Inauguration Day: hope, change, logistics

January 05, 2009|By SUSAN REIMER | SUSAN REIMER,susan.reimer@baltsun.com

My husband and I were standing in an enormous human bottleneck outside Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, waiting to clear security and take our seats at last month's Army-Navy game - President Bush was attending - when we came to the same conclusion.

We'd driven a little over two hours to get there, and then we sat in traffic for 45 minutes. While waiting to go through the metal detectors, we missed all the pre-game pageantry, the kickoff and the first score. We were cold and hungry.

Like most big events, the logistics threatened to overwhelm us before we even had a chance to take our seats.

Next year, we agreed, we'll have an Army-Navy party and watch the game on television.

So last week, my husband's beloved Penn State was playing in the Rose Bowl, and the alumni were burning up cell phones to see who had tickets and who was traveling to California for the game.

But he had a better plan. He and his best friend were watching the game on television, their fists wrapped around a couple of rum and Cokes, and a pile of food in front of them.

We had learned our lesson: Logistics matter.

We live in Annapolis, not far from Washington, and friends from out of town assume we will be going to Barack Obama's inauguration in the same way people who do not live in California think you can hop in the car in Los Angeles and be in Napa Valley for lunch.

No, we are not going to the inauguration.

We will be watching it on television.

I believe in hope and change, but I also believe in math, and the inauguration numbers just don't add up for me.

The folks in Washington are planning to provide 5,000 porta-potties on the Mall and along the parade route for the crowd that conservative estimates place at perhaps 2 million. That is 400 people for each potty, and they are only good for about 150 uses before they have to be emptied.

Yuck.

About 400,000 people attended President Bush's inauguration in 2005, but by some estimates more than 5 million people might be coming to Washington for this historic event. No one really knows for sure.

Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration is likely to rival Woodstock - another event in which the fans overwhelmed the facilities - but this time not everyone is going to be high and in a good mood.

Officials in Washington expect such incredible gridlock and mass transit overload that they are advising people from suburban Maryland and Virginia to think about walking or riding a bike to the event because major roadways and bridges could be closed to all but the 10,000 charter buses that are expected.

And while the city has issued more than 700 vendor licenses, you can make more money selling overpriced souvenirs than you can make selling hot dogs and bottles of water. That means the city might be filled with hundreds of thousands of hungry and thirsty people who can't go to the bathroom and can't get home.

The District of Columbia agreed to let bar owners stay open until 4 a.m., and I am pretty sure that's because they think people are going to be stuck in the city that long after the inauguration and will be in need of shelter, not to mention alcohol.

City officials have been telling residents, visitors and workers alike that there is no dress rehearsal for this inauguration and that there is just one chance to get it right. Certainly there are no recent lessons.

The largest inauguration crowd in history was 1.2 million for Lyndon Johnson, and that was in 1965. And the last time Washington had a crowd anywhere near this size was the Million Man March, and that was in 1995, for heaven's sake.

The chaos of the inauguration is likely to be as historic as the event itself, and the idea of wading into that is beyond me. I like the jumble of a crowd having a good time at fireworks and parades, but the scope of this thing is so huge that I don't think anyone planning to attend can begin to predict the logistical problems that will present themselves, from going to the bathroom to getting back to where they came from.

Throw in an ice storm or bitter cold and you have the makings of a couple of million personal disasters.

I think they should hold the inauguration in Times Square in New York City, a place that knows how to handle crowds like this. After all, they do it every New Year's Eve.

Of course, I watched that on television, too.

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