The Inauguration was great - but battling the crowds? Yikes!
Getting off the Mall when everything was said and done was a lot harder in the doing than the saying. People started to leave the moment the new President said "God Bless America," skipping the poetry and prayer that followed in hopes of somewhere warm.
No such luck -- many of the gates onto the Mall stayed closed after the inauguration was over, and even where people could exit there were often concrete barriers that only allowed one or two people at a time to exit.
In one case, a huge mass of people was diverted into a parking lot at the side of the Department of Agriculture, where they ran straight into a large holly hedge separating them from the "freedom" of Independence Ave.
The press of people was such that turning back wasn't an option, and so enterprising inauguration-watchers just battered holes through the hedge, surely to the consternation of the USDA's gardeners. Oh, well - the Ag Department probably has some plants to replace those fallen in the line of duty.
Even where vegetation was a little more forgiving, the streets were jam-packed. Police and soldiers were on hand to direct traffic as best they could, but the sea of people seemed to just flow, pushing people downstream like a force of nature.
With traffic downtown largely limited to official business, downstream mostly lead to subway stations - the Washington Metro - where the drains became a little plugged.
With only a few machines dispensing Metro tickets and many visitors not clear which end of the ticket to put into the turnstiles, the flow of people into the system was just a trickle - leading in at least one case to the surreal sight of hundreds of people crowded around the entrance to the station while the underground trains were running only half full.
Later in the afternoon, the transit authorities opened the gates and stopped charging fares -- a little lost revenue, perhaps, but at the price of getting the thousands in the streets moving again.
Crowds, delays and all, however, most people on the street seemed to be smiling, talking to each other - in a word, happy. The cold and the lines mattered less, it seems, than having been there.