Phoebe and I weighed two options for getting in to the district. We could drive to Pentagon City Mall, park and take the metro the rest of the way in. The problem would be getting onto already crammed metro cars. Instead, we chose to start at the end of the metro near where we were staying, at the Franconia station. We left the hotel at about 7:15, thinking that would be enough time to wait in the various lines we expected to encounter and still be in place in time for the beginning of the music at 10:30. Ha!
We were stunned to see a long line of cars already jamming the entrance to the metro station by the time we turned the corner from the hotel. Instead of trying to park in the station parking lot, we pulled a U-turn and parked at Springfield Mall, and walked the few blocks to the station. Just like several hundred other people we saw at the time.
When we got to the top of the stairs at the station, we encountered our first breathtaking mass of people, left. At least by walking to the station, we managed to get into the line much closer to the actual metro. Not like the people who had to try to cross the sky bridge. It was jammed with people the entire way across, right.
The line moved surprisingly quickly and we lost a lot of people who hadn’t bought their tickets before the actual day. We even managed to get seats when the train came. Our plan was to ride to L’Enfant Plaza, head to the hotel for a bio break (Phoebe had heard about some math involving the ratio of people to Porta-Potties that was scary!) and then hoof it to the Blue Gate a few blocks away. It took a lot longer to move from station to station than we had expected. The time seemed to be flying away as the starting time got closer, and we were still on the metro. Finally, the cars emptied out as we got into the District, and we made it to L’Enfant Plaza. The shortest line of the day was the one at the restroom in “L’Enfant Plaza – only four people ahead of us. Amazing!
The line for the Blue Gate was, sadly, somewhat longer. Since I’ve told the story of Heartbreak at the Blue Gate in another post, I will skip ahead to the end of the ceremony and the beginning of our attempt to get back to our hotel in Springfield, Virginia. The estimated 1.8 million people who had collected on the Mall got there over a period of several hours. In contrast, almost all of them wanted to leave within a few minutes of each other. The crowds we had seen that morning were tiny by comparison to the crowds afterward. Knowing that the system would be jammed, we made our way slowly off the grounds. We went by the Blue Gate to see what it looked like from the inside (so sad…).
We sat for a while and watched as thousands of people walked by. And then we started to make our way toward L’Enfant Plaza metro station. The first bulge we met was a few blocks from the Federal Center station. We heard that it was closed. There was no way to confirm many of the things we heard during the day, but certainly the large number of people who had been moving in the direction of Federal Center stopped moving. We made our way to the edge of the crowd and tried to head south to get as far away from the Mall as we could and then head west toward L’Enfant plaza. The strategy seemed to be working, as the crowd had thinned slightly (left). But as we turned the corner leading to L’Enfant Plaza, we were amazed to see the steps to the plaza completely jammed with people (right).
In yet another example of the spirit of the day, there was little movement in the crowd, no pushing and shoving, people just there waiting to file into the metro station.
There was one police (or security) officer on the deck who was trying to keep people informed of what was going on, and telling stories to the crowd – “I’ve lived here 15 years and I’ve never seen anything this amazing…” What a human way to keep everyone connected and caring.
At this point, however, it was clear to Phoebe and me that the Metro was not going to be the way to go for quite some time. How then, to get out of the District? We walked!