Confronted again yesterday with blocks of locked museums, many tourists in Washington did not drag their chins down the Mall. Instead, in the best of American tradition, they improvised.
They shopped. And shopped. They rode the subway -- with no destination in mind. In unusual numbers, they traveled to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, to the National Geographic Society exhibits, Old Town in Alexandria, the Hard Rock Cafe downtown, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception -- everywhere, it seemed, but the empty and eerily quiet sidewalks next to the museums the federal government has shut down.
Outside Union Station, tour guide Sash Petker spent the day cramming tourists in every seat of his trolley bus. Each 90-minute ride through the District was a sellout. Petker did his best to lift passengers' spirits.
"Every time I've gone around Dupont Circle, I've asked, 'So who's mad because they can't get into the museums?' The whole crowd answers," Petker said. "So then I say, 'Pretend you're on a rollercoaster and start screaming.' And they've been doing it. I think it helps get all the anger out."
It was that kind of day -- plenty of grumbling, but not much pouting. At Mount Vernon, a national landmark not operated by the federal government, curator Jim Rees, already weary from the tourist horde that visited there Saturday, was greeted yesterday morning by 12 stuffed tour buses awaiting entry to the grounds. That tripled the usual turnout.
"We're mobbed," Rees said. "And one thing I'm beginning to notice is that people seem to be spending much more time walking around here than usual. It's as if there's nothing else for them to do."
Though some tourists appeared to drift through downtown with what-to-do-next shrugs, many others found new thrills. Like the Metro subway system.
Richard and Patricia Ste. Marie and their sons, Thomas and Matthew, who had planned for months to visit the National Air and Space Museum, instead spent part of the day riding trains. They exited whenever they thought a stop might offer good sights, or at least good video footage.
Once, Richard Ste. Marie said, he spotted a man across the aisle reading about a parade in Chinatown. So there the foursome from Chelmsford, Mass., went. Later, they ducked into Union Station.
They filmed people ordering food. They filmed people eating. They filmed people walking. And they filmed The Washington Post reporter interviewing them about why they were filming people eating and walking.
"We've been getting off at whatever seems interesting," Richard Ste. Marie said as he finished lunch. "The Chinatown parade was very good. But who knows what we're going to do next? We're just trying to make the best of it."
The National Geographic exhibit hall, on 17th and M streets NW, was another surprise hit. It swarmed with tourists all day long, including 12-year-old Alexander Fordham, who sold candy bars all summer to come here with his Cub Scout troop from Philadelphia.
President Bush may have no idea how much he ruined the report on Washington that Alexander is writing for his English class. "Instead I'm going to write about how President Bush locked us out of the White House," Alexander said. "I am real bummed, because we can read National Geographic back at home."
On Saturday, Bush began shutting down the federal government to save money while Congress continued its struggle to agree on a new budget deal that curbs the nation's deficit.
Bush's move left all 13 Smithsonian museums, the White House, Library of Congress and Washington Monument closed to the public until further notice. Other memorials on the Mall remain open, but that has been little solace to the thousands of tourists here who had planned museum visits.
In the office of Washington Insider Tours yesterday, John Stein hastily reassembled the schedules of girls from a boarding school due yesterday afternoon from New York, and a group of students from Lithuania counting on him today.
"There is no panic," Stein said. "We can find plenty for them to do."
To boost the morale of a disconsolate senior citizens' tour, Stein offered every member of the group a consolation prize: a newspaper with banner headlines announcing the federal government shutdown.
"One thing I'm saying to them is that they're here on a historic weekend," Stein said. "I figured that's at least something to tell folks back home."