, and offers this analysis: younger people are more able to travel then older people, hence the lack of middle-aged white folks, and if you're black and you or your parents lived through segregation and oppression, there's no way you're staying away from this. The subway crowd is a little bit more of a mix than the ground-level mobs, but not by too much.

The one thing everyone is worried about but me is the weather. Yes, 35 degrees is very cold, but for me it’s a tropical vacation – waiting for the bus in New Hampshire on Saturday morning, it was 14 below. This is 50 degrees warmer for me, just like jumping from 30 to 80. The inch of snow they’re expecting tonight, though, could complicate the already complicated traffic and road closures. (This picture, btw, is of the Union State main hall central restaurant getting ready for a fancy bipartisan dinner with Obama honoring Joe Biden tonight.)

In light of all these crowds, I’m staying “home” for the rest of the night. Not sure what I would do otherwise anyways, as I already considered and decided against the official Youth Ball, the NH/SC-sponsored Grits and Granite ball, and the Netroots Nation and Junior Statesman Foundation parties. All were cheap compared to the real balls, but still too much for me. There are no other official events open to the public today except the RFK Stadium soldier care-package service event, but it’s too tough to get out there. Speaking of servicemen, though, I tip my hat to the tens of thousands of police officers, National Guardsmen, FBI officers, and Secret Service agents in town. This has to be an even worse weekend for them than it is for the retail clerks and Metro workers, but so far they have all been polite and out-of-the way. Thank you, guys! Stay safe!

And one last note: MSNBC Just announced that Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester will be riding horses in the Inaugural parade. The lady anchor mispronounced the Governor’s name, calling him “Shweat-zer.” I just don't comprehend the crowds behind them on the Mall... there's nothing going on, and yet hundreds of thousands of folks are there!!

I'll close with a homemade video a friend found of Bishop Robinson's prayer from yesterday's Lincoln Memorial concert. The Inaugural Committee scheduled the prayer ten minutes before the HBO broadcast started and the speakers on my side of the Reflecting Pool were temporarily down so I missed this - my own bishop and I missed it! - so I am grateful that the right-side speakers worked and someone put it on YouTube. Also, the Diocese of Washington's communications director writes at Episcopal Cafe that +Gene will sit with the new President for the parade and that his prayer will be replayed on the Jumbotrons before the swearing-in tomorrow. That should make up for any Rick Warren envy, eh? I'm further grateful that I'll get to see +Gene in New Hampshire on Wednesday evening for an ordination - busy week for him!


Cany said...

Great post from the ground there! I'd avoid the metro too!

Thanks for the video link, also. Very interested.

Have fun tomorrow and pray extra hard for me!

Jordan said...

I think there's more to it than that. I'm fairly confident that middle-aged white folks just aren't as enthusiastic as the young white crowd.

Nathan Empsall said...

True, young folks tend to be a little more liberal than middle-aged folks, regardless of the era or race.