City Desk

A Grumpy Man’s Guide to Riding the Metro on Inauguration Day

Things looked good at first on Metro today.

The way down was a breeze, at least relative to '09. Back then, I remember being stuck in the L'Enfant Plaza station for more than an hour, waiting for the enormous crowd to move the 50-some feet from the train to the turnstiles. A woman fainted, and no assistance was possible. People took to chanting repetitive refrains to stay sane.

This time, the trip from Georgia Ave-Petworth to Capitol South—including a transfer at notorious L'Enfant—took no more than half an hour. It was so remarkably bearable that my girlfriend and I treated ourselves to a mocha and muffin at Cosi to pass the time until we needed to enter the security area to watch the inaugural ceremony.

The way back was a different story. Since vantage was nearly impossible, we employed the same strategy as ants. Well, no, ants have some degree of agency; it was more like a stream of water. We simply followed the path of least resistance, moving where the crowd flowed and avoiding where it didn't. The approximately two hours of shuffling claustrophobia between Beyoncé's crescendoing "home of the bra-a-ave" and our entry into the Metro can be broken down into four segments.

Attempt #1: Union Station

We began our return journey in Section 8 of the seated area on the Capitol slope and had the brilliant idea of stopping somewhere for a coffee while the crush subsided. I suggested Ebenezer's: The out-of-town rubes filling the Mall would never think of walking past Union Station to a neighborhood coffee shop. Our plan was foolproof. Except the rivulets moving northward were soon turned northwestward by the same mysterious forces that shift the course of a water droplet down a window, and then straight westward, and then southward, and then westward again, and Union Station began to seem like a distant dream. (And a good thing, too: Looking back later, the crowd appeared stationary in our former pen, probably blocked in by an unseen fence and/or parade.)

So we moved on to Attempt #2, but first, an interlude:

Interlude: Porta Potty

This is not a very interesting story, but the line was very long, and just as we got to the front of ours, it was revealed by Those Before Us that the porta potty we'd been waiting for was unusable. A child peeked in and ran out screaming. It was that bad. So bottom line, the interlude stretched out to a 20-some-minute bladder bout. But then finally, it was on to....

Attempt #2: Gallery Place-Chinatown

Screw it, we thought, we're already halfway to Chinatown. Let's cut out the transfers, suck up the long lines, and just go for it. No such luck. As we approached Pennsylvania Avenue, where a crowd about four deep stood behind a long fence, a security guard informed us of our options.

"There's a parade coming through," he said. "You can either stay here and watch the parade, or you can exit to the south. Those are your only choices."

We'd just watched the president speak and Beyoncé sing and Kelly Clarkson howl. A parade held no interest. We turned southward, with the idea of walking the seven-ish blocks to L'Enfant Plaza.

Attempt #3: L'Enfant Plaza

Upon reaching Independence Avenue, we found it blocked off by a tall fence. We asked the security guard how we could get over to L'Enfant.

"Walk down to C or D and turn," he said.

The throng approaching the Federal Center SW Metro station.

Aye-aye. We continued southward. But before we reached C Street, we hit a huge, stationary throng. A quick jump revealed that the masses stretched all the way to the Federal Center SW station and beyond. C Street was blocked off in both directions. We had no choice but to wait in a 3,000-person line for a station we had no desire to enter, hoping that at the station, we could turn right on D Street and walk to L'Enfant.

An ambulance a block in front of us turned on its siren and approached the crowd. We laughed. But eventually we somehow cleared enough space for it to pass.

After about half an hour, we reached D Street, which was of course blocked off. The line to the Federal Center SW station was so bunchy and snaky that it wasn't really possible to discern where it started and ended, but one thing was clear: We wanted no part of it. Pushing our way a block further to Virginia Avenue, we saw that the crush there was just as bad. L'Enfant wasn't happening. On to...

Attempt #4: Waterfront

Surely no one would be so defeatist as to walk all the way down to the Southwest Waterfront from their original target of Union Station or Chinatown. We'd have the place to ourselves.

The trek down 4th Street revealed otherwise. The sidewalks were packed. But the crowd was moving. Since no one was insane enough to bike toward the Mall at a time like this, we strolled down the northbound bike line toward toward the glistening glass canopy of the Waterfront Metro entrance. As we descended the escalator, a woman on crutches at the bottom fell, and the resulting backup nearly brought us all to an untimely end. But ultimately, we made it to the platform and onto a Greenbelt-bound train.

The end.

I will never do this again.

Not for another four years.

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  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te

    I can laugh now because I am home but the same thing happened to me on the way back. The line at Federal Triangle was absurd (what was it Six Flags?!) and eventually I too walked all the way down to the Waterfront metro. It took me over an hour of walking but I made it on the metro and back to my car at the Congress Heights station -- and with a rotisserie chicken from the Safeway as a reward for walking the heel off my boot.

    Never doing that again.

  • Bill

    bikeshare bikeshare bikeshare. Easiest way to get around yesterday. By far. Once we figured out how to cross Independence to get to the corral it was a piece of cake.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    Totally would have biked, except that I'd already volunteered for "chronicle how shitty the Metro is" duty.

  • http://www.twitter.com/AdamLDC Adam L

    While I think Metro had a ton of problems yesterday, this situation seems to have been caused by the security restrictions. Maybe people would have gone to other stations to the north of the Mall had they been allowed to get there.

  • BP

    +1 to Adam's comment.

  • noodlez

    MY ATTEMPT #1 WAS @ L’ENFANT PLAZA THIS IS AFTER I WAS INVOLVED IN A MINI PROTEST ALONG WITH SEVERAL OTHER INAUGURAL GOERS (AS WE WERE UNWILLING TO BE CAST AS CATTLECAR TYPES) WITH SOME FARMBOY, BISCUIT EATING PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY DUMBASS COP WHO WOULDN’T LET US MOVE THE CONTROL GATE FOR FOLK TO HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE ROUTE AND TO ALSO RELIEVE PRESSURE FROM FOLK GETTIN CRUSHED. WHILE HE WAS ARGUING WITH US OTHER FOLK MOVED THEIR GATE AND WHEN HE WENT TO THAT OPENING WE OPENED OUR GATE SO HE WAS LOOKING REAL IGNINT AT THAT POINT.

    WE FINALLY GOT TO INDEPENDENCE AVE AND LITERALLY TO INDEPENDENCE! I THOUGHT SOMEONE WAS PLAYING A CRUEL JOKE ON US. I SIDED WITH MY 14YR OLD DAUGHTER AT THAT POINT IN MAKING MY WIFE FEEL GUILTY BY AFFIRMING THAT WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME AND WATCHED ON T.V.! THEN IT HIT US THERE WAS NO WAY WE ARE STANDING IN THAT LINE @ METRO AFTER WHAT WE JUST WENT THRU.

    THEN THE MR NATIVE WASHINGTONIAN THAT I AM CAME OUT AND MADE AN EXECUTIVE DECISION TO WALK AROUND THE MADNESS TO AN ACCESSIBLE METRO STOP. JUST LIKE THE LOST HUSBAND DRIVER UNWILLING TO ADMIT HE IS LOST I WAS EQUALLY AT A LOSS AS TO WHAT TO DO BECAUSE THERE WERE NO EXIT POINTS. NONE! I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT. IT COULDN’T BE! I WAS TRAPPED IN MY OWN CITY FIGURATIVELY AND LITERALLY BY OUTSIDERS WHO WERE GIVEN AND GIVING MISINFORMATION. MY WIFE RIGHT ON CUE FROM MY JUDAS MOMENT WITH MY DAUGHTER GOT HER RETALIATION QUIP IN. HER AIM WAS PERFECT AS USUAL.

    HUNGRY, TIRED AND FRUSTRATED I PLOPPED $25.00 DOWN ON SOME WARM FRIES, WARM HOT CHOCO AND A BOILED HOT DOG ON A SOGGY BUN TO REGROUP AND REASSESS. AFTER SHARING A BENCH WITH SOME OTHER FOLK TRAPPED, A MIRACLE HAPPENED; FOLK WERE STREAMING OUT OF ONE OF THE POINTS THAT WERE BLOCKED. FREE AT LAST! FREE AT LAST! THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I WAS FREE AT LAST! (THANKS DR. KING)

    CIVILIZATION!!!! METRO WITH NO LINES AND MY SOFA LONGING FOR ME I HAD TWO THINGS ON MY MIND ONE WAS THE FREEDOM I JUST ACQUIRED THE OTHER IS WHY THE GENIUS WHO WAS SELLING CALENDARS DIDN’T SPELL CHECK INAUGURATION.

    GOD BLESS AMERICA.

  • Typical DC BS

    @noodlez: At least you could appreciate the absurdity of the whole scene compared to the tourists. Impressed you made it down there and back with your perspective intact, even with the wife's darts.

  • Frank Speaker

    Metro barely works on weekdays, doesn't work on the weekends, and yet you expected it move you and a half million others around the city on inauguration day? You must be new here.

  • MLD

    Did you read the information that Metro put out beforehand? It was pretty clear that Pennsylvania Ave would be closed and you would not be able to get across it. You could have gotten to Union Station by walking the long way around the capitol. Or you could have just started walking south and walked by all the crowds you encountered and arrived at Waterfront in the first place.

    You have to have a plan for getting out if you want to do so quickly. You can't just decide to walk "with the crowd" (that is, in the exact same direction at the same time as everyone else) if you want to avoid the crowd. Seems like that's the definition of walking directly into the most crowded place.

  • Mario

    How long would it have taken had you just walked home? An hour, maybe two? So strange that you considered Metro the best option after a mass event when you live only a few miles (presumably) from the mall.

  • YMBNH

    +1 to Mario. I walked a few blocks north to a bus route that was running fine and got me home in no time. Locals are supposed to know better.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    Ahem, I'll reiterate that documenting the shittiness of Metro was my assignment. I would have biked home given the choice.

    But I'm not even sure how I could have walked or biked, given that I couldn't cross PA Ave...

  • Z

    The beauty of living in Bloomingdale - I walked to the inauguration in a little less than half an hour.

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