Saturday, January 17, 2009

Escape From DC

Paging John Carpenter.

Remember his 1981 sci-fi flick Escape from New York? I confess I never saw the thing, but it made a significant splash, and turned the formerly clean-cut, white-bread, Disney-cultivated Kurt Russell into, well, an actor. I know it concerns a future (1997!) where the island of Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. It's completely walled-in and cut off from the rest of the world.

Beginning this weekend, and lasting through Inauguration Day, DC will resemble that movie, though we hope without the marauding gangs (I wouldn't mind if Kurt shows up, though). Signs have already been posted announcing severe parking restrictions throughout the city. I mean SEVERE. As in NO PARKING ANYWHERE. 50 city blocks are being shut down to all vehicular traffic, except charter buses and limousines, natch. All the bridges leading into the city from Virginia will be off-limits to personal cars, to make enough room for buses arriving from all over the country. For up to 24 hours and more, downtown will effectively be cut off from the rest of the world. Security concerns are playing a part, but officials are claiming that it is the sheer numbers expected for the Big Day (anywhere from 1-3 million people!) that are causing such draconian measures.

Apparently, this inauguration breaks with tradition in that, for the most part, official events require reservations or tickets in advance. The only major event which is completely open to the public takes place Sunday afternoon, when a huge line-up of stars will be performing at the Lincoln Memorial. Well, the concert is open to anyone who can squeeze themselves onto the Mall. It is not being broadcast for all the world to see. HBO paid a pretty penny to lock up television rights to the event (the Obama people are getting some flack about that, as others believe it is an event of national significance and thus should be on a feed available to all networks. There is some logic to that; though HBO is sending it out for free, if you don't have cable, which about 30% of the country does not, you'll be missing it).

Whatever. That concert will require lots of street closures on Sunday as well. As for Tuesday's actual inauguration, look out. Metro has already warned that its trains and buses will be overtaxed and advised people to walk or ride a bicycle. Street parking will be non-existent, even if you could drive your car around the area, which you can't. The city is being locked up so tightly that hotels and restaurants, which expect a booming business, are wondering how to get supplies delivered or even how their own employees are going to come to work.

I live within walking distance of the mall and could attend the inauguration easier than most. That is, if I want to head out before dawn in order to pass through the security checkpoints, then stand for many frigid hours waiting to watch the proceedings on the large screens set up for the groundlings on the Mall. As for lining up along the parade route, forget about it.

I'll be home, watching the pomp on television, secure in the knowledge that it is a momentous occasion, and knowing I can always claim to have been in DC during the most historic inauguration since such things were invented.

I'll tell those mythical grandchildren all about it. I just don't have to mention I witnessed the whole thing in my pajamas.