Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Inauguration, Part III -- The Journey Home

So the inauguration is over. I've been trying to communicate with some different friends who came to witness the event, with little to no success. My text message to S failed too, mainly because, on two hours of sleep, I used the first three digits of his cell and the last four digits of our home phone, doh! So since I can't reach any of them, I start heading home, quickly coming down from my high. First I stop by the warming tent to, well, warm up. I wander around the Lincoln Memorial some more, listening to Rev. Lowery and the poet. 

Onward. I'm walking against the crowd, who is heading west while I'm heading east. My goal is to walk up Independence Avenue, since the parade route would knock me too far off my route.

After I climb the Washington Monument's hill and veer south, I reach a massive crowd. Everyone is hemmed in by Port-a-Johns and no one seems able to cross 14th Street. Someone climbs atop the johns and others climb trees to call directions to the crowd.

Finally we're able to cross. I'm wondering if I made a mistake. The throngs slowly shuffle east. We end up halting again, directionless. Some folks are trying to get to a meeting spot for their buses. I'm just trying to get to the top of Capitol Hill. There's some pushing. But it's amazing how good-natured everyone is. At any other event, this kind of crowd would have led to trampling and cursing. But everyone here is so happy.

Someone had collapsed and is surrounded by police officers and that's what led to the bottleneck. 

After passing the ill person, the crowds claim Independence Avenue, ignoring the limos and VIPs -- until we reach the foot of Capitol Hill. Independence is closed and so is Third, despite the end of the event. A family clusters to ask directions. They're trying to get to Union Station to catch a train. I'm still feeling high from the event, and as a volunteer, want to help. Since I'm heading that way anyway, I offer to lead the way. 

So they follow me, a young family of five from Los Angeles. The three children probably range in age from 4 to 10. I take control of the daughter's suitcase and off we march. Poor child. After a while, at every bump, I seemed to drop the handle. My 2:45 a.m. alarm and two hours of sleep are taking their toll.

I made a call not to use the tunnel and it probably was a mistake. But I took a gamble that we'd reach the Amtrak station better from the east than four blocks west. That proved a mistake and if I could do it again, I would have used the tunnel. Actually, I would have boarded the family at Capitol South and told them to go to New Carrollton and catch Amtrak there. Wish I were psychic.

We make the trek to Union Station, up the hill, past the Library of Congress. The kids grumble a little but they're amazingly un-whiny, considering all the walking. I do my best DC tour guide routine, pointing out the Supreme Court and Obama's old apartment a few blocks in the distance.

We see Union Station at long last and the omens are bad. They have 10 minutes to spare before their 3 p.m. train to BWI to catch their 6:45 plane. Normally that would not be a problem. But the entire station is shut down. We go to the west entrance and it's closed, too. A security guard is bellowing that Amtrak, MARC and VRE passengers need to line up west of the station. There is a huge, unorganized crowd. The mom is crying.  

From future accounts of the mob, a lot of people were crying. New rule: when nearly 2 million people are expected in town for an inauguration, do not use a major transportation hub as a location for an inaugural ball. Thank you.

I leave them helpless with the upset masses while I try to figure out where the cab stand has been moved. I ask two police officers -- they shrug and say, "Good Luck." I walk down Capitol Street North. No luck. 

As I walk back up the hill, feeling helpless, I see Phoenix Park Hotel and think, well, maybe. The dad had said money was no problem when I warned him that cab fare could run $75, or on a day like this, even $100. I walk up to the lobby. A black town car pulls up and a woman in a fur coat asks a concierge if the towncar could take her and her friend to Dulles Airport. He arranges it. I ask him if a family could arrange transport to BWI. He thinks he can help. Since the dad said money is no object, I figured he'd tip the guy well and all would work out.

Off I trek, back to Union Station. The crowd is even more knotted and bigger. I don't think I'm going to find them, as short as I am. I scan the crowd. I see a tall man wearing a black knit cap with Obama in glittering letters. I found them! "Excuse me," I sing to person after person as I weavee through (sometimes, it helps to be small) and reach Ronald. Miraculously, the whole family is more or less together and off we troupe again.

When we reach Phoenix Park, I introduce the dad to the concierge as the rest of the family waits outside with the luggage. "Oh yeah," says the concierge. "The van will be back in about 20 and he can take you."

Their problem is solved. The dad gives me a hug and asks for my email and gives me his. The mom is out buying hot dogs but I find her before I go. They're both happy, the kids are glad to stop moving, and I'm beat. I give her a hug and then trudge home. 

By the time I get home, it's 4:30. Missed most of the parade but I'm happy one family will get home OK. And by 8:30, I'm in bed and sound asleep. What a day.

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