Thousands of students returned yesterday to George Washington University, fully prepared to encounter the high-security clampdown in the shadow of the school's close neighbors -- and potential terror targets -- the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Arriving with their families in Foggy Bottom, students endured traffic jams, long lines and frayed tempers, but nothing more horrific than a typical college move-in day.
"I have three kids here, so it's just a nightmare in terms of logistics," complained Jack Adler, a father from New York in ball cap and shorts, sweating on 21st Street NW after several trips up and down the stairs of an old dorm.
Adler noted, however, that none of the vaunted security set up around the neighborhood had slowed them for a second. Police never even stopped to inspect their U-Haul trailer, he said.
"We don't look like terrorists," Adler surmised with a shrug.
For years, GWU has traded on its proximity to power: federal icons such as the White House and the State Department just a few blocks from campus, a potent lure for the kind of policy-wonk teenager who dreams of a career in government.
This summer, though, its prime location seemed poised to turn into a curse. Intelligence from overseas suggested that al Qaeda members might have set their sights on the District-based headquarters of the two international financial institutions, just a few blocks north and east of campus.
So as city police moved to protect the buildings with checkpoints and parking restrictions, GWU suddenly found itself at the white-hot center of a Code Orange zone.
All of which was believed to bode ill for Move-In 2004, when the university is welcoming its second-largest freshman class in history, about 2,600 strong. They will be among the 7,100 students now living on campus -- the most ever, thanks to the completion of a major residence hall.
Families were warned that police might search their cars, especially trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Yet when Jim Tully pulled into the neighborhood, his Mercedes SUV loaded with daughter Kristen's earthly possessions, he never had to stop.
The security checkpoint officer "just took a quick peek in," said Tully, of New York City. "I thought police handled it very well."
Indeed, save for the occasional box truck passing through, police didn't seem to be stopping very many vehicles at all.
"It really hasn't been that different," said Rebecca Sawyer, assistant dean of students. "We typically close down F Street, and we typically have police monitoring vehicles."
One of the few major changes, she said, was that "we started at 6 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., and that seemed to help with the traffic flow."
No one appeared rattled by the seemingly modest level of security, perhaps because, truth be told, anyone engaged in the dodgy enterprise of planting a large vehicle in front of a designated Foggy Bottom target would have been hard-pressed to accomplish that yesterday.
Traffic was backed up for nearly three blocks in places, and the sidewalks were an obstacle course of ironing boards and overstuffed backpacks. And the few parking spaces were strictly rationed by teams of volunteering upperclassmen.
Outside Thurston Hall, GWU's largest freshman dorm, a silver-haired dad cursed as he tried to wedge his SUV and trailer into a slim corner of the street.
"How'm I supposed to park this?" he shouted.
"Come back around the block," a volunteer reassured him. "It'll be clear in five minutes."
Yet Adler -- a veteran of many GWU moves, with a senior and twin sophomores -- said he saw nothing different about this move-in day, certainly nothing worse.
"I've found it easier this time because my daughter has a boyfriend," he said, gesturing towards the strapping, goateed Anthony, who was unloading yet another bag from the hatchback.
"Look at him!" Adler said warmly. "He works like a horse."
Some parents acknowledged twinges of concern about leaving their children in such a high-alert neighborhood.
Sharon Tully, the mother of a Boston freshman and no relation to the Tullys of New York, said she would hang on tight to GWU's 24-hour emergency hotline number.
"Especially during the election -- you never know what might transpire," she said.
Students, though, dismissed such fears.
"Paranoid," sighed 18-year-old Sarah Zubair of Seattle, rolling her eyes in the direction of her parents.
"I did get alarmed," admitted her mother, Nancy, "when I read the World Bank is right across the street."
"But we're right in the heart of the action," said Sarah, shuffling onto the Thurston elevator with a desktop printer in her arms.
"At least," she added, wryly, "if we get bombed, you'll be the first to know. You'll see it on CNN!"