It was 10 a.m., and raining, and 400 protesting ld,10 sw,-2 sk,2 roller skaters were supposed to be rolling in unison at the Capitol. The only sign of them, however, was the three young skaters who wheeled through damp pirouettes in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Beneath the eaves of a tourist kiosk, five rink owners huddled from the rain with two park police officers, while other police and dogs searched the Lincoln Memorial and its surrounding bushes in answer to a bomb threat called in earlier in the morning.
Things were not going well for CRISIS, a demonstration aimed at protesting the high price of liability insurance for roller skating rinks.
"We need more people or this is going to be embarrassing," said a rink owner. Gradually more skaters showed up carrying rolled up placards and wearing yellow CRISIS sweat shirts.
"Have you guys ever done this before?" asked one of the officers.
"No," said the owners.
The officer sighed. "It would probably be good to be on time at the Capitol," he said. "It'll mean you are serious."
"We are serious," said Annelle Anderson, rink owner and president of the Roller Skating Rink Operators of America.
But not numerous. By now the group had swelled to 13. Its members rolled bravely out on to Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol, jostling, giggling and showing soggy placards to passing motorists.
"CRISIS," explained demonstration organizer and Pennsylvania-based rink owner Judith Young-Riccobono, "stands for the Committee for Reasonable Insurance to Save Independent Skating." The skaters, she said, are asking the federal government to put a cap on insurance policies pricing independent skating rinks out of business.
Turnout was scanty, she said, because "a lot of parents were afraid to send their children. They were afraid terrorists would bomb the Capitol. Some of the girls had dreamed about Qaddafi showing up and blowing up the White House."
During the almost two-mile skate there were no falls, although there were some near-stumbles when the group moved to the sidewalks.
At 20th and Constitution, a yellow contingent of 10 was spotted wandering aimlessly, and the ranks swelled to 23. "Jeff!" screamed Young-Riccobono to a skater who had zoomed ahead of the group. "Remember -- with pride and dignity. Don't get me mad."
ASen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), patron of a tort reform bill, amounted to one wooden police barrier, a public-address system covered with plastic sheets, a couple of U.S. Capitol Police and the PA technician cringing beneath the rain.
But they held the rally anyway. The owners stepped up to the microphone and made short speeches to their own skaters standing below. The skaters cheered at every speech, causing two passing tourists to pause and listen.
"We have the hearts and minds of every skating rink owner with us today," said Young-Riccobono defiantly over the PA. "We're few in number, but our voice is mighty."
Then it was time to pay off the technician, take photographs of one another with the Washington Monument in the background and look for the Metro back to their Rosslyn hotel. They had skated on Washington and, although they missed out on the senator, they were promised a meeting with him later that day.
It was still raining.