Monday, December 22, 2008

Where Not to Be on January 20th

I’m not a fan of Barack Obama, so there is no reason for me to attend the inauguration on January 20, other than the historic nature of inaugurating the first black, or half-black, President of the United States.

But whatever motivation I might have had to attend this historic event has been buried by all the reasons not to, reasons so numerous that Washington, DC and the surrounding environs are nowhere near the top of my list of “Places I’d Like to Be on January 20th,” even though two daughters and five grandchildren live nearby.

The largest crowd to attend an inauguration was 1.2 million in 1965 to see Lyndon Baines Johnson sworn in. The predictions for this one are up to five million, more than four times as many people as attended Johnson’s inaugural.

Only the 240,000 people with tickets will be able to really attend the swearing-in, and will flank the steps of the Capitol to watch Mr. Obama take the oath at around noon eastern time. The other thousands or millions will be crammed into the National Mall.

The Washington Post reported that officials are preparing for far fewer than the five million maximum predicted, expecting only 1.5 million for the parade route and the Mall area, and have ordered only 5,000 porta-potties to handle the crowd. That could be a critical error if the upper predictions are reached. At 1.5 million people, that’s one porta-potty for every 300 people, and at an average of three minutes a visit means that if you are #300 for a porta-potty, you will have a 15-hour wait. Ouch!

Another report said that the District of Columbia is preparing for 2.5 to three million people, and City officials have said they are expecting about 10,000 tour buses to bring groups to the inauguration. Officials may close the Southeast-Southwest Freeway to accommodate bus parking, and that would require the closing of the Roosevelt and 14th Street bridges, major arteries for traffic across the Potomac River between D.C. and Virginia, said City Administrator Dan Tangherlini. Can you spell “gridlock?”

If you aren’t able to stay within walking distance to the goings on, imagine trying to drive in or into the District that Tuesday, or to ride the Metro.

Where are 5,000,000 people going to stay? Or even 1.5 million? It’s hard to find an exact number of hotel rooms in the area, but one source said there were 478 hotels. Assuming each one had 200 rooms, that’s less than 100,000 rooms, and that means that thousands of people will not be staying in hotel rooms or other newly-found rental rooms in and close to DC. They will have to stay as much as an hour or two away, and drive or ride into town, or perhaps become homeless for a few days.

The demands on security forces are horrendous, and there is a long, long list of things people normally carry with them that won’t be allowed, in addition to the predictable items such as firearms, explosives and other weapons. Such things as chairs, umbrellas, jewelry (for security scanning purposes), baby strollers or bicycles, packages, backpacks and duffle bags, suitcases, coolers, thermoses, thermal or glass containers, alcoholic beverages, signs and posters are verboten.

During the ceremonies, those on the Mall are going to be shoulder to shoulder, and moving around won’t be easy. They will have to stand or sit on the ground for hours. Where will they get food? How will they navigate to a porta-potty?

All in all, it sounds pretty unpleasant, and unless you enjoy misery, going to the inauguration of Barack Obama is not on your list, either.

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