Let me tell you about my day yesterday. It started when my alarm went off at 4:00a and I hit snooze every five minutes until 4:25a, rolling out of bed with a sigh and doubts over what I was about to do.
No time for breakfast—just enough time to wash my face and comb my hair. Then it was out the door and down the street to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, where I was to catch a 5:00a Megabus to Washington, DC. It was 20ºF outside and though bundled up, I was cold.
As I approached the bus stop, now about ten minutes before 5:00a, I took a look at the full bus, the crowd of 50 or so people outside, and a single word crossed my mind—oversell.
Amtrak would have great in this situation. In fact, when I made the last-minute decision to go to Washington to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration a couple days ago, I went right to amtrak.com to try to secure a ticket. But others apparently had similar ideas, because the morning trains were either sold out of pricing in excess of $150 for a one-way ticket. That meant another round of Megabus—at only $13 for the bus, the difference in price was simply not worth the convenience of Amtrak.
I joined the end of the queue and waited patiently outside, knowing that the bus would soon fill up and there would be some very angry passengers. Sure enough, with about 15 people still to board (and me third in line), the bus driver announced that there was only one more seat. The crowd, up until that time still calmly waiting in a single-file line, grouped around him like a pack of wolves.
Harsh words and a host of accusations followed. I captured just 30 seconds of it on film, missing this ditty of a line from the bus driver as he examined the manifest, “Oh man, they got 117 people booked on this bus and it only holds 77!”
Good ol’ Megabus. The crowd was angry and demanded action. All had planned to attend the inauguration. Although the time was nearing 5:30a, the bus driver was frantically trying to reach his support staff on his mobile phone. “Oh man, if I had knew this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have requested this job,” he mused out loud. He had been driving all night from Boston, so I really felt sorry for him. He was doing his best and this wasn’t his fault.
With one seat left, he asked the party of two in front of me who would be going. These were some nasty women who had been berating the bus driver without mercy. They were not happy about splitting up and finally decided not to separate. That meant I was next, but they had other intentions, pulling a “brother” out from the back of the line and demanding that he be allowed to go instead of me. (Their precise words: “Let this brother go instead.”)
The bus driver, bless him, shook his head and said no chance—that I would get the last seat. He motioned for me to board, which I quickly did. Stepping in from the crisp morning air, the bus was about 60º warmer onboard—like an oven. I settled into my seat, shaking my head.
But the ladies weren’t done. They decided they would split up and soon I heard the bus driver calling from downstairs. “I need the gentleman who just took his seat to come back downstairs.”
I made my way downstairs and stepped out into the frigid cold again. One of the ladies gave me a dirty look and stepped on to the bus. I could have become really nasty, but it wasn’t worth it. In some sense, I was ready to walk back to my house and go back to sleep. The rest of the crowd was still anxious for a solution and hounding the bus driver to make something happen.
He finally received an answer from Megabus—”they say you gotta call customer service.” The crowd flatly rejected that option, demanding that he call again. This time, no one answered. For the next five minutes he called and called and called. Finally, someone picked up and said that a spare bus would be sent from Megabus’s Camden yard, arriving at 6:15a.
The crowd rejoiced. That was still 30 minutes away, but not too bad of a wait. And I was pleased at this blessing in disguise (though Megabus should not receive any accolades for causing this problem in the fist place). The new bus would have only 15 people on it—which meant a very relaxed ride down to Washington with plenty of room to spread out.
During the wait for the extra bus, an older woman started talking to me, complaining about “them ruffian trash women” who were verbally attacking the bus driver and how “even them airlines oversell their flights. If you ever fly, you’d find that out.” If only she knew…
She kept talking and talking. First about what a disgusting city Philadelphia is, then about what a disgusting city Washington is. Then, when she found I was from California, she told me “I used to live in San Diego. That was nice till the Mexicans moved in.” I looked at her blankly and she then wanted me to cross the street with her, because she said it woud be warmer on the other side. Thankfully, I did not have to humor her further as the new bus pulled up.
I claimed my preferred seat upstairs—an exit row of sorts—and found the seat recline was broken—in my favor. The seat deeply reclined, actually allowing me to get a little rest despite the bumpy ride.
The sun began to rise over the Millard E. Tydings Memorial Bridge on the Delaware-Maryland border and I enjoyed a snack of pita chips and hummus that I had brought from home—
We made into Washington around 9:00a and it was time to put my plan into effect. You see, I had no ticket to view the inaugural ceremony. I just had an intuition that I could find one. My first stop: Senator Diane’s Feinstein’s office in the Hart Senate Office Building. She is more palatable to me than Senator Barbara Boxer, so I figured I would start with her. Though 1/21 was a federal holiday, there was an intern at the front desk who apologized and said there were no tickets. Bull, I thought. There are always tickets left.
But rather than argue, I proceeded down to Senator Boxer’s office on the first floor. There was no one in the front office and I noticed the Senator sitting in the back office with the door open. I wasn’t going to go in and ask her directly (though the thought crossed my mind), so I waited for an aide to appear. She told me to wait just a moment and soon appeared with an orange ticket for me. I love it when a plan comes together!
Orange turned out to be what I’d characterize as the “business class” or perhaps “premium economy” section. It wasn’t the prime viewing area, but still afforded a better position than most (some of whom were a mile away down the mall).
I figured I would try my luck with my Congressman and see if I could get a better seat, so I trekked over to the Rayburn House Office Building. A line flowed out the door for people waiting to get in, so I entered through Longworth HOB across the street and used an underground tunnel to get to Rayburn. My congressman’s office was closed. It was now about 10am, so I figured it was time to head over to my section and stake out a position to stand in.
Lines were horrendous and not moving. I maneuvered my way to as close to the front of the entrance as I could get, but barricades were up. For some reason, no one was getting by. Furthermore, the line on the other side of the barrier was not moving. Everyone entering the inaugural area had to be screened (more on that in just a minute) and the process had stopped.
20 minutes passed and some gave up and left. Others began to push, shove, and yell. One guy in a suit claimed he was “part of the media” but when asked for credentials by the secret service claimed “my friend has them” and was not even able to produce a business card. He thought smooth talking would get him through, but it just got him laughed at.
Finally, the screening line began to move again and the gate opened. I made a run for it, knowing that the program began in 20 minutes, and employing my finely-honed skills of navigating security lines at airports around the word, I quickly made it to the front of the screening line.
Where I found the TSA busy at work.
Yes, I am not sure what a presidential inauguration has to do with transportation security, but they were there in full force, donning FBI-type overcoats that I have never seen in airports before. Now I felt safe…
Secret service was at every security checkpoint as well and the process went fairly smoothly—I had dropped off my bag at the Hyatt Regency before the event so only had my jacket and gloves with me.
Now inside, I maneuvered my away around hundreds of people to stake out what I felt was a very good spot on to watch the ceremony.
Live and Let’s Fly is not about politics, but I’ve never been an enthusiastic supporter of the President. I attended this event because each presidential inauguration is an important event in U.S. history and put simply, I love U.S. history.
Eight years ago I attended George W. Bush’s second inaugural ceremony where I met then-Senator Barack Obama in an elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The crowd was so much different then—so was the country, Washington, and me. Much has changed and as I listened to the President’s second-term agenda I thought about all that has gone on the last eight years in Washington and around the world.
After an incredible (but lip-synced) rendering of The Star Spangled Banner by Beyoncé the ceremony was over and I found that leaving took almost as much time as getting in. With only two exits and thousands converging on them, a traffic jam of epic proportions ensued and it took 45 minutes to get back to the Hyatt to claim my bag.
My bus was leaving in 30 minutes, so I had to skip my plans for lunch at Ebbitt Express and instead pick up some fast food at Union Station before getting on Megabus again to head back to Philadelphia.
The bus left on time and I managed to sleep through most of the journey back. Returning to my house back in Philadelphia, I was so tired I accomplished little else than going to bed early.
It had been a full day, but a good one.