Today is Thursday. It has been a week since the Inauguration. This morning I woke up on a couch in my girlfriend’s apartment. Last Thursday I woke up wrapped in my jacket in a car parked on a street surrounded by snow and homeless people.
I’ll start my story there.
Steve and I woke up at 6:15 when our phone alarms went off. It had been a very uneasy sleep. We tried sleeping with the car turned off, but when we started showing the symptoms of frostbite we turned the car back on. If I remember correctly we were actually awake before the alarms went off; we just didn’t want to get moving any sooner than we absolutely had too.
The car was moving 30 seconds after we woke up. We had our day planned out ahead of time. We drove into the city. Traffic was light. We found a parking garage near the LCV office and paid $10 to park their all day. We changed in the garage. Then we grabbed breakfast across the street. We went to a place called Cosi. It was a little chain sandwich place. We each got a coffee and a bagel sandwich. The bagel was square, which was pretty wacky, and the eggs on my sandwich had the consistency of Jell-O. I didn’t care. It still tasted good.
Coffee in hand (which made us feel like we had had 8 hours of sleep) we walked towards the mall and towards the parade.
There weren’t many people walking about at 7:30 in the morning. There were, however, caravans of Secret Service agents in black SUVs driving up and down the streets. The agents in the back seats had the windows rolled down and were holding assault rifles. They weren’t pointing them out the windows, but they had the butt of the rifle under their armpit, so at the very sight of a turban wearing terrorist they could aim and fire.
We tried to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. Good luck with that one, buddy. The street was blocked off with 10 foot steel walls, concrete barriers, and city buses. Yes, I said city buses.
We walked pass the White House down towards the Mall. I was really looking forward to seeing the Mall covered in snow. We had gotten a glimpse the day before, but we were stuck in traffic at the time and I had to concentrate on that.
Nobody was on the Mall. There wasn’t a single car on the streets. The sun was just starting to come up. It was like a movie.
I made Steve walk over to the new World War II to take a couple of pictures. I wanted to see how they commemorated Saipan, Guam, and Tinian.
If I had been by myself I probably would have walked over to the Lincoln Memorial, but Steve was getting pretty antsy. He was looking forward to running in front of Bush’s motorcade and starting a riot, so we decided to walk towards the parade route.
I wasn’t too sure where the parade was or where the security checkpoints were, but I knew that it ran from the Capital to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue. So we just headed towards the Capital. We walked between the White House and the Washington Monument, which was closed and being refurbished. We saw a sign outside of the White House that read “100% ID Check”. The two of us imagined a Secret Service agent asking you for your blockbuster card and your library card. We probably joked about that for 5 minutes. (I’m just trying to give you a sense that the two of us are dorks, is it working?)
Walking up Constitution towards the Capital we passed a couple of security checkpoints with long lines already extending out of them.
While walking along Constitution, we were blocked off from heading towards Pennsylvania Avenue on one side and the Mall on the other, so we just kept on walking. We dead-ended at a security checkpoint in front of the National Gallery. They weren’t letting people in yet, so we just waited. There were probably about 50 people already waiting when we got there; by the time they let us in at 10:00 there were over 500.
Security was a joke; it was designed to scare away any terrorists, not to really stop them. First we passed through steel barriers guarded by the National Guard. It was their job to turn away anyone wearing a backpack. No backpacks allowed! Then we entered a “security tent”. Males went to male screeners and females went to female screeners. We had to open up our jackets and we got patted down. They didn’t check my jacket and they didn’t check Steve’s bag. That was it. We just passed right through.
We found out later that they weren’t allowing fruit because they could be used as projectiles. Never mind that the snow on the ground could easily be packed into snowballs. They weren’t allowing open water bottles, either (I had one in my jacket pocket that they didn't find). I also saw people with backpacks, which supposedly weren’t allowed. They didn’t allow American flags or crosses, but they did allow people to bring in signs. They just couldn’t bring in sign posts.
On the drive up Steve and I had joked that it would be funny if there were troops or cops lining the entire parade route. We were shocked to find our joke come true. Bitter, bitter, irony.
At first it wasn’t too bad. You could tell that there were cops lining the whole parade route, but they were bunched up into groups, talking to each other, eating, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and talking on their cell phones (That’s Chicago’s finest for ya).
We scouted out a spot on the corner of 4th and Pennsylvania at the start of the parade route. We were in a little section sandwiched between some bleachers and a security trailer, across the street from the Canadian Embassy. We were the first people in the section. From where stood we could see the left-center section of the Capital. We were too far away too make out any details of the stage, but I think we could see it. There was a big TV screen to one side. We could sort of make out the image of whoever was on screen. That was how we knew when Bush was accepting the inauguration. (Do you accept an inauguration?)
We were directly across the street from the ANSWER Coalition rally (something, something to Stop War and End Racism). It seemed pretty pathetic to me. I was hoping for hundreds of thousands of protestors, but I think we only got a few thousand to show up. But anyway, they had a stage set up and some of their own bleachers. They all had signs. None of them really said anything new; it was mostly anti-war. They had the usual complaints. Why are we at war when people don’t have jobs, healthcare, that kind of thing. They chanted and rallied all day. Some of the chants were hard to understand, but they all circled around the theme that Bush sucks.
Steve and I just stayed in our spot and tried not to think about how cold our toes were.
Although getting something illegal into the parade would have been easy, actually using it would have been impossible. Running into the street was out of the question. The snipers on every roof top would have ensured that we wouldn’t get further than four or five steps (probably more like two). The police, although friendly at first, would have been another barrier. All the cops had really long batons, pistols, and gas masks. Breaking the law was out of the question.
The only thing we could really do was sit on the sidelines and protest behind the two rows of steel barriers and freedom walls of cops separating us from the parade route.
Our section only starting filling up when the section with the protestors across the street was full. Steve and I had been worried that we would be surrounded by Bush supporters. Most of the people waiting with us at the security checkpoint were Bush people. They were easy to spot. They had fur coats, cowboy hats, W pins, and a dull, glazed-over look in their eyes. We were pleasantly surprised. We were completely surrounded by Bush haters. It was great! I wasn’t really into it because of sleep deprivation and frostbite, but we got all our old LCV cheers going. "This parade sucks! How much did it cost?!"
The other side of the parade route got pretty rowdy. The cops looked nervous, so they formed four freedom walls between the protestors and the parade route. On our side we only had two freedom walls, maybe two and a half.
We waited for hours for the parade to start. Our section was 99% Bush haters, but the bleachers we were near were 100% Bush supporters. On the other side of the bleachers, where there was more standing room, there were more Bush haters. I think that was the general layout of the parade route. 100% support in the expensive seats; 100% dissent in the poor seats.
Before the parade started, the dignitaries and big time Bush supporters had to be bussed up to the special White House parade viewing area. We held up our signs every time one of these buses drove by. Some people gave us the thumbs up, some the thumbs down, others the middle-finger. We generally returned the favor.
The parade started with a DC Metro motorcycle brigade. They got booed. That wasn't cool. Then representatives from each branch of the military marched by. They didn’t necessarily get booed (again, not cool), but we chanted anti-Bush slogans as they marched by.
There was a caravan of GOP leaders in the middle of the parade. They got really harassed. I think the only jackass who wasn’t there was Karl Rove.
When Bush finally drove by the crowd went wild. Well, what we thought was Bush anyways. I saw Laura in one of the limos, but I didn’t see W. He drove by in a caravan of about 10 huge black SUVs, with SS agents hanging out the windows and running along side the cars. They were going about 30 mph. So much for a parade. I saw a couple of projectiles launch from the other side of the road just before the entire parade route turned their back on Bush.
That was it.
Dick Cheney came by next. He was driving even faster. His limo literally left the SS agents running along his car in the dust.
That was it. That’s why we drove 860 miles.
There was more parade, but we didn’t stick around to watch it.
To make a long story short, we got something to eat, put on some more socks, went out for a couple of drinks, spent the night at a hotel that Ed paid for and drove home the next morning.
Here are some pictures: