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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Fixing Tickets

<><><><>Crowd photographs by Junto Staff Photographer Allison Buehler

Green-ish Gets Purple;
Blue-ish Gets In
By Justin T. Carreno
Junto Staff Writer
A friend, Liz, with whom I went to graduate school at the University of Wyoming, and I headed on the day prior to the inauguration to Capitol Hill, where several tickets to the historic event were awaiting for us. We retrieved our tickets, met up with fellow Wyoming
constituents in Senator Enzi's and Senator Barasso's offices, and in typical Wyoming fashion, we were promptly invited to a reception for Wyomingites at environmental lobbyist firm.

Despite this success at snagging our tickets, I challenged myself
to get more for other friends by placing myself on a very long waiting list at both Wyoming senators offices, where I was directed to
return at 5 p.m. It was now about noon. And so began the waiting.

I consumed the waiting time by going to the reception where I was warmly
greeted by Wyoming locals, including the Mayor of Pinedale, WY, and
Laramie's city planner.

Dashed Upstairs
After departing the reception with some new friends, we negotiated the
crowds to get a coffee to stave off the cold. By now, it was about 4 p.m. I returned to the Senate office building and waited patiently. At about 4:30, I got a phone call from Senator Barasso's office saying, 'We have three tickets for you, and if you come right away, they are yours.'

I dashed upstairs to the office. Catching my breath before entering the office, I slowed and strolled in, stated who I was, and I was directed from the anti-room. A
tall, distinguished, well-dressed man -- the senator maybe, I guessed -- greeted me. 'Good afternoon. Dr. Barasso, and my wife,' the senator said. He motioned toward the woman.

Barasso handed me three tickets saying, 'You'll have a good view with these. Enjoy.' I expressed my gratitude, and told him it was a
pleasure meeting him.

Despite the three tickets, I needed just one more. I didn't know what
to do. I walked out of the office, thought to
myself, 'It's not every day that you go to an inauguration. I'll be bold.'

I returned to Senator Barasso's office and said and told a staffer, 'I hope I'm not pushing my luck, but may I be so bold as to ask for one more ticket?' The staffer in the anti-room said, 'One second.' He went back and asked. He returned shaking his head saying, 'Sorry.'

"I Did It!"
Plan B. Off to Senator Enzi's office. I walked into to his office, and a staff member said, 'Ah...I remember you....waiting for tickets...." I was told to wait until 5 p.m. to see if others would come to claim their tickets. Five came and went. They said they just wanted to be sure and asked me to wait a
bit more. I just sat and made small talk. But really I was sweating, nervous with anticipation. At about 5:30, a staffer picked up an envelope, walked to me in the chair, and handed it to me with a smile.

I did it!

And now to execute the plan for using the tickets the next day.

Under Liz's direction, the plan was to get on the earliest Metro to avoid crowds. Liz and others were coming from Vienna, and I was about 15 minutes down the line at the Clarendon Metro in Arlington. Liz and three friends were to meet me and Michelle (a friend of Liz who was staying with me because, oh, never mind!)

Liz departed on the 4:15 a.m. Vienna train to meet Michelle and me for the 4:30 Clarendon train. The trains were literally stuffed with people, making the
pilgrimage downtown. It became obvious under such conditions it was
going to be nearly impossible to find Liz and company.

Liz called on her cell, and said, 'We will be in the fifth car from the front and
we all happen to be wearing green. When the train stops we will poke our heads out. You look for us and get on!'

A Problem
It sounded ambitious. The train pulled into Clarendon. I quickly scanned the cars for
greenish people. I spotted Liz. Both Michelle and I sprinted down to her, hopped in, squishing ourselves amongst the other passengers. We did it! We planned to get to Union Station where we'd re-group, get warm, and get some caffeine pulsing through our veins.

One problem.
I had blue tickets for myself and my friend Katie,
who I was supposed to meet at 5 a.m. on the other side of the Capitol
near the blue ticket entrance. The others had purple tickets and were
already near the purple ticket entrance. My task was to find out how
to get from where I was on the north side of the Capitol building to the south side. I started for the Metro. Metro officials said that these stops were closed, and the only way I could go would to be by foot.

So off in the cold, dark morning. I, alone, hit the crowded streets set
off navigating and negotiating my way to the other side of the
Capitol. It turned out to be about a two-mile walking detour through
tunnels and closed highways where 50-mph traffic usually exists. It was a strange site to see droves of people marching their way through
these streets which are typically home to vehicle traffic. I heard one
woman who was having trouble walking ask a police officer, 'How much
further?' He responded,'About two miles.' She started crying to her husband, 'There's no way I can make it! We have to turn back!'

I made it to my destination and met Katie near the entrance after a number of phone call exchanges to figure out where exactly we
were. And some argue we are too dependent on cell phones!

Sun Also Rises
Then we waited, and waited, and waited. It was about 6 o'cloc, and the gates opened at 8 a.m. Even though the gate opening gave us something to look forward to, the reality was that we were just going to go from
standing in one spot to another spot -- still in the cold and still standing. Because everyone had a common bond and we were all miserable, it brought the crowd together. The only benefit to waiting was that it was nearer to the end of a devastating Administration and closer to going home and getting warm. It was so cold people were paying up to $10 each for hand warmers, which typically sell for about fifty cents.

The sun eventually rose from behind the Capitol. It was a beautiful scene, but people weren't interested in scenery. The immediate goal of everyone there was to get warm. When the sun appeared, intense
cheering broke out. People were thankful and elated. The only other time that I had experienced this is on mountaineering trips where I get an early 'alpine start' and pray for the sun.

Everything went smoothly. The Transportation Security Administration
(TSA) was charged with taking tickets and checking everyone through
security and the magnetometers. The TSA appeared at about 7:30, and
again everyone cheered knowing that we were closer to the event.

Finally, it was time. The line was slow, but progressed steadily and
controlled. I presented my ticket to one official, walked through the
magnetometer, then presented my ticket to another official, and placed
the ticket in my pocket. We walked closer and closer to the Capitol.
There was another checkpoint where we had to present our ticket again.
I put my hand in my pocket. My ticket was gone. Had it fallen out? Had
I dropped it? Where is it? I was frantic. All the cold, waiting, time,
energy, running around, just to be turned around! 'No!'

Katie didn't notice that I had stopped. I yelled ahead, 'Kaaaaatie!' The security guard looked sorry for me. She eventually saw I was held at the checkpoint. I'd already presented it through two other checkpoints. What the hell is this one for! I pleaded my case to the guard. He said to stick with her (pointing to Katie) and let me go.

Early Enough
Unbeknownst to us, the purple-ticketed people weren't having nearly as
much luck. Apparently the distribution of people on the blue side versus the purple side was skewed. There were so many purple ticketed
people that the line took forever and they eventually had to cut off TICKETED people from getting in. Fortunately my friends made it, but not without chaos.

We got in early enough to find a clearing around a tree
that was on higher ground than the surrounding area. We had a perfect
view of the podium and the Capitol. This was prime real estate and we immediately commandeered it, and didn't move from that spot until the ceremony was over. I don't know if I had ever stood in one place for
so many hours in such miserable conditions.

I began to get pain in my hip flexors. The only thing that was going through my mind was, 'Get this over with so I can go home, get warm, and go to sleep.'

During another waiting period, I placed my hand in a 'hidden' zip pocket of my coat and pulled out my ticket that I had all along.
President Obama
The ceremony started. Everyone was excited. I don't remember listening
to closely, or, in fact, caring too much. Despite this, I was like a robot. I
participated in the obligatory cheering, chanting, singing, booing,
etc. Really, I just wanted to get warm and get in bed.

President Obama finished his speech and the crowd immediately broke
up, everyone scurrying to get coffee, food, warmth, and a bed.

Katie and I navigated our way once again through the crowds, through a
fence that was torn down, over a wall, and took off west down the Mall towards the Washington Monument and to Foggy Bottom, where Katie lives
near the Watergate Hotel. Finding alternate routes and detours around
the parade route we eventually made it to her apartment. We were so
thankful just sit down and be warm.

I still had to get back to my apartment just across from her place on the other side of the Potomac River in Virginia.

Homeward Bound
After a few hours I thought the Metro would be less crowded. I
reluctantly left the comfort and warmth of Katie's apartment and got to
the Foggy Bottom stop where I just discovered another crowd. I was so frustrated at this point. There was a Metro official standing on a wall with a loud speaker directing people what to do and what not to do: 'No pushing!' 'Be patient!' 'The platform is full!' 'Do not enter the station!' 'It is OK now to enter the station!'

I got back to my apartment at about 5 p.m., got lunch (or dinner?), and went to sleep. Mission accomplished. And I'd do it again!