Many federal workers left work before noon on Tuesday in a rare mid-day exodus brought on by the first shutdown furloughs in 17 years, feeling frustrated, uncertain and even lighthearted in some cases.

Atop the Federal Triangle Metro escalators, a steady trickle of government employees arrived in the morning dressed more casually than usual, wearing jeans and sneakers instead of the usual business suits or button-ups and slacks.

Those carrying lunch bags likely betrayed their status as “essential” federal workers who would not be furloughed. Others cradled potted plants on their way home later in the day, unsure of whether their ferns and flowers would survive through the shutdown — however long it might last.

Teresa Washington, an Environment Protection Agency employee, offered a solution for the closure. “Let’s fire them all,” she said of political leaders. “We need to get rid of them. We get no money. It’s not fair. They still get paychecks, and we don’t.”

Homeland Security worker Anwar Uz Zaman arrived at work at 7 a.m. in hopes of getting some work done despite the looming furloughs that would take effect after some 800,000 employees spent a few hours putting things in order for the shutdown. “I couldn’t send many emails because I’m not getting any communication from other people,” he said. “They’re all furloughed too.”

A Labor Department IT specialist who declined to be named said he planned to leave work after four hours to catch the first commuter bus home. In the meantime, he said, he needed to clean his cubicle and set up out-of-office messages.

“We were laughing yesterday, telling stupid jokes about it,” the man said. “I wish I could play some golf, but that’s not in the cards. I’ll probably just hang out for the rest of the day.”

At the Capitol Building, a group of students in matching red blazers stood in a nearly empty rotunda staring at the dome as a guide discussed its history. Craning his head next to them was Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.).

Under the shutdown rules, Capitol tours are only permitted if a member of Congress is present, so Huelscamp said he decided to come along with the small group of visitors from his district as they toured the facility. “We don’t have a lot of folks come from Kansas,” he said.

Huelscamp, a conservative lawmaker and frequent critic of Republican leadership, said it is “hard to tell” when the impasse over federal spending might end. “It shouldn’t happen,” he added. “We’ll get her up and going one of these days.”

A visiting student, Jonathan Peuchen, of Assaria, Kan., said he was excited to be inside the Capitol on the first day of a government shutdown. “It’s not a good thing at all, no, but I’m excited to be a part of history,” he said.

T. Rees Shapiro reported from the Federal Triangle Metro station, Jackie Kucinich from the Capitol Building.