The Inauguration Part 3; The Long Road Home

We turned 90 degrees to our right, and began making our way south off the Mall. We were heading toward the Enfant Plaza Metro station that would put us on the orange line, and take us to New Carrolton. It was 1:15 pm.


The crowd streaming out was more relaxed than the one heading in. While there were no wild whoops or chants, there was a levity to the atmosphere. The sun was shining. It wasn’t terribly cold. There hadn’t been a massive terror attack. People were happy.


Maybe it was the route we took, but there were far fewer Obama vendors on the way out than there were on the way in. I was a little disappointed, because now I was ready to pick up a souvenir.


We headed east, making our way toward Enfant Plaza. When we got there, we saw a crowd of people ascending a staircase, heading across a open patio space and moving toward a door into what looked like a sandwich shop. Someone (not a cop, nor red-hat volunteer) said this was the way to the Metro, so we joined in.


We got to the top of the stairs in about a minute, and onto the patio space, where I saw the crowd in front of us, which I guessed to be about 500 people, trying to squeeze into some sort of mall cafe through two standard glass doors that opened outward. It was absolutely jammed, and the crowd at the door was not moving. We decided we wanted no part of this funnel of chaos, and turned around and fought our way against the crowd, back onto the street.


Unsure whether to go left or right, we asked two girls who somehow seemed to know where the other entrances to the station were. (The thousands of cops and thousands of volunteers that were said to be swarming all over DC were nowhere to be seen. Completely disappeared. Maddening.) The girls told us we could get to the Metro station by going through the Enfant Plaza mall. They pointed us to the entrance, about 100 feet back from where we were. We thanked them and headed that way.


Enfant Plaza, at least the part we encountered, is a low-ceilinged hallway with stores and eateries on both sides. Most were closed. There was a line of about 100 men just inside the door to the right. It was for the men’s room. The line for the ladies room was, not surprisingly, about three times as long. I was extremely thankful none of our party needed the facilities.


We made our way through the mall, until we hit a wall of people, filling the hallway. A sign about 100 feet ahead of us pointed the way to the Metro. Here was another mass of humanity that was not moving. C was happy because she was finally warm. The cold had not been much of an issue for J or I, but C, despite all her long underwear and other sartorial preparations, was freezing.


The wall of humanity heading for the Metro stop in Enfant Plaza

The wall of humanity heading for the Metro stop in Enfant Plaza



We stood with the crowd for about ten minutes, when there was a sudden surge, and we moved about 15 feet forward before stopping again. By now, there were hundreds of people behind us, as well. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder for another 15 minutes without moving. I was getting pretty hot, but it was too crowded for me to take off my coat.


Not moving, and becoming more compressed by the minute, we debated the wisdom of continuing along this path. It was anyone’s guess as to when we would be able to get into the station at the rate we were going (or, more accurately, not going). After much discussion, we made the collective decision to abandon our present tack, head back onto the street, walk down to the next station and hope for the best. Bad decision number three.


We turned around, and began making our way through the crowd. We were moving, single-file with me leading the way, against the current. I was shocked to see how many people were now filling the hallway of Enfant Plaza. There may have been hundreds of people in front of us, but there were now thousands behind us. Like salmon, we bumped and banged our way upstream through the long hallway, that was now packed all the way out to the street.


Back on the street, we made our way east toward the next stop. Once there, a policeman informed us, via bullhorn, that the station was closed and the trains weren’t running. He didn’t know when the situation would change. We decided to walk ahead to the next stop.


Ten minutes later, we saw a line of people two blocks long, waiting to get into the station. The line wasn’t moving. We decided to walk to the next stop. At this point, we were all getting a bit cold, tired and cranky. There was not a lot of conversation. I was wondering just how far we’d end up walking. J was holding up like a trooper, but C was not happy.


We went over highway barricades, through a hole in a chain link fence, up freeway ramps, through crowded intersections. There were throngs of people everywhere. We paused to buy a couple hot chocolates from a little girl who had set up a table in front of her house. This was the first and only time we would not encounter a line of at least 50 people.



We finally got to a Metro station where we could (with the crowd, of course) make our way down the escalators and onto the platform. By the time we got on an orange line train bound for New Carrolton, it was 4:15. Three hours since we left the Mall.


My brother picked us up at New Carrolton, and we made our way back to my mother’s house. I wanted a beer, but we still had the drive back home ahead of us, so I settled for a coffee.


We packed up and got on the road as quickly as possible. It’s a four-hour derive under normal circumstances, and I had no idea what sort of northbound post-inauguration traffic we’d encounter.


The highways of Maryland, Delaware and the first 20 miles of the New Jersey Turnpike flew by just fine. Then we hit a wall of standstill traffic. We would sit in it for over three hours. This time it wasn’t a bad decision, just bad luck. The Department of Homeland Security, working on a tip, had detained a southbound vehicle that was believed to driven by a heavily armed man, and was loaded with explosives. The authorities shut down the Turnpike in both directions between exits 1 and 4, and had a suspect in custody. We were just past exit two. Had we left either an hour earlier, or an hour later, we would have been spared.


We straggled home well past midnight and crawled into bed. It felt like a long time between that moment, and 7:00 that morning, when we had embarked upon our odyssey. The next day, we would learn that the tipoff that had shut down the Turnpike for hours was a hoax. Seems the mother of the man driving the car hadn’t wanted him to make the trip, and called in the tip to stop him. She had done this before. Thanks, Mom!




When C asked J what he would tell his classmates about the experience, he replied, “It was the most boringest day of my life.” I’m sympathetic to his point of view. Our moments on the Mall were amazing. We witnessed history. The enormity of that moment will only continue to grow over the years. We’ll always be able to say, “We were there.” In time, the pain that surrounded the moment will fade, and we’ll only remember the wonder and the joy we felt. Kinda like childbirth (so I’ve been told).


Attending the inauguration of Barack Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And that’s probably just as well.




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