We arrived on the mall at 6:00 AM and it was clear that everyone had gotten the memo. Arrive early, stake out your place, and, if you’re a ticket holder, find your gate. If the Metro stop seemed somewhat orderly due to the nature of walking up a stair case in a single file line, the mall was pandemonium. Thousands of people swarmed this way and that. The pace was much faster than the station. There were enough spaces to run. Hundreds of buses were unloading on the side streets. Few people had knowledge on what streets were closed or open. It was obvious that everyone was trying to navigate their direction parallel to the mall, but in certain areas, you couldn’t walk on the mall OR parallel to the mall. We were left scrambling, tripping and falling over each other in a maze of blocked off side streets for that desired gate, grassy spot, and view. The added element of darkness gave the whole scene an eerily scary feeling. Almost like those scenes in the Titanic where everyone was making their way to the lifeboats. There weren’t enough for everyone (to quote Kate Winslet "Not enough by half"), people were desperately trying to stay together, and each person thought they knew the better way. I saw people trampling shrubs and landscaping in front of buildings that lined the mall. Every once in a while someone would go down, ultimately because we weren’t looking down, just pushing on the body in front of us. Mothers were carrying babies shrouded in blankets; again there were wheel chairs, walkers, elders with canes and most notable at this point, busloads of individuals wearing matching clothing. Stick together. No matter what.-don’t lose your party. Did I mention that it was dark? And cold?
Part of our challenge was the Blue gate was pretty close to the Capitol. Most people were trying to make their way toward the back of the mall, away from the Capitol because that’s where the open, un-ticketed space was. We were going against the grain. By the time we found the Blue Gate the line was well formed. Under the banner, a big mass of people had clumped together and from that, a line snaked across the street and down the block. We joined the line about 100 feet from the mass. It seemed like a relief. Whew. We're here. we made it to the spot. Now, we wait. People continued to pour passed us. “What color line is this?” “Which way to the silver/orange/purple?” At some point we determined it was 6:50. I was looking down and when I looked up, I saw the faintest hint of the sun rising. “Hey, the sun’s coming up. It’s a new day.” Those standing around us marked the start of this day. It was 1.20.09. Bush’s last day. Obama’s first. We all hailed the marker, and the lump returned to my throat.
Views from our place in line - the image on the right was taken by some friends from Minnesota who's starting point at the Blue Gate was closer than ours. Notice the variations of hats. Note the fancy straw hat immediately infront of us in contrast with the facemasked bundle next to her. Click on the images for larger views.