On Day One of the U.S. government shutdown — a warm, sun-drenched Tuesday that felt like June in October — Aiello stood with his family in a slice of shade outside the closed Smithsonian Castle on the Mall, groping for a polite way to describe how he feels about the politicians who spoiled his first visit to the nation’s capital.
“Disheartened,” he finally said. “It was supposed to be a fun time for all of us. I mean, I was really looking forward to this,” especially the National Air and Space Museum. “People who’ve been here, they told me they have planes hanging down from the ceilings, historic planes. I was interested to see that.”
He was far from alone in his frustration as a strange, quiet day passed in the District, the city’s normal rhythms conspicuously absent, as hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees were idled and tourist attractions stood dark and empty.
Sheryl Mason, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil rights office, said she and her colleagues began their layoff with a “shutdown” party, featuring a white-frosted cake. “More like a mourning party,” her co-worker Tawanna Cathey said.
About midday, a group of students in matching red blazers stood in a nearly empty Capitol Rotunda, staring at the dome as a tour guide explained its history. Craning his head next to them was Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).
Under the shutdown rules, Capitol tours are permitted only if a member of Congress is present, so Huelskamp tagged along with the small group of visitors from his district. “We don’t have a lot of folks come from Kansas,” he said.
Metro trains and buses carried fewer people than normal Tuesday, the transit system said. But roadways were no less congested than usual, according to a regional traffic-monitoring system, possibly because many furloughed federal employees traveled to their offices to gather personal belongings. At the Federal Triangle Metro station, some were headed home with potted plants, not wanting them to wither and die in empty offices.
On the Mall, which was largely barren of tourists, here and there a parent staggered along, pulling a tired child and squinting against the sun like a lost survivor, hoping for the salvation of something to see. But the attractions were locked.
Even the carousel on the Mall was still.
Johanne and Nicolai Asmussen are here from Copenhagen for a couple of days. They’re on a three-week tour of the United States with their children, 5-year-old Robert and 4-year-old Rebecca. The kids like dinosaurs, and the parents looked forward to taking them to the National Museum of Natural History.