In the middle of Washington’s corridor of power, a woman knelt on hands and knees and prepared for an act of blatant rebellion. Face taut, she pressed her gloved palms against the asphalt and kicked her legs high into the air, then spread them into a Y.
Suddenly, she grinned — and her friend snapped a photo. Rebecca Lee, a 30-year-old consultant, had completed a head stand in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, precisely midway between the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
“It’s like your own personal playground,” she said of the 1.8-mile stretch of the roadway renowned for pomp, parades and presidents — and frequented by people with an insatiable desire to control everything.
On Saturday, all control was ceded, without ceremony, to a blizzard considerably more powerful than the nation’s capital will ever be, turning downtown D.C. into a desolate, wind-lashed landscape of shuttered shops and snow-caked streets.
Hollywood filmmakers eager to make another movie featuring post-apocalyptic Washington missed a prime opportunity to save a few dollars. Pennsylvania Avenue at times looked like a Beyond-the-Wall scene from “Game of Thrones” — shadowy figures lurching through a fog of swirling white powder as their pained, ruddy faces betrayed a version of the same question: “Why am I doing this?”
Winter had definitely come.
Those who did venture into the squall generally fell into one of three categories — the people being paid to, the people seeking adventure, the people who wanted to take selfies.
Edenilson Fleischmann — visiting from Brazil — belonged in that last group.
Just before 10:30 Saturday morning, he held up his phone and forced a smile. Behind him was an icicle-coated Secret Service police car and behind that was the White House, where inside, the commander-in-chief’s response to the force of the storm would be, a presidential spokesman said Thursday, to remain “warm and toasty.”
(It appeared that no one had been ordered to work what would probably have ranked as the most miserable rooftop sniper shift ever.)
“It’s a historic moment for Washington,” said Fleischmann, whose home of Sao Paulo was 55 degrees warmer than the District at that moment. “It might be the strongest snowfall in . . . ”
Amid the torrent that would drop more than 17 inches by mid-afternoon, at least one feature of Washington’s establishment remained in place: the White House Peace Vigil. Craig Thompson, a bearded 54-year-old self-described beatnik, had braved the cold to ensure the protest’s tarp tent remained occupied through the night.
He had watched a host of characters stream by: joggers, bikers, dog-walkers, cross-country skiers, and a group of six who played an impromptu game of football with a frozen water bottle.
Jon Eilertsen and a friend had also gone out on a mission. Both dressed in head-to-toe ski gear, they were searching for a place to snowboard.
“Fifteenth Street has a nice little gradient,” said Eilertsen, a 29-year-old who works in real estate. Perhaps fueling this urban thrill seeking was his enhanced cup of coffee.
“BYOB,” he explained. “Bring your own Baileys.”
Both the White House and Capitol building attracted visitors throughout the morning, but far fewer people meandered between the two, where the storm’s impact on the nation’s capital felt most pronounced — and bizarre.
No taxi horns blew, and no motorcade sirens blared. Instead, as if Washington had suddenly transformed into a distant suburb, snowblowers whirred and shovels scraped.
Those on foot trudged down the middle of the road because most sidewalks were impassable. At Seventh, the crosswalk clock counted down for no one as its ping echoed off the National Archives Building’s columns.
Never has Pennsylvania Avenue’s legion of American flags felt more prominent than it did on Saturday, when the storm’s gusts furiously whipped their fabric. Nor have the boulevard’s statues ever looked more underdressed — the shirtless, horse-wrangling fellow outside the Federal Trade Commission Building appeared desperately in need of a parka.
Outside the District’s Wilson Building, an electronic sign cycled through a series of welcoming messages, including a longed-for image of cherry blossoms. But the most prominent flash of color on a horizon smothered in white and gray was one gigantic blue sign outside of 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., where the Old Post Office Pavilion is being transformed into a luxury hotel. “COMING 2016: TRUMP.”
Just outside the National Gallery of Art, a woman wearing a green Ninja Turtles cap collapsed to the ground and made a snow angel.
Beyond her, in front of the Capitol, a trio of families from Azerbaijan launched snowballs at each other. Despite dire warnings from government officials, they had driven to the city from their homes in Arlington.
“It was fun,” said Anar Ahmadov, “because there was no cars.”
“We were surprised by the warnings about the blizzard,” said Yusif Babanli, a 35-year-old journalist. “This is nothing.”
Ahmadov, 36, who works in banking, said the group intended to build a snowman before they headed home and warmed up with coffee.
“Or maybe vodka,” Babanli suggested.
Around then, Cornelius Griggs, 32, huffed by on his bicycle, which was towing a trailer, which was loaded with eight sleds. It had taken the physicist well more than an hour to bike from Hyattsville, Md., all for the chance to (legally) slide down the hill beside the Capitol.
Griggs sought adventure on a day when most of the District yielded to nature’s omnipotence.
Just below the hill where he was headed, flecks of ice were blown across the Capitol Reflecting Pool’s frozen surface. At its center, a flock of two dozen defeated seagulls huddled together against the snow and wind, and ducked their heads.