Yes We Can (Be Prepared for Inauguration Day in DC)!
Much has already been said, recommended, and warned of with regard to the 2009 Inauguration of the President of the United States already — some of it is essential and not necessarily obvious to someone who doesn’t live in DC, but other advice I’ve read has been so basic that if you didn’t already plan for it, I am curious about how you’ve made it this far without falling into a well-marked hole somewhere. For instance, I trust The Window Seat readers who plan to attend are smart enough to know to wear comfortable walking shoes and expect to get a lot of use out of them over the next couple of days. And if you didn’t already plan to bring a warm jacket and dress in layers with a granola bar or two tucked in the pockets (Secret Service says no backpacks or bags allowed), you should probably just plan stay home and watch it on TV at this point.
I don’t mean to sound edgy, except that I am. You see, while I am ridiculously excited to join in the celebratory fray this inauguration day, I’m equally anxious that we’re all so eager to be a part of it, we haven’t done our homework to prepare and that’s going to cause problems not just for us, but for everyone around us. So I’ve outlined the five most important things for an inauguration rookie to know, based on my five years of living in DC and my attendance at the other raucous inauguration in recent memory, the contentious swearing-in of George W. Bush in 2000, at which protesters threw oranges to symbolize the Florida recount, and supporters in fur coats and cowboy hats tangled with enormous crowds of angry college kids, retired hippies, and disappointed environmentalists shouting “not my president!”
By all accounts, while this inauguration looks to be potentially just as nutty, it will be far less controversial: between Barack Obama’s uniting message of hope and his undisputed victory, the crowds here are likely to be overwhelmingly supportive of the 44th president of the United States. But many of those loyal and admiring fans are coming from far and wide to participate, and this post is intended to help them cope with the all-out onslaught of humanity, security barricades, and gridlock into which they are about to plunge.
1. Allow extra time – lots of it.
Many people who are coming to DC for the inauguration will have been there before. They will know that generally a trip from Dupont Circle to Union Station can take 15 minutes via Metro or not more than 10 minutes via taxi. During the inauguration and the days just before and after it, you should allow about quadruple that amount of time, not count on being able to get a taxi, and prepare to wait a couple trains to board the Metro. Even if you get a cab, it’s not going to be able to get anywhere fast. In short, you should prepare to hoof it, which also means knowing how to get to your destination by a number of different routes –streets that look open on a map will likely be closed and you are going to have to take a lot of detours.
If the high estimates – over 2 million — of people expected to descend upon the District are right, the transportation system is going to be a serious mess. Prepare to walk at least 2-3 miles to get to the National Mall or anywhere near the White House or Capitol: security perimeters tend to expand as events draw nearer (just ask the reporters who were in Denver and Minneapolis for party conventions this past summer) and the crowds will swell. Hope may be the virtue we talked about the most leading up to this day, but on January 20, patience is the one you’ll need the most.
If you somehow manage to jump on the first Metro that comes or hail a cab in easily-flowing traffic (which? my guess is that you are up before dawn if that happens) and secure the perfect vantage point, don’t grumble at the fact that now you have to wait forever. People watch, soak in the scene, gloat at your good spot…you are cozy warm and plenty nourished because you dressed in layers and you have that granola bar to munch on, remember?
A final couple of notes about the Metro:
- if rain is even a remote possibility, get a SmartTrip card…they won’t crumble in the rain like the regular farecards do.
- Check out the map ahead of time and figure out alternate routes to your destination. If you are at Metro Center trying to get to Capitol Hill, for instance, and the Red Line is jammed and you can’t get to Union Station, consider switching over to the Blue/Orange Line and disembarking at the Capitol South stop instead.
- For Metro newbies: unlike most subway systems, you gotta have your card to get in and out of the Metro stations, so have it at the ready at all times.
- And finally, for god’s sake, if you must bring your little kids (I know, I know, they have to be a part of this history and won’t the photos be precious…but man, I worry about little kids in the crush of people that is undoubtedly going to be part of the whole Inauguration Day experience – Secret Service also says no strollers), hold onto to them tight than you ever have before when you’re in the Metro and once you emerge into the inaugural crowds.
2. Keep your head up, unless you are in Georgetown.
If you are in Georgetown you better put your head on a swivel, because you gotta look up and down – that’s because many of the ancient side streets in DC’s most charming neighborhood are still cobblestoned, which means they are uneven and hard to navigate, not to mention that Georgetowners love their dogs but they are not as fond of picking up the mess they leave behind. Regardless of what neighborhood you’re in this week, you’ll need to concentrate on something you’re not used to focusing on: just walking around. A lot of people who have never been to DC before, and even those who have lived there for years, are going to be stopping on a dime to gawk at statues, buildings, and the A-listers they (think) they see. Why am I making this a separate tip, you ask? Because during the 2000 inauguration, I witnessed at least two near-cataclysmic collisions that involved some seriously unfortunate combinations, like the two frail old ladies who almost got razed by a group of angry bandana-wearing protestors, and the innocent, wide-eyed young DC resident (okay, me) who almost got swallowed whole by a group of the aforementioned armada of fur-coated, sequin cowboy-hatted Texans. Oh, and also because I have tripped most inelegantly on the cobblestones of Georgetown more times than I can count.
3. Visit the Monuments at night and skip the crowds at the Air & Space Museum and go to the more obscure galleries instead
The FDR, Lincoln, Jefferson, Vietnam Wall Memorials will not only be less crowded at night (or at sunrise), they will be more moving. Visiting the Wall with my dad late one evening almost twenty-five years ago is still one of the most unforgettable memories of my childhood. We stood alone that night in front of that heartbreaking stretch of names, my dad’s hand gently tracing one name. If we had visited there during the day, my dad wouldn’t have been able to have that private moment touching his friend Cookie McNeill’s name etched on that wall without being pushed along by the throng that visits there during the day, and I wouldn’t have been able to see the tears in his eyes, reflecting off the light from street lamps that lit the path.
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path spot to visit during the day, check out the bronze Albert Einstein sculpture in front of the National Academy of Sciences, which is across Independence Avenue from the Vietnam Wall, or the gorgeous atrium and stellar gift shop at the National Building Museum, where Hillary Clinton gave her elegant concession speech amidst the dramatic colonnades. (This Museum will be closed Jan 18-20 but will reopen the day after inauguration. It’s important to note that most institutions in the city will be closed on January 20.)
All of the Smithsonian’s museums are tremendous but the crowds at these iconic institutions will likely be the biggest. You really can’t go wrong in any of them though so find the least busy one and spend an hour there. I would probably opt for the Museum of National History, which has a new and timely Lincoln exhibit.
The Newseum and the Spy Museum are fun, newish additions to the DC museum scene. The Holocaust Museum is one of the most heartrending I’ve ever been to, but it requires timed-entry tickets that you reserve in advance and I wouldn’t be surprised if those tickets are sold out for the days surrounding inauguration. Some other less-trodden spots include the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden (which has a cool, open-to-the-public ice-skating rink), the Botanical Gardens, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Frick, Hirshorn Modern, and Freer art galleries. Further afield, the National Cathedral is stunning and its surrounding gardens pleasant, as are the grounds at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. My personal favorite is the Renwick, which focuses on American arts and crafts, and is located across the street from the White House.
4. Choose now – Good pictures or warm sun on your face? Swearing in or parade?
Inaugural event attendees are going to have to make some tough choices. If you plan to focus your attention on the swearing in ceremony, which starts at 11:30am and which will be televised on 20 jumbotrons lined down the Mall, you probably won’t be able to get a great spot for the parade. If you do decide to go to the parade, the North side of the street will get more warm afternoon sun on it, which will be nice after sitting in chilly temperatures for hours. But, folks who sit on the South side of the street will get the better photos because they won’t be shooting into the sun. Either way, since you can’t bring chairs (another Secret Service no-no), you should try and secure a place that has something to lean on, like a lamppost, fire hydrant, mail box, or even a curb. Don’t be picky though – the parade route can take up to 350,000 people and once officials think it has reached capacity, they are going to seal it off.
5. Delis are your friend.
One choice you should absolutely not make in inauguration day: whether to eat or not. You are going to need some serious sustenance to get through this day and brave these crowds. Plan ahead on the food front. At the very least, stop at a grocery store on the night before inauguration and get some bread and peanut butter and make a couple sandwiches to stuff in your pockets. Don’t expect there to be food at the balls if you are going to those or easy access to places near the Mall – my guess is that the hot dog vendors run out of food pretty early on January 20 and that the lines at the K Street Au Bon Pain are going to be ridiculous. That said, if you see an Au Bon Pain or Corner Bakery, or better yet, a local deli that doesn’t have a line en route to the main event, make it a point to stop there and get a deli sandwich without mayo or mustard (get the packets on the side) or anything else like tomatoes that will make it soggy and take it with you. And on that note, let’s move to my food recommendations!
My DC Eat and Drink Recommendations
Good casual restaurants or takeout sandwich joints
- Mangialardo Deli – great Capitol Hill deli on Pennsylvania Avenue
- Bread Line – George Will has been spotting noshing at this White House area favorite for lunch
- Granville Moore’s Brickyard and Kenny’s Smokehouse BBQ in the trendy Atlas District
- Up near the National Cathedral: Two Amys for pizza, Cactus Catina for Mexican, and Café Deluxe for brunch/latenight eats
- In Dupont Circle, more pizza at Pizzeria Paradiso and casual French fare at Bistro du Coin
- In Georgetown, Booeymonger’s for sandwiches, right by the famed campus and those damned-but-charming cobblestone streets.
- In Adams Morgan, The Diner is open 24 hours and serves better diner food than you’re used to. Next door Tryst Coffeeshop serves up a mean latte. Down the street, Bardia’s New Orleans Café is a great spot for po’ boys and jambalaya and Amsterdam Falafel is a reliable takeout option.
- U Street’s Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC institution for half-smokes and chili cheese fries. It was one of Obama’s first stops in the District this year, lunching with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and joking with the line cooks. Open late, and for breakfast.
Nice sit-down meals
You can make reservations, or you can just show up at these favorite DC establishments and hope that the people who did make reservations won’t be able to make it to them due to the gridlock.
- Equinox – Barack took Michelle out for her birthday dinner here last week
- Arcadiana – this newish joint does nice work with high end New Orleans style cuisine
- Café Atlantico – the servers make delicious guacamole here tableside
- Cashion’s Eat Place in Adams Morgan – an old favorite of Monica Lewinsky’s
- Sonoma on Capitol Hill – wine country style eats and drinks
Classic DC Bars
- Hawk & Dove, Capitol Hill
- The Tune Inn, Capitol Hill
- The Palace of Wonders has a burlesque show, Atlas District
- The Pug, Atlas District
- Fox & Hound, Dupont Circle
- Stetsons, U Street
My name: Tasha Carvell.
How I earn my keep: I work on Creative Strategy for Travelocity.com.
Fondest travel memory: Listening to the Gaelic-speaking locals sing traditional jigs while eating blissful homemade carrot soup and drinking a pint by the fire late at night in the lone pub on Inis Meáin, one of the Aran Islands off the coast of Ireland. Unrelenting, bone-chilling rain was coming down outside, but I'm pretty sure there wasn't a cozier, more welcoming place in existence anywhere on the planet that night.
Travel ambition: To go to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
My most beloved place in the whole world is: Mott - a tiny rural town nestled between the rugged Badlands and sprawling plains of Southwestern North Dakota. This barren country has captured my heart thanks to the inimitable personality of the folks who live and work there and the sense of community and utter serenity I get when I'm visiting my family there. If you're on a road trip to one of the more traditional travel destinations nearby - Yellowstone, Sturgis, Mount Rushmore - do yourself a favor and make a pitstop in Mott. Stretch your legs with a stroll alongside the Cannonball River or a hike up Black Butte, stop by George's Office for a beer or the Poolside Drive-in for a malt, then make your way out to the Final Go Around roadhouse for steaks and local gossip. If my cousin Claire is your waitress, give her a hard time and an extra-big tip. If my uncle Paul is bartending and you're secure enough to withstand some hazing by the beer-drinking regulars, order a Pink Squirrel - they are girly but so delicious and no one makes 'em better.