From Eisenhower to Obama, Charlie Brotman's front-row seat to inaugural history
What happens when a city housing 650,000 people doubles in size in a few days? That’s what likely will happen in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20-21 when hundreds of thousands of people, including many from California, are expected to arrive not just for the inaugural but also the Women’s March planned for the next day.
The nation’s capital has had plenty of experience dealing with such rises and falls in population. During Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, an estimated 2 million people crowded into the city. That made for lots of bottlenecks as well as some healing crowd energy.
This time around, though, with two major events scheduled on back-to-back days, the challenge to secure lodging, transportation and dining could be even greater.
Accommodation inside the District itself is pretty much gone or else spectacularly expensive. Hotels that normally charge moderately pricey rates have been asking for upward of $1,000 a night during inaugural weekend. As one sign of how tough housing will be, on Airbnb, a twin bed in a shared room a few minutes’ walk from the White House was going for $800 a night. You don’t even get your own bathroom for that price.
Don’t panic if you don’t already have a room. Try looking about 40 miles to the north, in Baltimore. On Airbnb, prices start dropping for accommodations outside the range of the Washington, D.C., Metro subway system. By the time the housing map reaches Baltimore, those prices become practically boring.
Getting into Washington could mean getting dropped off at one of the northern Metro stations such as Glenmont or Greenbelt. The Acela train also heads to Washington’s Union Station from Baltimore, although those tickets are disappearing fast. Finally, there are lots of cheap bus options such as the Megabus that connect the two cities.
Once you’re in Washington, the challenge will be staying safe and warm. The Jan. 20 inaugural parade runs from the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol and may be your best bet for seeing any action. Give up on trying to get near the 11:30 a.m. inauguration ceremony without a ticket, but you likely can stake out a spot on the Mall anywhere west of Fourth Street. Beware of using the tunnels crossing beneath nearby streets to reach the Mall – they were the prime bottleneck spots in 2009.
The Women’s March starts at 10 a.m. the next day at the corner of Independence Avenue and Third Street Southwest and will follow Independence toward the Washington Monument. With about 200,000 people expected, the streets will be full, but this city has handled larger crowds. The bigger risk will be potential clashes between marchers and those supporting the next president. As a rule of thumb, stay away from the densest crowds in any kind of panic or stampede situation.
Finally, do your best to stay warm. People will be standing, sitting or walking outside in frigid temperature for hours, which can overcome the lining of the coziest winter jacket. Try planning on staying out only for a morning or afternoon and avoid getting stuck in crowds to limit prolonged exposure to the cold. The trek back home will be much more pleasant without the sniffles.
A Grand Ball
What: The Edwardian World’s Faire is a celebration of the late author and illustrator Edward Gorey with a mix of dancing, art, costumes and circus acts. Enjoy a “whodunit” game in celebration of Gorey’s “The Deadly Blotter” tale.
When: 8 p.m.-2 a.m Friday, Jan. 20; 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21
Where: The Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Cost: $85 general admission; $150 VIP; $250 VIP reserved seating.
What: Since 2012, NASA’s Mars Rover “Curiosity” has been gathering soil samples and other important information to help scientists better understand the red planet. Adam Steltzner, landing specialist for the rover, will be presenting photos, current findings and commentary about the mission.
When: 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18
Where: Saroyan Theatre, 730 M St., Fresno
Cost: $35; College students with valid ID get in for free.
Information: www.fresnoconventioncenter.com (under upcoming events)
What: Participating Santa Cruz wineries will offer free tastings, special deals and live music during Passport Celebration Days. Passport holders can visit a selection of more than 50 wineries in one day, or space them out throughout the year. Some wineries will be open after hours for special vineyard tours.
When: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, and various dates through November
Where: Wineries throughout Santa Cruz and neighboring counties, including Fellom Ranch Vineyards and MJA Vineyards.