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'Label Your Kids' Among Tips Suggested by Swearing-In Vets

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hand warmers, bloody marys, binoculars and milk crates.

Those are some things that veteran inauguration-goers swear by to survive this grueling and giddy American celebration.

It will be cold and crowded, standard for most inaugurations past. Some years, visitors navigated raucous protests -- students lobbing ink-filled balloons at Richard Nixon and demonstrators hurling eggs at George W. Bush.

That probably won't be an issue this time. Tuesday's special challenge will be unprecedented security. Dealing with the Secret Service's long list of what-not-to-bring nixes some survival tools (folding chairs, umbrellas, thermoses and coolers.)

But we have the great resource of experience in our midst.

Our neighbors here in the Washington area remember sitting on the stone steps of the Capitol eating the bean soup served to spectators of Harry S. Truman's inauguration; seeing Jimmy Carter walk the parade route during his down-home, "Y'all come" inauguration; and buying ski outfits to weather the burning cold as Ronald Reagan's limousine drove by without fanfare because the parade was put on deep freeze.

Their experience, fortitude and in some cases fanatical dedication give us a list of tips to survive and perhaps even enjoy this historic inauguration.

The Crowd

It will be an event that many parents want their children to remember. But the crowd, forecast at between 1 million and 3 million, can swallow a 4-year-old quicker than his baby sister can gulp a penny.

"Please, label your children," D.C. Child and Family Services spokeswoman Mindy Good said. "Somewhere on their clothing or body, put your name, telephone number and address." Because the mobile phone networks may be jammed, it's also a good idea to add a home telephone number, perhaps Grandma's as she watches the inauguration from her warm kitchen, so that the lost child can be reunited quickly, Good said.

Walkie-talkies or mobile phones are also smart. As is printing out a map to carry, especially one highlighting security restrictions.

The crowd along the parade route is usually 8 to 10 people deep, so without tickets for the bleachers, those who aren't basketball stars will have a hard time seeing much. Gary Jacobsen of Woodbridge usually totes milk crates. "They are easy to carry about, and when interlocked they will make you 22 inches taller," he said.

Milk crates are one of the few items not specifically on the Secret Service list of prohibited items.

The 20 JumboTrons along the Mall may render obsolete the need for binoculars and portable radios, items deemed crucial in previous inaugurations. If you want more control over what you see and hear, they might still be good things to have, especially with so much time to kill.

A deck of cards can help, according to Sandy Greenberg of Crofton, "to while away the long, cold wait."

The crowds can be entertainment themselves. Especially the protesters. Elizabeth Vandenberg, 48, who is from Reston and works for the National Girls Collaborative Project, said that during the last inauguration her family found its territory to be prime real estate. They found a "slim piece of sidewalk" near the protesters that offered a good vantage point.

The Weather

The high for Tuesday is being forecast at just over 30 degrees. Dress in layers, said Virginia Crespo, a 62-year-old retired teacher from Millersville. She still shivers remembering George H.W. Bush's 1989 inauguration. "The weather will change throughout the day and according to your location in crowds."

Others advise packing blankets, mittens, socks and a plastic rain poncho, because umbrellas are prohibited. Extra socks can work as mittens or mitten liners, too.

Despite sensible shoes with thick soles and wool socks, waiting in the same spot for at least six hours will eventually feel like standing on a block of ice.

"Take along a piece of cardboard or a plastic trash bag to stand on," said Tom Bower, 60, a District resident and inauguration veteran since 1972. "The cardboard is a bit more eco-friendly and warmer, but the plastic is better for keeping your feet dry and won't get mushy as you stand on it for hours."

Crespo stands on a newspaper.

For even more warmth, many parade veterans rely on air-activated hand and foot warmers. Stick them in shoes, gloves and pockets, said the mother of one enterprising child who plans to sell these along with hot chocolate outside the security zone.

Some of our veterans warn that cold weather runs down the batteries of mobile phones, cameras and hand-held televisions quickly. So pack extras.

Alcohol, especially the kind that comes in teeny, tiny bottles, warms the throat, the belly and even the toes. There is a spectator who swears by his portable bloody marys and for obvious reasons doesn't want to be identified here.

But this isn't Mardi Gras. It's illegal to consume alcohol outside in the District, even on Inauguration Day. And although alcohol briefly might make you feel warmer, it actually lowers your body's core temperature, health experts say.

Basic Human Needs

Along those lines, "Try not to drink much before or during the event, as it will be a long wait to get to toilet facilities," Bower said. "Fruit provides moisture and fills your stomach."

The portable-toilet count for the Mall is estimated at more than 7,000. Bring toilet paper. Museums along the Mall will be open and ready for the crowds that aren't there to admire the early Impressionist collections. "There is an entire corridor filled with nothing but toilet paper and food," one museum worker said. "We know what we're about that day."

This particular human need is so crucial, someone created a guide: "Where to Pee in D.C., The Unofficial Guide to the 2009 Inauguration," for sale on eBay, suggesting places that aren't portable.

As for other basic necessities, the museums have cafeterias and cafes. They aren't cheap, so some suggest carrying high-protein snacks: energy bars and nuts, plus jerky for carnivores.

Sharon Bibbs, who has been to almost every parade the District has hosted in her 52 years in the city, suggests eating plenty before heading out to the Mall to avoid having to shell out the cash for overpriced fare from food vendors or losing your spot along the route.

Of course, that might bring you right back to that portable-toilet topic.

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