Saturday, January 17, 2009

Soapbox du jour

My Mom and I have just spent an hour or so planning logistics for the next few crazy days ahead, which brings me to my soapbox of the day.

Most of the official agencies who have any level of responsibility of organizing this loopy do have, from the very beginning, taken a pretty gloom and doom stance about what to expect Tuesday. 
The city has adopted a seige mentality.  All the bridges from Virginia into DC will be closed on Tuesday, period.  There's no such thing as driving your personal vehicle into the city that day if you live in Virginia.  Metro will be closing the two stations most conveniently located to the Mall. The website for Metro all but says, flat out, for God sake people, just stay home.  What do you think we are: a MASS TRANSIT system?  This is a challenge not only for attendees of the Inauguration, but for the many thousands of people who actually, oh, you know, have jobs in DC, and don't have the day off.   

If the powers that be had had this level of security during the War of 1812, the British never would have been able to burn down the White House.   They would have to have been satisfied with starting bonfires at the Army/Navy Country Club, which was probably something else back then.   

I don't actually have a problem with the level of security and control that various official agencies are attempting, although I'm bothered by the negative tone.  From a pure CYA perspective it's pretty clear they're trying to lower expectations to the degree that anything better than mass pandamonium and death in the streets will be lauded as a success.

While I'll give the public service and gubment agencies a pass on this one, I'm more irked with some who should actually pretend to know better, like the Washington Post.  The Post should be a resource for people who are planning to attend and need to know things like, can I bring my camera?  Where will the security check points be?  When should I arrive?  The basics.

The Post's Inauguration Central is sporadically usefull.  It does have some practical information and maps available, if you dig.  But it is also infused with a tone, a "if you're stupid enough to try and come, or if you can't get out of it, you might want to know this" tone.  It also has far more information of a practical nature available for those personages who have tickets and/or those needing to know how to dress for their fancy ball.  

Although it extensively outlines the security check points of entry for those attending the Swearing In Ceremony who have tickets, the only line of instruction I found for those without, buried in small print at the bottom of a page, was they should "enter from the south end of the Mall".  Since the Mall runs East-West, and most of the public transit options into the city drop you off on the north side, as provided this is a shockingly useless, yet clearly potentially important piece of information.  

Frankly, based on conversations I've had with lots of people who are confused when I tell them I don't have tickets, I think the media has done a lousy job of making it clear that You Don't Have to Have A Ticket.  In fact, most of the area set aside for viewing the swearing in is open to the general public.  There are no seats.  It's standing room only.  It will be crowded and cold, but all are, and should be, welcome. 

I think the worm finally turned for me when I was looking through the Post's Weekender, trying to get some information on the concert at the Lincoln memorial tomorrow, so I could formulate my plan of attack.  Maybe you've heard about this concert which will feature some vaguely known, in some small circles, artists such as Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen and U2, and will be broadcast around the world on HBO and probably every other channel?

The Post did feature a multi-page spread detailing the inaugurations of all the past Presidents, complete with an introduction which the word "pretentious" doesn't begin to cover: "Streams of people will flood the city of Washington to honor the man becoming the next president. And with every step, they will tread in the shadows of greatness.  Consciously or not, they will trace paths blazed long ago by Jefferson, Jackson and Adams..."  The article did not go on to say "and those ignorant, dirty tourists will trample our roses and spit gum on our streets", but it is clearly implied.  

It also has a nice review of a new Burmese restuarant, but info on the concert I could find no trace.  Disbelieving, I looked again, scanning the brief listing of events calendar.  I missed it the first time but eventually found it, squeezed in amongst infinite lists for expensive inaugural balls, a tiny wee entry under the heading "Presidential Inaugural Committee Official Welcoming Event," from which I was able to glean what I already knew.  It starts at 2:30.

The Post does seem to pride itself on its insider, too cool for school attitude, but it might behoove them to recollect, particularly in these uncertain times for newspapers, that on large scale national events like the one we are seeing unfold over the next few days, they are the national paper of record.  They ought to be providing information not just for themselves, but for, yes, the great unwashed masses who have taken time out of their lives and traveled many miles to be part of a once in a lifetime experience.  

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