Disclaimer; This post will have nothing to do with fashion. Instead, it will [in great detail] outline my insane decision to drive 900 miles round trip in a rental car with three guys [all above 6′ might I add] to see President Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States in Washington DC.
The idea to road trip down to DC started in August, when a few of my friends from my China trip this summer and I began talking about how amazing it would be to be at the inauguration of Obama if he won the election. My friend Dan booked a room at a Motel 6 in Silver Springs, a suburb directly north of the city, that’s as only a few minutes walk from the subway. He paid $73 for the room and emailed me and my friend Kate about the purchase. All of us were relatively committed [along with a number of other people in on the hypothetical plan] but we were awaiting election night to know for sure.
The three of us watched the election together, and all mentioned the trip to DC when Obamas win was announced. As the days got closer, Kate had to help run a school event for a friend with a family emergency and Dan’s girlfriend couldn’t get off work, so it looked to be just me and Dan, which wouldn’t be financially advisable, considering we were planning on renting a car. Dan got two of his buddies interested in the trip – one of his friends Dave from high school who graduated from Bentley last year, and a friend Mike from his Chinese class last semester, who Dan had gotten relatively close with. So while Dan knew all 3 of us, the 3 of us had never met before.
Our journey started at 7:15 on Monday morning, when Dan called me to say that he was double parked outside my apartment and to hurry downstairs. We drove down to Brighton to pick up Dave, and onto the pike. We picked Mike up at a rest stop in Connecticut, where he was visiting some friends for the long weekend before getting on our way.
Besides the occasional burst of snow and massive truck cutting us off, our drive down to DC went relatively smoothly. We stopped once or twice, and were at the motel by around 5. We checked in, stretched our legs then headed to downtown DC for dinner and a quick look around. The buzzing atmosphere of the city was incredible, with people pouring onto the subway practically jumping up and down with excitement, it felt like the whole city was filled with this untouchable electricity.
We found food at a funky type of burger and beer joint, it was crowded and loud inside but smelled great, so we dealt with the crowds. Every once and a while somebody would break into an “O-Ba-Ma” chant, or break out clapping and screaming. It was pretty entertaining, that and the homemade steak cut fries were absolutely delicious, especially compared to all the rest stop food we’d been eating all day.
After a quick walk down towards the Capitol to check out the security and entrances that were being set up, we decided we were going to call it a night, and headed back to the subway. We made it back to the hotel to quickly shower [four people and two towels isn’t so fun, let me tell you] and pass out with our alarms set for 3:15.
Yes, you read that right. 3:15. AM. Alarms go off and we all groan, pull our layers and layers of clothing on and drag our sorry butts to the car while Dan checked us out. With everything piled into the trunk, we drove to the metro station, where we parked the car and got in line with the hundreds of other people up for the first 4 AM subway. Now here is where the story gets interesting.
So the first subway comes and its packed, tons of people push onto the car. The four of us see on the screen that the next train will be coming in 3 minutes, so we decided to wait for that one. Three minutes later and were on the next train. At the next station, so many people crowd into the cars that the driver cant close the doors. Eventually, one of the sets of doors jam, and we hear over the speaker system that the entire train needs to de-board. Bad right? Just wait. We get on our second train and the exact same thing happens a stop later. Honestly, I wanted to cry. Eventually we made it to Union Station, where we decided to get off. After a bathroom pit stop we ventured out into the cold, where we made our way to 3rd and D streets, the first General Admission security checkpoint/entrance after the silver and purple tickets. We stood in masses of people from 5;30 until almost 8, when we finally started to move forward. There were so many of us packed in a tight little area we couldn’t even see our feet, and I could barely see over my head. We were waddling when we finally moved, which was in slow sections, since they were only letting 50 or so people through to the security checkpoint at a time. They were searching every single person, making everyone throw out liquids, foods and any purses or backpacks. There were dogs sniffing random people, and everyone had to unzip their heavy jackets to be patted down.
Once we made it through the security checkpoint, the sun was finally out, and the entire crowd was pumped. We were ready for this thing [granted we had almost 2 hours before the ceremony even started, and another 4 of standing]. We start walking down the street, and we see this huge fence in front of us. We’re at the parade route, where we were told we would be able to cross over for access onto the Mall. We ask the volunteers [all very well labeled in bright red beanies] who had absolutely no idea where the best place to cross the parade route was. There were rows upon rows of police officers and nobody could tell us where to go. Some said 6th street, others said as far down as 18th street. So we walked, with hundreds of other people, down the parade route, passing some very angry anti-Obama protestors with signs that absolutely churned my stomach. If they hadn’t had an armed police man standing in front of them, something tells me they wouldn’t have still been protesting. I guess that’s the beauty of free speech.
We finally found a place to cross, which was so crowded that we were waddling like penguins just like we had been an hour prior. I guess that should have been warning enough that we were going to be packed in crowds for the entire day. Once we crossed the street it was just kind of a mad dash to the mall. We stopped to grab some sort of breakfast burritos, mine was absolutely disgusting and $10, but what else did I expect? We ended up parking ourselves in front of the second jumbo-tron on the mall. Although we weren’t far away [we were standing next to people who had friends that were all the way back at the lincoln memorial] the frustration that we had been standing since 4 AM just to have a mediocre view of the jumbotron was pretty frustrating. And although the four of us had been smart and not brought purses or backpacks, we were standing next to people who had huge bags and tons of food with them, who hadn’t had to go through any security. I guess the memo we missed was that we were supposed to enter the mall from the opposite direction. We talked to an American University student who got off at the L’Enfant subway station and had no problem leaving her apartment at 9 AM. Frustrating? Infuriating came to mind. But we were there, and I was determined not to let my day be ruined by what had already happened and what, more importantly, couldn’t be changed.
As a 5’3″ twenty year old shoved into a crowd of millions [estimates say anywhere between 1.4 and 1.8 million people were on the mall and I believe them, I have never seen so many people in my entire life] I could barely even see the jumbo-tron when I stood on my tippy toes. Again, I wasn’t so pleased, but I wanted so desperately to stay positive, so I stood craning my neck at all the exciting parts, listening intently to the giant speakers they had set up. The emotion, the buzz, the electricity that you could feel from the crowd was something I had never experienced. This was an incredible day for me, but for the young woman whose great grandparents hadn’t been able to drink from the same water fountain as a white person, let alone dream of trying to vote, the emotion and hope that was present was something I cannot even begin to describe.
We laughed when Obama stumbled over his words, we cried when he said “so help me God.” Nobody could get enough, chanting O-Ba-Ma at every chance they got, boo-ing Bush and singing ‘Na Na Na Na, Goodbye’ when they showed his face on the screen. The capital was what felt like miles away, but we were right there in spirit. The positive energy that I felt was unmatchable.
That positive energy was still there as we began to make our way out of the park after Obama’s speech, but the antsy feeling of more than a million people packed into a small area was beginning to form. It was about 12;20 when we decided we should try to head back to the car, as we still had 9 hours of driving back to Boston to do. We’d been standing for almost 6 hours, and I was chilled to the bone [although I was wearing two tank tops, a long sleeve ‘Obama is my homeboy’ thermal, a thick cable knit cardigan, a scarf, hat, gloves and a heavy ski jacket, not to mention my jeans, knee socks and high uggs – definitely not the most fashionable, I am ready to admit, but we can get into that later]. So we headed North, our first mistake, and realized that both exits were completely blocked due to the parade route. We the headed South, a process which required jumping over metal barriers, where strangers helped Dan lift me over, and the exits were blocked there too. We walked up and down the same section twice, talking to everyone, all in the same perplexed boat as us, trying to get out of the mall but completely stuck and absolutely infuriated. DC knew millions of people were coming! Why didn’t they open the exits? Why was this so poorly planned? And of course due to the 58 different types of security running the event, nobody in a uniform knew what the heck was going on, and often times were being told things by the general public.
We finally found a place to jump over another fence, where we made it safely out of the mall. A few jumps off of high walls later [dont worry, my 6’3 boys helped me down from those] we were being herded like cows down a four lane highway, trying to escape the chaos that was Washington DC. Our problem was that we desperately needed to get to the red line metro, along with the other 1.2 million people trying to get out of the city, and had no way of doing so. They had shut down a lot of the stations in the southern area of the city, which created more chaos since that was the only way we could exit the mall. We passed metro stations with lines blocks and blocks out of the station – and terrified for how long that could have taken, we just kept walking. We walked for what I can only guess to be at least a mile before we happened to find a bus that ran directly to a red line metro station, only 3 stops from where our car was parked. How we managed to find that bus, let alone get on it and get seats I still have no clue, but we did it. The bus ride was a whole other adventure, I think all four of us were worried a fight between a homeless man and a crazy black woman was going to break out. There was a ton of traffic getting out of the area and at one point people shoved themselves through the backdoors and the driver threatened to shut down the bus and make everyone get off [flashback of this morning, anyone?] but we managed to get safely to the metro station and then back to our car by around 4, exactly 12 hours from when we had left the car that morning.
I cannot explain to you the relief when we finally sat down in the car and could rest our legs. I will admit that I have zero body fat and a low pain tolerance, but I think at that point, anybody would be more than ready to sit and defrost after standing for that long in 30 degree weather.
We surprisingly breezed out of the beltway, and although we hit rush hour traffic out of Baltimore, the drive through Maryland was surprisingly smooth. I managed to pass out for almost 45 minutes before we hit a gas station in Delaware right before Jersey. As we got on the turnpike at around 6, we slowed to a dead stop. We all just assumed it was an accident, tuning to the fm radio stations for some traffic reports. Nothing. An hour went by, and another, and Mike got out of the car to relieve himself in the woods. We heard from people wandering the highway and walking their dogs that there was a bomb threat up ahead, that they’d closed the entire section of the turnpike, north and south. We all just kind of looked at each other at that point. We’d been siting at a dead stop for almost 2 hours, still a good solid 6 or 7 hours from Boston. We sat for another hour before we had finally inched forward a few hundred feet so that we could access a turnaround, and headed in the exact opposite direction we needed to be going. Dan discovered that we’d burned 1/16th of a tank of gas just sitting there, and we all just kind of groaned. We drove all the way back to Delaware, where we were able to get onto the 295 and head back up through Jersey. Eventually, thanks to Dave’s iphone and my blackberry, managed to merge back onto the Jersey turnpike and were on our way. We stopped at a rest stop right before New York at almost midnight and grabbed a glamorous late night snack of Roy Rogers fried chicken [I tried to stay healthy with carrots and ranch dip instead] before we got back in the car. Luckily I managed to sleep on and off for the rest of the drive, but the problem of returning the rental car arose. Dan was the only insured driver on the car, so he had to be the one to return it, and he had to be at work for 9 on Wednesday morning [approximately 9 hours from when we were having this discussion]. Dave had to be at his office at 8. The rental car had to be back at the airport Enterprise by 6 am. When we got back to Boston at 4 AM, we dropped Dave in Brighton at his place, then went to Dan’s, which was right around the corner. He picked up his slacks and shirt for work, drove Mike and I back to our building on campus and then drove to the airport, where he slept in the car for an hour and a half. After returning the car, he took the T to work and then passed out at his desk until 8;30 when people started pouring in. Poor guy.
I, on the other hand, crawled into bed and was out by 4;45. I didnt have class until 2;50, so I figured I was golden. I woke up at 11, much to my surprise, and poured myself some cereal. After two or three bites I started to feel extremely nauseous, so I lay down. The nausea hit me in waves, on and off for the next three hours. At 2, I figured I’d get up, pick up a bagel and some caffeine from Dunkin Donuts and head to class. I had barely stood up to put my cardigan on when I immediately felt sick. I spent the next 5 hours throwing up with sharp, piercing pain in my abdomen. My boyfriend came over and tried to help, but I was in too much pain to function. Finally I decided that since the pain wasn’t stopping I should have my school’s safety escort take me to the emergency room. I was so weak from throwing up everything in my body that at one point I stood up and felt so dizzy I almost fell, and my boyfriend decided I definitely had to go to the ER. They came 45 minutes later and took me to the nearest hospital, where I apparently turned ghostly white and almost collapsed again. 5 hours, two IVs, anti nausea medication and a few cups of ice chips later I was feeling slightly more alive, still extremely weak but very ready to go home. I was diagnosed with some complicated name for a viral infection, which caused my body to rid itself of everything in its system, and severe dehydration, which I cannot blame on bad rest stop food or bacteria as I definitely did a horrible job keeping myself hydrated during our trip.
Luckily I don’t have class Thursdays, and my Friday professors were understanding about me not coming in, even after missing class Tuesday to be in DC. I’m finally feeling decent again, I’m back on solid foods, not just applesauce and toast, and I feel a lot less weak than I did before. On Thursday I was convinced that if somebody touched me I would snap in half, but I feel much more solid now. I even went to the hockey game last night, although I sat for a good portion of the game.
And that is the DC update, 3,000 words and a heck of a story. I promise my next post will actually be about fashion.
xoxo; rachel sarah