Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inauguration Horror Stories

Everyone that attends a presidential inauguration has a horror story. This latest one produced more than the usual number mostly because more people attended than ever. One of the many travesties that occurred is now being called The Purple Tunnel by those that survived it. Thousands of people with tickets for the Purple viewing area were trapped for hours inside a highway underpass tunnel. Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy was there. The Washington Post puts the blame on the Capitol Police for not anticipating the above normal turnout and refusing additional help from the National Guard and volunteers. As a result of institutional pride, many thousands were denied their chance to see this historical event.

The best views of the inauguration are held for the roughly quarter million people clever enough to cadge tickets from their congressman and that is why these purple and silver ticket holders that never even made it in the gate are so full of umbrage. Most people just hoofed it in and took their chances with wherever they could get. Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Curmudgeon and former Jeopardy contestant, gave his first person account of how the hoi polloi saw the ceremony (short version: not very well) to Wonkette and kept up their little running gag of the whole inauguration as being an unmitigated nightmare. After reading the Post article, I'm not sure how much creative license was required.

But miserable inaugurations are a time honored tradition. Sue of The Conical Glass tells of seeing Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993 and her only defining memory is:
Boy, that was sure cold and boring.
I want to find whatever nitwit moved the swearing in from March where the weather in DC is occasionally decent to January when it inevitably inclement. I too went to an inauguration. It was 2001 and the bitter Bush-Gore recount was settled 5-4 just in time for the ceremony.

My son was in fifth grade where they used to teach government only to have it moved to third grade while he was in fourth. I took it upon myself to home-school him in a little civics by taking him and a classmate to the inauguration. The ceremony was on a Saturday and I didn’t even have to take off to go to it.

My wife cleverly got two tickets from our senator at the time, Paul Sarbanes. Then she got two more tickets in an entirely different viewing area from our congressman Ben Cardin, who is now our senator (And Paul Sarbanes's son, John is now our congressman. Don't talk to me about there not being dynasties in American politics).

Unlike the Purple Tunnel of Death experience, the logistics went flawlessly. We took the Metro in and had plenty of time to go over to the Hart Building to get the two tickets that hadn't been mailed to us.

But trust me, getting one of those vaunted tickets is no guarantee of a good view. Since we had tickets in entirely different areas, we had to split up, my wife and I each taking one kid. I finally found an section of the roped off area where I could get a view of both the swearing in stage and a video screen without enormous trees in my line of sight. The pictures in this post are from my pre-digital Minolta Maxxum and faithfully capture the ugly dreary day it was. Bitter cold, damp and misty, the ceremony was anti-climatic to say the least.

Jumbotron technology was not what it is today and the sound was thin and crackly. I held my son on my shoulders as much as I could. I'm certain one of those people on the stage in the picture is Dubya, but it would take NSA level computers to determine which one.

Back in those days it was conceivable to see the ceremony and the parade with just a little hustle. Using cellphones we regrouped somewhere on Pennsylvania to try to see the parade. Nearly all the good vantage points had been taken up by elaborate viewing bleachers that have since been ruled unconstitutional. Much of the rest of the sidewalk was taken up by protestors with clever and sometimes not very child-safe slogans (Puns on 'Bush' when picketing for reproductive rights never get tired). They were far more entertaining than anything else we saw that day. Nevertheless, we used the wedge of two elementary school kids to muscle to the front. After at least another hour in the cold, we saw several limos drive by, one of which might have contained the president.

By then the cold mist had grown into a drizzle and we decided to cut our losses. We were on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue and once the parade starts, there is no crossing the street. Even before 9/11, the inauguration security protocol inexplicably calls for the closing of the Smithsonian Metro station.

That left Federal Triangle as the only station in service anywhere near us. A human funnel formed just outside the station and once you were in it there was no choice but to get sucked along with it. As seems like a mandatory measure for the Metro, at least one escalator was roped, but the others kept running like a bad I Love Lucy sketch without regard for the lack of space on the platform that it was disgorging riders onto. How we got back to our car at the park-in-ride is one long bad memory that I have suppressed for years.

Still, we made it home alive and with the right number and identity of the children we had left with. After that I swore off inaugurations forever and I was not too eager to celebrate anything relating to Bush's second term. I watched Obama get sworn in with about a dozen coworkers in our conference room on a 20” set with snowy rabbit ears. I may not have been part of history but I wasn’t in the Purple Tunnel of Doom either. At least those people have a great story to tell: How I Didn’t See Obama’s Inauguration.

Mine isn’t quite as colorful, but equally tragic: I Saw The Worst President In History Get Sworn In BEFORE He Was An Epic Failure.


Sue T. said...

I watched the inauguration at home, with the heat on, on my big high def plasma TV. Boy, was it pleasant.

Anonymous said...

You might want to check the second half of the second sentence in your penultimate paragraph. I think you're missing a negative of some sort.

I wouldn't have gone either. Way too many people and you see less than watching on TV or the computer.

yellojkt said...

Thanks. Fixed.

Mooselet said...

Australians can't understand why, after winning an election in November, the new President has to wait more than two months before getting the job. I'd forgotten about the March thing. Maybe it should be moved up even further, since transport is no longer an issue.

Hee - my word veri is "busti".

Anonymous said...

The problem isn't so much the moving up the Inauguration to January, it's the foolishness of holding it outside. There's nothing that says you have to do this thing on the steps of the Capitol Building, but there you go and there they are.

Of course, it's not as though the Verizon Center can accommodate a couple million people, so you have that issue to deal with. But: suppose they held it somewhere relatively small, like Verizon Center, and then licensed Pay Per View everywhere else, with proceeds going to any number of charities: food banks, homeless shelters, free clinics, and so forth. No free TV for this event. Imagine the income this would have generated for these causes.