Barack Obama Dance Party! Jan 21st, Washington DC!
January 10, 2013 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to the Presidential Inauguration this month, in Washington DC, and I'd like to solicit tips and tricks to make the day go smooth for me. The last time I was in DC was 8 years ago, and it was for a day trip. What to do? What to avoid? What is security going to be like, will they have food and drink for sale, etc. If you went in 2009, what was it like? How did you survive the day? Also, I have written both of my Senators for tickets, and have heard nothing back from them, so I'm going under the assumption that I didn't get any. Thus, I will probably be watching the ceremony on the National Mall. If I end up here, where's the best place to stand? I'm flying in from Seattle for this, I'm not missing it!

More planning I have done: I'm staying at the hostel on 1009 11th Street, NW for a couple days before and after. I understand that it's within walking distance to the National Mall.

I also went ahead and ordered the Metro Inauguration 2013 Day Pass, which will work as a 'flash pass' on the buses. Plus, neat souveneir. ^__^

The third thing I'm doing is packing a really light purse for the event, as I read the security detail won't be allowing in backpacks, and having in it printed maps, my Epi-Pen and medication (in a marked medicine bottle), magazine, cell phone, and a granola bar or two. I don't know if that backpack ban for just the ticketed folk, or the entire area.

I'm sure I'm missing things, so please, fill me in!
posted by spinifex23 to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here is a cranky email I wrote in response to the Presidential Inauguration Committee solicitation for feedback:
Here is my description of my inauguration experience:

I got in the line for the purple section a little before 7.

It was a long line. It wound around a couple blocks and went through tunnel under the Capitol (which started near an I-395 on ramp) and came out the other side. It seemed to be about 2-3 miles long. There were no cops or other line guides down there, nor anyone announcing what was going on. It was just tens of thousands of people standing in a freezing tunnel.

It took four hours, but we got through the tunnel. There was a few more blocks, then we saw the signs for the purple section gate. We pushed forward slowly. Occasionally, there were people going against the stream, saying that they had closed the gate and weren't letting more people in. Disturbing. Well, if I was going to be turned away after all this time, I was determined to be turned away by someone with a badge.

The gate had been shut for a time when Bush had taken the stage but opened up again later. The problem was that security was processing people very, very slowly. I had severe doubts that they'd be able to get us in before the constitutionally-scheduled noon swearing-in.

Sure enough, at 11:56 AM, there was still a crush of hundreds of people in front of us. We'd be lucky if they got us in forty minutes. We gave up and went to the train station.
tl;dr It'll probably be better organized this time, but expect to wait in line a long time. It may be less than five hours if you are going without a ticket, but probably not much shorter than that if you want to get onto the mall. It is a lot of standing.

Go to the bathroom beforehand and check the weather before you fly out. Wear long underwear if it's going to be cold. They were not selling food in the lines in 2009. If your phone does not have great battery life, make sure it is fully charged and be careful to not run it down if you want to take pictures when the actual event runs.

(FWIW, despite my cranky letter and extended time in the cold, it was still a happy day for me. Have fun!)
posted by ignignokt at 12:15 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the response! I'll be carting a little separate camera, which should help the phone battery issue. And a friend who is also going wants to meet up with me at 9am at the hostel; I have a feeling that that's going to be woefully late. I'd rather get there too early and camp out a spot than get there too late and have to experience history while in line.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: The DC government has a pretty comprehensive inauguration site with lots of information, including lists of what you can or cannot bring as a spectator.
posted by evoque at 12:44 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: DCist posted this map of street closures. Even though you're not driving, I think gives the whole operation a nice sense of scale.
posted by troika at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: The main thing I remember from 2009 was that everyone's feet got really, really, REALLY cold. I was wearing insulated boots but we were on our feet for literally 11 hours, starting at 4 a.m., when it was 14 degrees out, most of the time just standing in one spot. My big tip that you will thank me for if it's as cold this time is to grab a bunch of newspapers to stand on so the ground isn't sucking all the heat out of your body. People in our little cluster were taking turns standing on my stack of newspapers. And if you want to make friends, bring toe and hand warmers.

I wouldn't leave at 9 a.m. We got there at 4 (this was at the silver gate) and people were streaming in from every direction. Thankfully we weren't in the purple tunnel of doom but things were completely fucked up where we were, too--security was a joke and some hooligans at the front of our group stomped down the barrier and the whole silver section surged up to the reflecting pool, taking us with it. It was crazy. I would definitely try to get there as early as possible.
posted by HotToddy at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, don't just wait to hear back from your senators, give their offices a call.
posted by HotToddy at 12:49 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: There should be loads of public spaces where you can bring a backpack with food, drinks, etc., or just stick them in your coat pockets. We saw nobody selling food or drink for miles. We didn't have tickets last time (which is probably for the best from the sound of it) and just walked around until we found a more-or-less empty spot in the crowd where we could see one of the giant televisions set up for the occasion. It was a long walk: we actually would have been closer to the President if we'd stayed in our living room.

Hopefully it won't be as cold as four years ago, but dress warmly anyway since one gets cold standing around outside.
posted by exogenous at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: I wasn't at the first Obama inauguration, but I was a volunteer Girl Scout at the second Bush inauguration. While substantially more lightly attended, I can say that the security measures are no joke. Packing lightly is an excellent idea. Since you'll be in DC before hand, you could walk from your hostel to the Mall to get an idea of timing, etc. 9 am is definitely too late. You should probably pack food; the licensing of food around the Mall is always a little strange and what hot dog vendors are there will probably not be what you are looking for/be swamped. (If I am wrong, I would be delighted to discover it be otherwise.) If you're allowed to bring in liquids, bring a water bottle.

Definitely check the weather. Some inaugurations are bitterly cold and others are pleasant. Layers!

100% go to the bathroom beforehand. In fact, if you find an opportune moment with a free Porta Potty or museum at any point, you should probably take advantage of it. (Cough, uh, if the Renwick and the Freer/Sackler are open, they're usually less attended than the others, even when there are a lot of visitors downtown...and the Sackler will have a brand new exhibit up entitled "One Man’s Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection" if you're into that sort of thing!)

You may want to explore some other neighborhoods other than downtown for dinner. Are you planning to do any inauguration night celebrating? There are a lot of "unofficial" balls and galas, some of which are relatively inexpensive. It's definitely one of the few nights where there are actual balls in DC, so it's kind of fun to turn a corner and suddenly discover black tie attendees spilling out into the night. Bars are getting extra hours to stay open, too, if you'd like to celebrate in a more low-key way.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: The Presidential Inauguration Committee has information about the swearing-in ceremony.
posted by candyland at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2013

Response by poster: HotToddy,

I think, from hearing everything that went on last time, that it's best that I didn't get a ticket!

As for post-Inauguration activities, i didn't think that far in advance. My goal is to: show up, queue up, watch it, talk to fellow spectators, maybe wave a little flag, maybe have a little cry, and then beat it out of there to rest/warm up/get refueled. After that? Then I'll think about the night life! (Though I'm much more of a 'sit in a coffeeshop and read a book' person than a 'drink flaming shots off of someone's naked butt' person, though I can't resist a good metal show or two.)
posted by spinifex23 at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You will almost certainly need reservations if you're planning to rest/warm up/get refueled anywhere near the Mall, at least based on my experience last time.
posted by HotToddy at 2:06 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: more of a 'sit in a coffeeshop and read a book' person

That hostel is not far from my office, and that area's not really much for nightlife, but based on this, you may want to wander your way over to Busboys and Poets, 5 blocks east on K Street. It's not the original location, but it's still a popular DC destination with a pretty relaxed atmosphere. Might be packed around the inauguration, but since you said you'll be there for a few days, you'll probably have a chance to go by.
posted by Partial Law at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: I don't think it will be nearly as crowded as it was last time. We didn't have tickets, but did go down to the mall - we ended up pretty far away, but they did have giant tv screens set up all over the place, so that was really nice. There were also a lot of port-a-potties, also helpful. It was VERY, VERY, VERY cold. I cannot reiterate how cold it was. Hopefully it won't be as bad this year!

I feel like some of the snack places that are typically open around the mall were open and had food. And I just read an article saying the Smithsonian museums will be keeping their bathrooms open, so there will be a warm place to pee.

Also, the metro will be very, very crowded. We took the bus and it was totally fine (in fact, we were lucky because our line had buses waiting for people - they filled up then left). For some reason, a lot of people in DC are scared of the bus system so they are less busy. If you have an iphone, I recommend the NextBus app - it has both bus and metro times. I don't know how accurate it will be in this situation, but it is normally very helpful.
posted by echo0720 at 2:35 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I live in DC. Last time, we didn't try to get tickets and walked down to the Washington Monument. I think it was a great spot, actually. We were on a bit of a hill so we could see the capitol in the distance as well as really take in the scope of the crowds. And could watch what was happening on the giant screens they had everywhere. Also, there wasn't much security to get through back there. But there was plenty of conviviality and awesomeness. And some guys smoking pot behind us.
It was a clusterfuck leaving, though.
posted by atomicstone at 3:30 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found an article on the Smithsonian and the Inauguration:

Posting here as it might be helpful for others. Smithsonian will have Food, Drink, and Bathrooms!
posted by spinifex23 at 3:44 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: Oh! Don't expect your phone to work-even texting. The cell infrastructure on the Mall isn't made for that many people trying to email/call/text from mobiles. So, be sure to actually make meeting locations/landmarks with people as you likely won't be able to contact them on the fly.
posted by atomicstone at 4:50 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: I live in DC, and I am basing this experience off of the Colbert rally from a few years ago rather than an inauguration.

As far as public transit goes, it will most likely be horribly-super-ridiculously crowded, most likely to the point of being unusable. In our case we thought we were being clever by taking buses from the very northern edge of DC, but there were so many people grabbing the bus from the suburbs at the very beginning of the line that buses were completely unable to pick up passengers anywhere else.

Even on a good day DC's public transit is known for being spotty, so I would have a plan in place for just walking or leaving yourself several hours for taking a bus or Metro train. I would recommend checking the status on the WMATA website before you head out as well as checking Twitter for the #WMATA hashtag to make sure that things are going smoothly. Same goes for getting away from the mall afterwards, definitely have a plan for a place to walk where you can sit down and wait for pandemonium to pass.

Downtown around the mall does not have a lot of places to eat or just hang out, so you might want to plan on walking back to where you're staying and definitely bring snacks with you.

For the Colbert Rally we walked down from the Columbia Heights neighborhood, brought snacks, and walked back to Columbia Heights where we could hang out and get something to eat while we waited for the public transit system to clear out a bit.

I think the hostel you're staying is relatively close to the U Street/Shaw neighborhoods (a walk for a mile and a half or so maybe?) where there are lots of great places to grab coffee and read a book. Busboys and Poets on U and 14th is great and Red Toque in Shaw has awesome food.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:22 AM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Oh, yeah, walk. Definite. We walked the 2ish miles from Dupont Circle there. It was fun anyway, because everyone else was walking, the streets were closed to traffic and there were National Guard stationed everywhere. The entire city kind of became its own parade route.
posted by atomicstone at 9:00 AM on January 11, 2013

Response by poster: I definitely plan on walking, and am packing the comfy, broken in Doc Martens especially for the trip. I hope that TSA gets a kick out of the hot pink color.

I also found this link to local coverage; it's going to definitely help me, as well as other people: Washington Post Inauguration.

I see by the weather forecast that'll be cool and wet, so I'm also bringing the heavy duty winter hat.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:39 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Here's another inauguration guide, from the Downtown DC Business Improvement District. It looks quite comprehensive, covering street closings, pedestrian access, transit schedules, etc.
posted by exogenous at 1:54 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: I was there in 2009 (Flickr set), catching the train from Rosslyn to Federal Triangle at about 8am. If I hadn't been lucky enough to catch a train where they had just added an empty cart, I think I wouldn't have left the station for about an hour... When I got there, I just walked in to the Mall through the 12th Street entrance and tried to get as close as possible. There were no security lines at all. By the time you hit 9th Street, though, it was getting really crowded. I tried to get close to 7th Street with no luck - the crowds were impassable.

I found a place with a bit of a raised area, and just stood and waited for hours in the freezing cold. Nothing to eat, no heat, no way to leave to go the the bathroom. But the people around me were awesome, and really nice. You could see what was happening on the big screens, and off in the distance you could sort of make out people on the Capitol steps. It was fine, though, as the best part were the reactions in the crowd. The two elderly ladies sobbing, people waving flags, how everyone sang the national anthem, etc.

When it finished, there was a MAD RUSH for the exits. (And people leaving massive, massive amounts of trash behind, which was a blemish on the day for me.) I decided not to brave the train and walked back to Rosslyn. But due to the barricades on 14th Street, it took a solid hour to even get off the mall. I was surprised there were no people getting crushed - it felt scarily crowded at times. I hope they have done a better job of that this year.

My takeaways:
- Get there earlier than you think, well hydrated but not so you have to use the bathroom for many hours (if possible)
- Foot warmers and/or very good shoes are a must, as are warm woolen socks. (If you use a newspaper to stand on to keep warm, consider carrying it out with you.)
- If you can stuff your jacket/pants pockets with what you absolutely need, forego the purse. I carried some cash, a credit card, my phone, camera, smart card, inhaler, and a few hand warmers, which was fine. No purse at all=less time/shorter lines at security.
-Don't expect to be able to use your phone AT ALL, not even texting. They will bring in lots of extra mobile towers, it won't make a difference.
-Don't fret about getting too close - focus on getting a spot where you can see a screen well, and where the people seem nice, as you'll get to know them during the wait
- I think security will be tighter this year, count on some extra time for that
- Bring something to eat! Granola bars sounds good, I'll be doing that if I go this year. There were wandering vendors selling expensive water where I was, so that was nice. Not sure if they will be this year, though. I was parched when I got back to my car...

Welcome to the city, hope you enjoy D.C.!
posted by gemmy at 9:00 PM on January 11, 2013

Response by poster: Yes, I marked those all as Best Answer, because it's all invaluable advice. Thank you all again!
posted by spinifex23 at 9:48 AM on January 13, 2013

Best answer: The Washington Post Going Out Guide put up a nice round-up of bars, places to eat, and things to do over Inauguration Weekend.
posted by forkisbetter at 9:26 AM on January 16, 2013

Response by poster: I had a lot of fun, and the tips were invaluable, thank you all!

I did a little basic writeup, and here it is: Barack Obama Dance Party!
posted by spinifex23 at 11:31 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

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