Worst Fears Fail to Materialize

By Dispatch From The Inauguration
Monday, February 2, 2009

While I was looking forward to Inauguration Day, I was also uneasily anticipating the onslaught of millions of out-of-town visitors. Since I live close to a Metro station, I was sure my neighborhood was going to be total chaos.

I prepared for the four-day weekend like an experienced disaster-seeker, standing in line with the masses at REI to buy extra pairs of long underwear, ski caps and hand warmers, and memorizing maps of the Mall.

But every time I got in my car to run another quick errand, the possibility of a flotilla of cars from New Jersey and Connecticut snatching up every single parking spot in my neighborhood while I was gone made me speed anxiously home.

I consulted with friends and compared plans on how to get downtown, what time to leave and precisely which two-foot square on the Mall to claim as my very own Inaugural Viewing Area.

After envisioning myself caught in a malfunctioning Metrorail car and trapped in a dark tunnel with several hundred strangers, I decided the best way to get to the inauguration would be to ride my bicycle the 13 miles from Wheaton.

I woke up early on Inauguration Day, eager to see the drama swarming through my neighborhood. But the only chaos happening on my block was me, trying to squeeze into four pairs of pants. I was wearing two pairs of polypropylene long underwear, fleece pajama bottoms and a pair of lined wind pants. I was generating enough static electricity just walking around my bedroom that I'm surprised I didn't catch fire.

I had at least eight layers on top and resembled an inflatable snowman. I could have put the extra clothes in a backpack, but in this new, post-9/11 era, I didn't want to give up a good bag (and possibly a nail clipper) to some dour-faced security guard at a checkpoint.

My girlfriend Ashley, who on my advice was also wearing four pairs of pants, and I got unsteadily on our bicycles and teetered down the street. My plan was to ride slowly enough to prevent sweating, but after the first hill, sweat was running down my back in steady rivulets.

Ashley began to question the wisdom of my plan.

She wanted to lock up the bikes and catch a bus.

There were dozens of half-empty Metrobuses zooming past us on 16th Street, but I was still anticipating the worst.

With the exception of the buses, 16th Street was a total wasteland. You could walk across it with your eyes closed and not get hit.

I've read all the horror stories since of people who were unable to battle through the crowds to get to their ticketed Inaugural Viewing Area. Of people who broke into their savings accounts for expensive ball gowns and hotel rooms, only to find out at the door that their ball had been canceled. But I, the Master of Disaster, had no such problems.

I had the addresses and phone numbers of five taverns within a 20-minute walk where we might watch the inauguration if we couldn't get a spot near a JumboTron. But we had no problem finding a spot in front of a JumboTron. In fact, we were front and center.

The crowd at our JumboTron near the Lincoln Memorial was calm. Everyone was sitting down -- like we were watching TV in someone's living room. There were a few other tense people like me in the crowd, worried that something might happen to the new president. After the cheers died down, everyone dispersed calmly into the afternoon. Except for me. I lingered behind feeling strangely, and unusually, optimistic.

-- Adele Levine, Wheaton

© 2009 The Washington Post Company