January 19, 2017 at 11:00 AM
We've covered multiple inaugurations from various angles, showing up early for swearing-in ceremonies and staying out late for balls and concerts. Here are some insights we've collected over the years — ones that we'll be taking advantage of this weekend, too.
Be patient. Security lines are a fact of life in Washington, where attending major events means first subjecting yourself to TSA-like scrutiny. Streamlining your gear into a single bag helps move things along, so leave the four backpacks and lawn chairs and anything that could remotely be considered a weapon — yes, even your Swiss Army knife — at home. But don't forget to pack granola bars or books, anything to pass the time and stave off hunger.
Don't be afraid to be a little pushy. (Just a little.) At big events, confusion can reign. If you have questions about where to go, which entrances are open or where to find bathrooms, find someone in a uniform and ask. And if they can't help you, ask the next person. Figuring out the lay of the land on the Mall can be a little like a game of telephone, but don't give up.
Don't expect your phone to have service. As more people pour into a public space and begin Instagramming, posting tweets and making calls, cellular service can be strained. If you find your cell service has vanished, turn your phone on airplane mode; otherwise, your phone will keep trying to find service, killing the battery in short order. Which brings us to the next tip . . .
Stash a charger and/or a portable battery pack in your bag. As reporters, we wouldn't go to any event on the Mall without one. Some restaurants are nice enough to charge you up while you eat a meal, but Starbucks and other cafes also have outlets for a boost.
Dress for cold and wet weather. Standing outside for hours is different than a quick trip out into the cold. Even if the temperature is a relatively balmy 40 degrees (balmy, of course, for January), after a few hours of waiting, and waiting, you'll feel winter's wrath. Your bones will ache. Your face will chap. If it feels like you don't need a scarf, bring one. If you see a few harmless-looking clouds, prepare your poncho. If a hat seems pointless, pack one. You'll want to pile them on soon enough.
Don't bother with hand-warmers. Some reporters swear by wrapping up their backs and midsections in heat-therapy patches, commonly available at drug stores in the pain relief aisles. But we've found them to be overrated and short-lived.
Get there early. For inauguration, there is no such thing as getting there too early. We've seen the checkpoints for the parade route close very early and without warning. Getting up at the crack of dawn is annoying, but at least it will increase odds you'll get in.
Be prepared to show your I.D., no matter your age. Official balls have tight security, but D.C. bars could take the prize for their vigilance. The city's nightlife staffers will card you, so make sure you have a drivers license or passport ready. And don't argue: If you aren't carrying an ID, it's illegal for a bar to serve you alcohol, and some won't even let you in the door, no matter how much gray hair you have.
Bring cash. Bartenders are going to be busy, and everyone is going to be waving credit cards and running tabs. To avoid mixups and to keep from getting caught in scrums at the end of the night when everyone tries to get their checks at the same time, it's easier to bring cash and pay for drinks as you order them.
Have a backup plan before you head out. You've scanned the list of events and found a party that sounds perfect. But when you get to the venue, there's a long line outside and a bouncer shaking his head at people trying to talk their way in. Don't stand outside in the cold for 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do: Plan for a worst-case scenario, and come up with two or three other options within walking distance of your original destination. (There's nothing worse than jumping back in a cab, driving to another party, and finding that one's full, too.)
Have multiple ridesharing accounts loaded and ready to go on your phone. If Uber is slammed at 1 a.m., Lyft might not be, and vice versa.
Eat something before the main event. Our experience in 2013: Unless you're going to a $350-per-person gala that promises a sit-down dinner, you're likely to be grazing on hors d'oeuvres all night. If you're attending a less-formal event, you might find yourself standing at or somewhat near the bar, which can make eating a challenge. You don't need to have a three-course meal at home, but you'll have a better time — and hurt less the next morning — if there's something in your stomach before you get wherever you're going.
Download OpenTable, Resy or another restaurant app. If you do get hungry while barhopping, you should know that restaurants are going to be packed. Trendy spots that don't take reservations are going to be worse. OpenTable and Resy get rid of the guesswork and let you see which places have seats available right now, or 30 minutes from now, and secure your table immediately.
Never forget these words: Heels. Are. The. Worst. There's nothing quite as demoralizing on party night as flames of pain rise up from the balls of your feet, making every step like treading on broken glass. Inaugural parties are an endurance exercise. Wear flats — glittery ones, even — and you'll have a much better time.
Pick up a spare tuxedo shirt. If you're going to multiple black-tie events this weekend, you should have more than one shirt ready to go. Some guys — especially those who are renting a tux — try to sneak through with one shirt. It only takes one red sauce-covered hors d'oeuvre or a glass of red wine to ruin that plan. Go to Nordstrom Rack or Men's Warehouse and buy an extra tuxedo shirt, not a plain white dress shirt.
Use the coat check, if there is one. We know that coat checks can be unwieldy. It's not uncommon to see some attendees skip the process and just drop their coats in a pile in the corner. But after midnight, all long black coats look alike. Don't wind up with someone else's outerwear, scrounging around on the floor trying to find the jacket your mom just gave you for Christmas.
Know your address. This one is for visitors: Make sure you have the address of your hotel or Airbnb saved on your phone or jotted down in your pocket. We've heard stories of out-of-towners who tell their cab driver they're staying "at the Hilton," not realizing there are multiple Hilton properties across the city. Save yourself the trouble (and the fare) and make sure to tell your driver where you're going from the start.