Wednesday, January 21, 2009

inauguration 2009 (my day in pictures)

16th and H, 7 A.M. My friends and I left College Park about two hours earlier, after a near-one hour wait to enter the parking garage.

What had started out as one of the most inspiring and memorable days of my young life quickly devolved into a show of everything that's wrong with people. With little or no direction as to where we could/should go to get on the Metro and cops who had seemingly no control over the increasingly unruly crowds on the Mall and along Independence Avenue SW, our trip home from the inauguration proceedings turned into a four-and-a-half-hour ordeal.

We found ourselves literally trapped in a Safeway at the Waterside Metro station, forced to choose between waiting outside in a line that stretched for two blocks or to hole up inside a grocery store where already disgruntled people had to wait over two hours to use a bathroom and others quickly resorted to stealing food. When we finally got in the station and at a train, people were pushing so hard that a woman nearly lost her son, and I heard her screaming his name as the doors shut.

While I did see many displays of kindness and goodwill that spoke to just how much Barack Obama has brought our nation together over the past year, I will never forget the people who pushed, shoved and cussed their way through the crowds, the men who tried to pick a fight with me after I asked them to quiet down so I could hear Obama's speech. It reminds me that we have still have far to go as a people and as a nation.

(See attached photoset.)

Approaching the Washington Monument. People were cheering, holding up posters, even handing out free food. For a moment, the Mall felt like the safest, most peaceful place on Earth.

Barack Obama's swearing-in. I thought Rick Warren's invocation was kind of inspiring, despite reports that most felt otherwise and my own desire for self-preservation.

Chaos on Independence Avenue SW as police vehicles force their way through an unruly crowd struggling to reach a Metro station. As the sea of faces parts, we see people carrying a man, face bloodied, who clearly had been trampled.

The line to get in L'Enfant Plaza station, 7th and Maryland Avenue. With conflicting reports from police as to which Metro stations are open or closed, people have no idea where to go and no one to direct them.

Safeway, 3rd and D Streets SW. Twenty-three blocks from the Mall, we reach the Waterfront station, which is packed, and take refuge inside the only store for blocks around.

Waterfront. "Everybody's gonna get home," calls a Metro employee from the top of the escalator. For the first time all day, it looks like someone knows what to do.


Steve said...

Why do you credit Obama for bringing the nation together but you don't give him credit for you almost getting beat up.

Seems to me if he's responsible for bringing that mass of people to see him he's responsible for their safety as well; no?

Thomas Hardman said...

President Obama might be bringing the nation together in terms of proving that the content of the character and the achievements of the individual -- not the color of the skin -- are the only limiting factors on success.

That being said, all too frequently folks are likely to encounter people who never quite understood the phrase "free your mind, and your ass will follow".

Thus, just because it's the dawn of a new era, don't expect triflin'-ass fools to vanish from the earth overnight. And in any crowd scene in DC, such folks are guaranteed to be in evidence.

Kudos, though, for braving the melee!

Metrorail and the crowd-control planners definitely have room for improvement. See also my reporting on the success/failure at the July 4th 2008 testing of the pedestrian-subway evacuation system. It would seem that it still needs a little work.