the purple (ticket) line

Thursday 22 January 2009

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 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


perfection (or: blogging a Quaker meeting)

Sunday 23 November 2008

(A preemptive caveat: No, I’m not saying attending a Quaker meeting is to experience perfection.  Read on.)

For the 7-8 months I’ve been in DC over the course of the last 15, I’ve somewhat sporadically attended some Quaker meetings for worship held at the Friends Meeting of Washington.  If you’ve never been to a Quaker meeting for worship, there are both programed and unprogrammed meetings, and FMW is of the unprogrammed kind.  However, that doesn’t mean there is not attempted at structure, at least to a minimalistic point.  The idea for the meeting I’ve attended in DC is that it will run about an hour, with the first 20 minutes as a hoped for centering time for all people where no one really speaks.  After this time, children typically leave for a First Day (Sunday) School, and others continue waiting expectantly for the Spirit to move inside, which may then prompt them to speak to the larger community assembled called a “vocal ministry.”

Depending on the number assembled and movement of the Spirit, there might even be no one who speaks (as I experienced in a meeting I went to in Toledo, Ohio last fall where about 10 of us assembled) but at the meeting in DC, every visit has included at least two or three people giving a vocal ministry.  Today, I can’t say I kept track of speakers, but I think there were about seven or eight in total, which is a substantial total.  And while it may be hoped for that first 20 minutes be silent, vocal ministries began today after about 10, which I think is good, actually, as it gives the children a chance to hear them, too.

Being an unprogrammed meeting, there are no readings or even a topic set forth for meditation (though they do provide printed “queries” that can be a guide), so you never know what one might say.  Today, the first vocal ministry revolved around the idea of striving for but never attaining perfection and a realization that that itself is actually a positive thing, and his vocal ministry gave way to an hour spent meditating upon and hearing vocal ministries regarding the idea of perfection.

The next speaker shared a quote by Robert Browning: “What’s come to perfection perishes.”  Bringing in my own personal thoughts to this vocal ministry, I was turned to contemplate the idea that then possibly what perishes accomplishes perfection.

Many who shared vocal ministries today reaffirmed that, in a sustained way, at least, perfection is unattainable on earth.  However, one of the members who I find quite perceptive of the Spirit also spoke today, and she shared that she does, in fact, believe in perfection on earth, in those fleeting moments where we truly do love unconditionally, which may be easier for a child than an adult, where we love in the way that God loves us and wants us to love God.

She quoted Matthew 19:14: “But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven.’ ”

“When we are truly giving and receiving unconditional love from those around us,” she said (and I agree), “we are truly experiencing the kingdom of heaven here on earth.”

And if it’s possible for fleeting moments now, it then is not a large stretch for one to believe that after our hearts have stopped beating, we might then experience eternal and continuous unconditional love.  Let us all pray that such is so.

missing the snow

Monday 11 February 2008

I miss the snow.  Lots.

This is my first winter out of the Midwest, and I totally miss it.  After 25 winters in the states of Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and the East Coast just doesn’t cut it.  I miss the snow.  When I heard about the recent weather in Chicago and Milwaukee that brought upwards of a foot of snow, I got jealous.  I want to be able to make a snow ball and have a snow ball fight or spend an hour or two building a snowman.  I did get to experience a little snow on two occasions here in DC so far — once I threw a snowball at someone as they answered the doorbell I had just rang, and the other moment I turned my head to the sky and caught these giant flakes in my mouth!

I don’t really miss the cold.  In fact, it makes it much easier to bike to work every day when it’s 40 or so degrees out and the roads are immaculate.  But it’s hard to feel like it’s winter with no snow and late fall (for the Midwest, at least) temperatures.  Today I opened the door and knew it was cold, but that didn’t keep me from biking to work.  I arrived and found out it was about 22 out on my ride (last year I would sometimes ride to work when it was about zero).  I thought, “Finally, some winter temperatures.”  And then I look at a 10-day forecast to realize that the high is predicted to be above freezing every one of those ten days which doesn’t bode well for precipitation arriving as snow.

Maybe it’s one of those “nature vs. nurture” things.  I hear people out here talk about being so frozen when it gets below 32, but I’m used to it, so it doesn’t bother me too much.  I hear about people who won’t venture outside when it rains and the temperature is hovering around freezing because of the ice — and there probably will be ice, but it’s not necessarily anything to be fearful of.  Other Midwestern transplants like myself comment how the driver’s here in DC “go crazy” when there is even only a trace of snow.  And I remember a day last month when it was predicted to”flurry,” and they had already spread salt on the road as I biked to work.

This winter is teaching me a few things.  One of them is that I definitely miss snow and don’t know if I could live too many years out here where it is considerable lacking.  But another is something more important, I think, and it has to deal with perception.  Who has the better Winter weather?  After this experience, I’ve learned it’s all in the eye of the beholder.  And, of course, I’ve also learned that’s true about more than just the temperature and amount of snowfall.