If you didn’t know already, I was one of the multiple millions who was in DC for Barack Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. I hope to share a few stories but lets get started here. It almost seems a bit redundant after reading and hearing many similar stories already (see links below), but I feel a bit of need to share my experience, too.
I was initially uncommitted to venturing to DC for the festivities, but I had put in a request with my congressman Bob Latta (OH-5), the morning following the election, and when it was confirmed that I would be receiving two “tickets” to the inauguration ceremonies, I committed to go, bringing with me my brother Adam to use the other ticket. We didn’t know exactly where the tickets would get us until picking them up Monday morning at Latta’s (after a half hour wait outside a congressional office building). Then we got our programs (great memento, notwithstanding) and learned we’d be in the purple section. (See this map for ticket holder sections.)
Adam and I debated arrival times based on where in the section we wanted to stand (about 1/2 of it seemed to be obstructed by trees) and gueses on ambitiousness of others with tickets, and we arrived near the purple ticket gate around 7AM, with security scheduled to begin at 8AM and actual section opening at 9AM. When we took a look at the entrance and found the apparent “line” we were to get into, which extended down the block, turned, and then turned again to enter the tunnel which goes under the mall area between 2nd and 3rd streets. A police officer asked to see our tickets to get into the tunnel. (See here an interesting map of the situation.) After walking for about 15 mintues (to put is now at 7:15), we reached what was then the end of a line (I don’t want to say “the line” because I’m guessing there were more, based on future occurrences), about 80% or 90% of the way down through the tunnel.
And we waited. Sitting there for an hour without moving was expected, and we slowing moved up in small surges, trying to estimate if we actually were moving fast enough to make the assumed 11:30 cutoff we anticipated for entrance. We chatted with people around us to pass the time, Adam and I read a bit as well, and we moved ahead. About 10:30, getting close to the exit of the tunnel but losing hope, the mother of a girl standing near us returned after doing some investigating, with the girl leaving and us learning of the apparent shutting of the gates and no one getting in at this point. Adam and I decided to stay in line, actually able to move out of the tunnel a bit before 11 as the people were really surging forth to get out of the tunnel and near the entrance.
A bit after 11, Adam and I decided it was most prudent to ditch the line and seek viewing/listening elsewhere — and it seems like that was a good choice based on videos and reports of the non-successes of those who stuck around. In a bit of luck and irony, after an epic journey walking/jogging for 30 minutes (which I may speak of later), we found what I can only assume to be a breach of security at the 3rd Street entrance to the mall (which means, yes, we did walk all the way around the capital) to allowed us entrance to the mall, with no security to clear, to view the ceremony (post-Biden swearing in) almost directly above the tunnel we had spent about 4 hours in.
In reality, the tunnel experience wasn’t that bad, but the outcome was indeed horrible. Adam and I were extremely lucky and fortunate to end up with the view we finally held for this historical event, but thousands, likely tens of thousands, who had received tickets they believed (with no reason not to) would grant them access to history. Instead, many were left to watch it on tape or find a TV to watch it on instead. I intend to share my disgust with the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies at firstname.lastname@example.org and invite all others who had similar experiences to do the same!
Did I mention there were no police or security in the tunnel with us either? That could have been disastrous.
Here are some of the MANY pieces I’ve found online relating to this fiasco:
An NPR story (similar to on Adam and I heard on our drive out of DC): A Frustrating Inaugural for Many
Two Washington Post articles: fiasco and subsequent apology and statement by Sen. Diane Feinstein (head of inaugural committee)
A bit from the NY Times: Guided Into Tunnel, Ticket Holders Missed Swearing-In
Politico article: Inaugural woes have members ticked
Two other bloggers: the purple tunnel of doom and Cursed Purple Tickets
YouTube has been a great place for some great video evidence (hundreds more than this if you keep looking):
My favorite: The Purple Ticket of DOOM! (An experience very similar to mine, except for the exact time stamps.)
A close second, a funny, amazing song!: Purple Tunnel of Doom — a Song
One man’s rant: Long Live the Purple Ticket Holders
Near the Purple Gate, probably close to 11:30: People With Purple Tickets Chanting and Useless PURPLE Tickets
And of course, the Facebook group for all of us who were left out in the cold (literally!): Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom