Inauguration-Watching, in a Place of Their Own
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Margaret Simmons, 71, plans to spend the night before the inauguration sleeping in a church, bundled in a pew, so she will get the view she wants most of the ceremony -- on a state-of-the-art projection screen in the sanctuary.
Like many who don't want to brave the crowds and cold downtown on Inauguration Day, but also don't want to stay home and watch it alone, Simmons has embraced a middle ground. She plans to attend a viewing party at Friendship Baptist Church in Southwest Washington. The sleepover, she said, could be the only way to guarantee she'll make it from her home in Prince George's County and not miss the communal celebration when Barack Obama is sworn in as president.
"This is not a time to be alone," Simmons, a widow, said. Commemorating the day with others, she added, will "make me feel a part of it."
The desire to spend the inauguration among a crowd, just not among millions, is spurring places across the region to open their doors as an alternative to the expected pandemonium of the Mall and the official parade route. In Alexandria, business and community leaders joined to rent a 13-by-17-foot Jumbotron to show the event live in Market Square. Rockville is opening its City Council chambers, and pulling out its large projection screen, for a public showing of the ceremony.
Then there are the many businesses, political groups and religious organizations hosting viewing parties for free or a small charge. DC for Obama is giving one at Station 9 restaurant on U Street NW. The Washington Ethical Society will have one in the Shepherd Park neighborhood. Another, at the Carolina Kitchen Bar and Grill in Hyattsville, is being sponsored by the Hip Hop Caucus, The Source magazine and Dave & Ray Entertainment.
"Avoid the cold and the crowds in downtown DC," reads an announcement on the Web site of the American Film Institute's theater in Silver Spring. "Watch the historic inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, broadcast LIVE on the big AFI Silver screen!"
The theater, with a 400-person capacity, will start offering tickets to the public at 1 p.m. Monday. They are free but limited to four per person.
"It's a public service," said Murray Horwitz, deputy director of the theater, explaining the decision to open the 41-foot-wide screen to the public. "First, it's a time of coming together as Americans, and watching it in a theater allows people to do that. Second, it will relieve some of the pressure on downtown D.C."
From 1.5 to 3 million people or more are expected to descend on the Mall and surrounding area for the Jan. 20 ceremony. Roads are expected to be clogged and Metro stations packed.
The possibility of spending the day in a theater sounds pretty good to Paula Markofsky.
"That's exactly what I'm looking for," the 65-year-old Montgomery County woman said this week after having spent days searching for a place, any place, where her family could find a seat without sacrificing a community atmosphere.
If it were not for the two canes she needs to walk, the result of having polio as a child, Markofsky said she would be in the mix of the inauguration mayhem.