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February 1, 2005 > Attending the Inauguration in Washington D.C.

Attending the Inauguration in Washington D.C.

by David Howell

One thing that Republicans like to believe is that we are better at economics than Democrats. That means we are supposed to be better at math. I wish that were true for the planning of the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20.

I received my invitation to the inauguration on Jan. 10 and the deadline to RSVP and sign up for tickets was on the same date. That should have been my first clue. I don't have any idea why I got an invitation in the first place. I am an "activist" in the party, but no more so than many and less than others. I am not a big donor to the party. I guess I shouldn't have worried about it so much, and just enjoyed being able to go. Hurried air and hotel reservations were taken care of, the Men's Wearhouse supplied a rented tux and Nordstrom's Personal Shopper came through with a dress for my wife. We were all set.

I had hoped the rest of this article would be a simple little piece saying how great it was to be in D.C. and watch the President take his second oath of office. The problem is that I didn't see the President, heard bits and pieces of it and only really knew the President had been sworn in when I heard the fusillade of the 21-gun salute.

The problem basically came down to poor planning, something that Republicans are supposed to be good at. The planners presumably knew how many tickets were issued for the standing and sitting areas for viewing the swearing in. They knew that people would come by the thousands to see this. They knew that each of these people would have to go through elaborate and time consuming security screening.

No one did the math. No one calculated that if it takes 20 seconds per person and 10,000 people are trying to enter through 10 magnetometers, it would take 5 1/2 hours to get them through. The official suggestion was to show up two hours early. Some people ignored that advice and were rewarded with seeing the President, but also had to stand out in 22 degree weather for many hours.

About 7,000 people took the organizers' advice and showed up around 10 a.m. No one was really supervising the line, so easily a thousand people ended up jumping it. Well over 1,000 of us who actually stood in the line and properly followed the rules, including my wife and I, were turned away when they closed the gates at 12:20 p.m., after the swearing in was over and during the President's speech. We were still about 100 yards from the gates.

To add injury to insult, the lines to get into the reviewing stands for the parade were no better. Several of the gates shown on the maps given to ticket holders weren't there at all. The parade route was divvied up into color-coded zones, and our particular zone, Red Zone, did not have operating gates. We were directed to another gate in Purple Zone, but after waiting there for over half an hour, we were told that they would not let us through. So, we went back to Blue Zone. No fewer than 15,000 people were trying to get through six magnetometers. The line was over 10 people wide and stretched for blocks and the wait was for hours.

Decidedly unhappy with the results at the swearing in ceremony, and now having learned our lesson about line jumping, we jumped the line. We forced our way in near the front. It took about an hour to move 30 feet. We were crushed in with everyone else and it was literally hard to breathe at points. If someone had had an emergency in that line it would have been hell to extricate him. Bear in mind we paid $60 per seat for this privilege.

The four soldiers manning the gates and letting people through to the magnetometers were helpless to do anything about it. We eventually got through and found reasonable seats on the grandstands. We sat for about an hour for the parade to start (about 90 minutes late) while the temperature continued to hover around 22 degrees.

The parade route was lined with police and soldiers, literally shoulder to shoulder, for the entire length on both sides of the route. These were supplemented with helicopters, lookouts, snipers, roving packs of SWAT teams and who knows what other kinds of security.

The abundance of security quickly ended one fun moment - a pair of women streakers crossed the barrier and in seconds, were completely surrounded by police. I suppose you have to admire the determination of someone willing to shed all her clothes in such cold weather. There were other protesters who chanted the same old tired 1960s protest chants. I wish someone would be creative and teach them some new ones. We ended up leaving the parade early, having seen only about a third of it, because we had to get back to the hotel to change for the Ball.

The Inaugural Ball is really a series of balls. There were seven or eight "official" balls, four of which were held at the D.C. convention center. The balls are divided by states, so that ours, the Democracy Ball, had California, Arizona, North Carolina, North Dakota, Kentucky, Utah and maybe a couple of others. They serve hors d'oeuvres and have no-host bars. Both the President and Vice-President make appearances, say a few words, dance with their wives for about a minute, and disappear to the next ball. There are bands and some people dance, but then this is a Republican function, so there's only so much fun allowed!

We were 'fashionably' late by 90 minutes to the Ball because the thought of another long line of people was anathema to us. More specifically, it was nighttime, the temperature were in the teens, and my wife was in mule-style heels and a long skirt. Not exactly cold-weather ready. We assumed, rightly, that the line would be outside. By the time we got there, the line was gone and we were able to get past security quickly. Absent that, it would have been a nightmare. Note that you had to walk at least the last couple of blocks to the convention center. The streets were closed off so taxis could not approach. The Ball was $150 per ticket.

One interesting observation about the Inaugural Ball: There were almost no politicians there. We saw one congressman from California, and one former state senator. The Chairman of the State Party was there, but hardly anyone else we recognized. Newt Gingrich showed up late in the evening, and Senator Frist was there for a while, but all in all not very many VIPs.

So attending the inauguration turns out to be one painfully long exercise in standing in line in the cold. Maybe that's why seasoned politicians don't go - it's just not that fun. Contrast that with the National Convention in New York, and New York was the better occasion, hands down.

One significant complaint heard throughout the mainstream media was the cost of the event. $40 million seems like a lot of money. Never mind that that most of this money was private money and that the same amount would have been spent on John Kerry had he won in November. My complaint is not that they spent all that money, but they did not seem to spend the money in the right place - there should have been triple the number of security gates at every function.

It's too bad, both personally and generally. Personally, this blew most of the time and more than my entire budget for a vacation this year. I wish it had been more fun.

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