Things looked good at first on Metro today.
The way down was a breeze, at least relative to ’09. Back then, I remember being stuck in the L’Enfant Plaza station for more than an hour, waiting for the enormous crowd to move the 50-some feet from the train to the turnstiles. A woman fainted, and no assistance was possible. People took to chanting repetitive refrains to stay sane.
This time, the trip from Georgia Ave-Petworth to Capitol South—-including a transfer at notorious L’Enfant—-took no more than half an hour. It was so remarkably bearable that my girlfriend and I treated ourselves to a mocha and muffin at Cosi to pass the time until we needed to enter the security area to watch the inaugural ceremony.
The way back was a different story. Since vantage was nearly impossible, we employed the same strategy as ants. Well, no, ants have some degree of agency; it was more like a stream of water. We simply followed the path of least resistance, moving where the crowd flowed and avoiding where it didn’t. The approximately two hours of shuffling claustrophobia between Beyoncé‘s crescendoing “home of the bra-a-ave” and our entry into the Metro can be broken down into four segments.
Attempt #1: Union Station
We began our return journey in Section 8 of the seated area on the Capitol slope and had the brilliant idea of stopping somewhere for a coffee while the crush subsided. I suggested Ebenezer’s: The out-of-town rubes filling the Mall would never think of walking past Union Station to a neighborhood coffee shop. Our plan was foolproof. Except the rivulets moving northward were soon turned northwestward by the same mysterious forces that shift the course of a water droplet down a window, and then straight westward, and then southward, and then westward again, and Union Station began to seem like a distant dream. (And a good thing, too: Looking back later, the crowd appeared stationary in our former pen, probably blocked in by an unseen fence and/or parade.)
So we moved on to Attempt #2, but first, an interlude:
Interlude: Porta Potty
This is not a very interesting story, but the line was very long, and just as we got to the front of ours, it was revealed by Those Before Us that the porta potty we’d been waiting for was unusable. A child peeked in and ran out screaming. It was that bad. So bottom line, the interlude stretched out to a 20-some-minute bladder bout. But then finally, it was on to….
Attempt #2: Gallery Place-Chinatown
Screw it, we thought, we’re already halfway to Chinatown. Let’s cut out the transfers, suck up the long lines, and just go for it. No such luck. As we approached Pennsylvania Avenue, where a crowd about four deep stood behind a long fence, a security guard informed us of our options.
“There’s a parade coming through,” he said. “You can either stay here and watch the parade, or you can exit to the south. Those are your only choices.”
We’d just watched the president speak and Beyoncé sing and Kelly Clarkson howl. A parade held no interest. We turned southward, with the idea of walking the seven-ish blocks to L’Enfant Plaza.
Attempt #3: L’Enfant Plaza
Upon reaching Independence Avenue, we found it blocked off by a tall fence. We asked the security guard how we could get over to L’Enfant.
“Walk down to C or D and turn,” he said.
Aye-aye. We continued southward. But before we reached C Street, we hit a huge, stationary throng. A quick jump revealed that the masses stretched all the way to the Federal Center SW station and beyond. C Street was blocked off in both directions. We had no choice but to wait in a 3,000-person line for a station we had no desire to enter, hoping that at the station, we could turn right on D Street and walk to L’Enfant.
An ambulance a block in front of us turned on its siren and approached the crowd. We laughed. But eventually we somehow cleared enough space for it to pass.
After about half an hour, we reached D Street, which was of course blocked off. The line to the Federal Center SW station was so bunchy and snaky that it wasn’t really possible to discern where it started and ended, but one thing was clear: We wanted no part of it. Pushing our way a block further to Virginia Avenue, we saw that the crush there was just as bad. L’Enfant wasn’t happening. On to…
Attempt #4: Waterfront
Surely no one would be so defeatist as to walk all the way down to the Southwest Waterfront from their original target of Union Station or Chinatown. We’d have the place to ourselves.
The trek down 4th Street revealed otherwise. The sidewalks were packed. But the crowd was moving. Since no one was insane enough to bike toward the Mall at a time like this, we strolled down the northbound bike line toward toward the glistening glass canopy of the Waterfront Metro entrance. As we descended the escalator, a woman on crutches at the bottom fell, and the resulting backup nearly brought us all to an untimely end. But ultimately, we made it to the platform and onto a Greenbelt-bound train.
I will never do this again.
Not for another four years.