Two Inauguration Negatives – Groaning & Garbage

By now you’ve either heard or read every possible perspective on what occurred in my fair city of Washington, DC over the past several days. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the tears, cheers, speeches, marches and balls supplemented by 7×24 coverage, countdowns, videos, pictures, satellite images and punditry. If you’re thinking, “Enough already!”, you’re not alone. I too walk among those ready to get past the pomp and onto the circumstance.

So despite my better judgement and while clearly labeling this post in the category of ‘overkill’, I offer you the following observations. And with so much already written on the wonderful nature of the day (and it was wonderful), I thought I’d go counterculture and offer two very negative views of January 20th, 2009.

Negative #1 – Groaning

This was after an 90 min walk, 45 min wait at a gate and some... on TwitPicMy wife and I are a fairly tall, agile and jovial couple who know how to handle ourselves in a crowd. But as you’ve likely experienced, not all crowds are rational organisms who follow the rules and behave like adults.

Thus was the case as we spent ninety minutes pushing, shoving and cajoling our way toward our ticketed viewing area on Inauguration morning. Shortly after clearing security, ~1,000 of us found ourselves sardine packed against a double-fenced gate. Ironically, a Border Patrol Agent was controlling access to our ticketed area while flat-out refusing to acknowledge the clearly open space we were entitled to occupy. One crazed woman in our huddled mass kept screaming about her press credentials and yelling for us to let her pass, saying, “Do *YOU* have $2,500 worth of camera equipment?” At one point she literally tried to crawl between our tightly pressed legs to get to the fence. In return she received a forehead full of tightly clenched butt-cheeks as things got ugly and people started yelling. I finally used my best booming voice to get the agent’s attention and we were let inside after about 45 minutes of largely inappropriate touching. (Note, however, that this was the last time I was warm that day.)

Sure, this was uncomfortable and frustrating, but the real groaning began as the JumboTron showed various dignitaries arriving for the ceremony. This crowd was simply hostile at points. And by hostile, I mean angry, bitter, spitting mad. The chants of “Na na na naah, hey hey hey, goodbye!” when President Bush was announced were mob-like and relatively kind in comparison to some of things people yelled. I know we are all frustrated and I’m not exactly a fan, but I did feel sorry for him and was a bit saddened and embarrassed by the whole raucous display. It’s like heckling the fired boss on his way out (you know, if the boss coerced your company into a war).

Negative #2 – Garbage

Welcome to our National Mall! Tons and tons of trash simply d... on TwitPicHave you ever been to a National Park and heard the motto, “Leave only footprints, take only memories”? Well imagine that instead of footprints you left over 130 tons of trash. Then imagine that instead of memories you took down an entire wireless grid, destroyed barricades, trampled all living things and completely decimated 6.7 million square feet. Welcome to the post-Inauguration apocalypse.

As we worked our way through the maze of frozen Obamites, a swirling brown dust cloud seemed to encapsulate the bottom half of the Washington Monument. The wind whipped as we drew closer, tumbleweeds of hand-warmer packaging, t-shirts and discarded signs rolling about the barren plain that once was our National Mall.

It was everywhere and it was disgusting.

You know when you’re invited to a party at some guy’s house who’s that friend of a friend? And when you arrive, you might accidentally break something, spill your beer on the carpet, not use a coaster and raid the liquor cabinet? That seems to have been the mentality of our city’s guests, the only difference being that as a taxpayer you actually are a partial owner of the house and need to pay about 1,000 maids to help clean it up. It was the ultimate party foul.

It was great having all those visitors to DC, but on your way out please let me know where you live so I can drop a ton of crap on your front lawn.

Mmm… smell that? It’s the sweet smell of victory. If only the Washington Monument were a giant scented candle…

So pick up your trash, stop your groaning, enjoy the newly elected president and let’s keep the conversation going.

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Hi Mark,

You write a great blog! I know that there must have been a lot of hassles with being in those crowds, but I’m so glad that you got to attend such an historic event. I wish that I could have been there, but I’m stuck here in Connecticut for the time being. I feel that all Presidents should be respected and thanked for their service. Not everything goes well, or turns out in the manner we would like it to, but it’s easy to criticize after-the-fact. As public administrators, we all know that making decisions is not a black and white issue. Decisions, especially Presidential ones, come along with various considerations, and much complication. They are very difficult to make, especially when a lot of them have to be made in such a short time. We can only hope that history is kind to us. I believe that the office of the President itself, whether one likes his or her policies or not, should be viewed with the highest respect and consideration one can give. I know one thing for sure, and that is that all of our Presidents hold the nation’s benefit as their highest regard, and their intentions are honorable. It does, however, take a strong person to stand by his or her convictions when times aren’t the best. The office of the President must always be respected, and no one should have to endure crowds of that level of visciousness. I hope we’ll move on to a higher level of civilty. Thank you for relating your experiences of the event!

Mark Stelzner

@LMTB4 – Thanks very much for your comments Laura. And although I presented an overtly negative view, we did have a fantastic time and really enjoyed the entire Inaugural experience. We were also fortunate enough to visit with Michelle Obama at the White House on Wednesday – she was absolutely charming and engaging.

I can see how easy it is for people to boo, hiss and snarl at President Bush. And to be honest, when you’re part of a massive crowd, it’s very tempting to jump on the bandwagon. That being said, I suspect in a 1×1 situation most people would be quite respectful if they actually met the President in person. So, although I was saddened by the display, I do understand the reasons why it happened.

Mark Danielson

Hi Mark,

There are many sides to joy. OK, “visit with Michelle Obama at the White House? ” Big sigh. You lucky you.

And great blog of course. Again. Best regards, -MD

Mark Stelzner

@Mark Danielson – Thanks as always Mark. RE: Michelle Obama, we were randomly chosen by the Inaugural Committee to be part of the Open House on President Obama’s first full day of office. There were several hundred citizens who participated in a tour and were able to shake hands with one or both of the 1600 Penn’s new residents. It was a terrific experience and one I won’t soon forget.

Deborah Kemp, SPHR

Mark, I really appreciate your perspective on the inaugural crowds and going “counterculture.” I’ve been to a previous inauguration, including the inaugural balls. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, nor will I forget a party the Clinton’s hosted many years ago where I chatted with President Clinton while having a bourbon on the rocks. That was truly special.

What I would like to see much less of is the unending media coverage about Michelle’s white inaugural gown, the lemongrass jacket and sheath ensemble, and the fact that J.Crew stock went up because Malia and Sasha donned those adorable, custom-made J.Crew outfits. Everything about the day was spectacular and my family and I enjoyed every moment of Inauguration Day we watched in HDTV on a 60″ screen with our feet propped up on an ottoman. It was a great day and evening.

Now, I want to get back to business, but I’m beginning to feel like the media thinks we’re more interested in these inconsequential matters, rather than issues that really matter.

Let’s hear more about both sides of the EFCA, and the likelihood of passage to balance all the money American Rights at Work poured into airtime for those one-sided television advertisements. Let’s engage in speculation on the impact that anonymous hold on Hilda Solis’ confirmation will have on the DOL and the agency’s mission. And, if eventually confirmed, how will Solis succeed at working collaboratively with labor and industry? I ask this because I interpret President Obama’s message to all of us as “collaboration can bring about progress.” I want to learn more about the impact of New York Governor Paterson’s selection of Kirsten Gillibrand for Clinton’s seat, and less speculation about why Caroline Kennedy changed her mind.

Oh, and another thing or two: I don’t really care that President Obama ordered a cheeseburger, cooked medium-well during his first Air Force One flight. With the exception of vegans and vegetarians, all of us love a good cheeseburger every now and then, right? And, Blagojevich’s comments really should be saved for a sitcom, although I respect due process.

I don’t think I’m being overly serious, but I just want more from media. Do they think we’re functioning at a lower level than we really are? Just my two cents …