Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day and the Purple Gate Debacle

What a glorious day!

I'm still a bit chilly but my fingers have thawed. So, as promised, here's my story of Inauguration Day.

We breezed into the city in 20 minutes. I'm not kidding. I have spent weeks obsessing about our transportation plan--metro? metro bus? walk? What do to? Then, just a few days ago it hit me--everyone, and I mean everyone, was either planning to walk or take Metro. The bridges from Virginia were closed but the routes from Maryland were wide open.

Dare we go against all recommendations to take public transportation and actually just drive?

When I first suggested it, Abel laughed. Then, I ran the idea by our cab driver Sunday night and his reply was "brilliant!". The more we thought about it, the more it just made sense. I figured if we hopped on 50W to NY Ave. then cut down south and even got a few miles we'd be golden. We could park in a neighborhood and walk from there. We left our house by about 7:10am and literally zipped into the city--zero traffic. We made it the whole way directly to Abel's work parking space 1 block from Union Station in just under 20 minutes.


We even used the bathroom there quickly before walking the few blocks to our purple gate.

Oh, purple gate, purple gate, how you let me down.

It has already been named "Purple Gate Conspiracy".

Read the comments here.

It all started out fine. Yes, hoards of people and long lines and some confusion, but that was expected. People were happy, talking to their neighbors, a few cheers of "Yes we can!" and "Fired up! Ready to Go!" could be heard in different sections of the line. Then, we--and hundreds and thousands of other purple ticket holders around us--started to get nervous as it approached 9am then 9:30am then 10am then 10:30am then 11am with NO MOVEMENT. Well, slight movement, but I'm convinced that was just the crowd condensing itself.

Something went terribly, terribly wrong at the purple gate.

Thousands of people, including us, didn't get in.

Mostly the crowd was jovial. At first. Then people started to get upset. There was chanting "let us in! let us in!"

Rumors were flying. Some people said that they heard that they "forgot" to post guards at the purple gate. Others said the purple gate had already closed.

One woman was quite certain "they" would realize what was wrong when "they" looked out and saw that the purple section was empty. (Um, lady, who, exactly, is "they"?) One woman called her Member of Congress. (Honey, trust me, the lowest staffer is the one manning the office today; everyone else, including your Member, is already in place to watch the inauguration!) Another woman (why were these all women?) was convinced they'd hold the ceremony and wait for us to all get in. (Yeah, we all know that Obama is for the people, but there's this little thing called the Constitution that is pretty clear about when this show needs to happen.)

So, as it inched closer to noon and the line continued to be at a standstill, we decided to bail. We briskly walked back the 4ish blocks to Abel's office and caught the oath and speech on TV.

I'd like to think that all my tears were tears of joy and hope (and relief!) for this historical moment. But, I have to be honest that some of them were most certainly tears of disappointment.

The important thing is that this moment has happened. The important thing is that this dawn has come. It does not matter if I was on this side of the fence or that side of the fence when it happened.

Yes we did!

P.S. We left immediately after the benediction and got home in less than 15 minutes. Needless to say, our friends who were watching Lucas were shocked to see us back so soon!


  1. I am so sad that you did not get onto the Mall! I read the Washingtonpost.com and I guess you were fortunate to be able to get back to Abel's office so you at least got to see it on TV. I know there is not a lot of consolation in that, but also know you will somehow turn this into an okay memory!

  2. Oh my gosh!! That is the saddest thing! I cant believe you didnt even get in and you were so organized! Did any of your fam get in?

  3. Oh no! When I heard about the purple and yellow sections I was just hoping that you didn't have seats there. I am so sorry esp. since I was scanning the crowd thinking just maybe I'd be able to pick out your hat covered and scarf drenched face! Too bad cameras weren't showing the travesty of purple gate! Does this mean you can return those handwarmers?!?

  4. We were in the purple gate conspiracy too. I want to know what happened. So many people waited in that tunnel so patiently with faith that our tickets would be honored. We did not give up and fought to the very end and squeezed into a jam packed narrow gate in the purple area just in time. It was painful! I feel horrible for those who did not get in. Washington DC owes the purple gate ticket holders an explanation!
    Family from Indianapolis

  5. WE WERE STUCK IN THE PURPLE GATE LINE TOO. we just went back to union station and went home. we had to watch the inauguration at home on tivo :(

  6. Thanks for sharing... we three were also at the purple gate. We were of the throng of folks in the I-395 tunnel, which was apparently forgotten about at folks streamed in. However, interesting to hear that it sounds like y'all were coming from a different direction and still had trouble. In our 4 hours in line, not once did we see any official personnel to instruct or direct us, and we never got close enough to the gate to know what went wrong. I hope all folks contact their members, not to distract from Obama's day, but to make sure they know what happened. I heard that the DC police were saying all tickets were honored and people who couldn't fit were properly re-routed to others sections. That's simply not true for many of us, and they shouldn't be permitted to brush it under the rug!

  7. I was involved in the Great Purple Debacle. The Capitol Hill Police Department should be ashamed for their huge organizational lapses. Although I can appreciate the patent challenges of controlling such a large crowd, there seemed to be simple solutions that could have been implemented in order to prevent the chaos that occurred this morning. For example, there were a significant number of unticketed people in the massive lines for the Purple Gate. I am sure that the extra numbers of people in line greatly slowed what could have been a smooth process. This problem could have seemingly been prevented by adequate signs posted around the entrance area, or even a preliminary checkpoint that would have admitted properly ticketed people into an orderly line.

    The most frustrating part of this issue is that those sensible people who patiently waited since early dawn were unable to enter, while the immoral masses who bullied their way to admission were ultimately rewarded. Although it seems the disappointed visitors do not have grounds for equitable remedies as they did not pay for admission, I do believe that there is a valid argument for holding the city accountable on moral grounds. For those in charge to turn a blind eye to the injustices of this morning is for our governing body to condone the use of physical power to trump the rights of those respectable citizens who trusted their government to reward order and punish anarchy.

    I realize that I might be creating a veritable Mount Everest out of a molehill -- but I was truly taken aback by the disorganization of this morning's historic event. Kudos to you folks who remain positive about this morning and recognize the value in appreciating the essence of the ceremony over its practical manifestation.

  8. So sorry, Aimee! I almost called you this morning as I flew out to work and realized that the roads were deserted. I'm so glad that you drove in! A lot of good it did though, huh? Brad saw this mess as he went to his party; he came home and told me all about it, but we had no idea that you were part of that group. At least you had access to a tv.

  9. My 10 year old daughter and I were in the purple gate hell. Having waited nearly 4 hours we finally got to the turn toward the gate only to hear that no one else was getting it. It was awful. We had worked so hard during the campaign, then did so much planning to get there. At that point, and not being from DC, we just did not know where to turn. Not one official offered any information. We talked with police officers and got nothing from them either. Finally, we walked 7 blocks toward NY Ave, then to 18th street and managed to hear the last 9 minutes of Pres. Obama's speech. It was such a disappointment to have worked so hard and to have missed it. Someone definitely owes the purple ticket line (and any other ticket holders) an explanation about this debacle.

  10. I WANT ANSWERS! I, along with tens of thousands of others traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles for today. The purple ticket fiasco ruined my day, which may seem a little selfish, but so what, I'm pissed. It is just not fair that we all had to stand there like dumb asses with absolutely no direction and no explanation of what was happening. I want Diane Feinstein's head on a platter...clearly this is upsetting to me. It's not just that fact that we were shafted, but the fact that the whole experience soured nearly the entire crowd. Later, on TV I saw that crowds were signing and cheering, and I thought to myself, I wanted to sing, I wanted to cheer, but noooo. The expectation was that we were going to be in an area where we could SEE and HEAR what was going on. If I didn't have a purple ticket I would have been absolutely fine to go to the Mall and participate that way. But by giving me a ticket I had an expectation to be in a certain place, which I wasn't and have a certain experience, which I didn't.

    Ultimately, BO was sworn in, which is great...I only wish my experience was great, too.

    BJ from West Texas

  11. Aimee, oh no! I can't believe after all that you couldn't get in to your section. What a disappointment. At least we can all be incredibly happy and proud of our country, no matter where we were at that moment.

  12. I too was at the purple gate disaster and echo all the comments below. I am happy to hear (well sort of happy) that I wasn't the only one to notice the complete lack of crowd control....I saw one cop who was utterly clueless.

    Does anyone have any video of the morning? I only have film (not even digital so it will take a few days to get it back).

    Oh, and we had the same exp. getting in and out though it was on the metro. It was sooooooo easy it blew me away. Too bad it was severely tempered by the wait.

  13. We arrived at the Purple Gate at about 6:30 am. And already, the line spanned a few blocks, entered the 395 tunnel, stretched the entire length of the tunnel, and ended about 200 feet past the end of the tunnel. It seemed to move about 20 feet every half hour. I was skeptical from the time we arrived about whether or not we'd actually get in, about whether or not it was possible that ALL of these people had purple tickets. But everyone in line remained positive until the bitter end. As the line condensed into the last curve of the tunnel, as we walked the 2 1/2 blocks to the "gate", as we neared the security checkpoint, and as they slammed the gates shut in our face. I wish we'd have been like the many people who forfeited the line after hours of waiting, in search of the nearest TV, radio, or access to the Mall. But we just felt like we were SO close. Oh so close, and yet so far, for once they closed the gate on us, there was nowhere to go, not even an explanation from the handful of "officials" around the infamous purple gate(they simply admitted they weren't from DC and had no idea what to tell us to do). And so we stood there, with no view of the Inaugural stage, no speakers so we could at least hear what was going on, freezing our behinds off(even under the multiple layers), and for what? People were upset, many crying, some suggesting a rush of the gate, but most just solemn and disappointed. We crowded together in small huddles and called friends and family to put their phones to their TV so that we could hear Obama's speech. It was one of the single-most depressing experiences of my life. We worked hard to get the tickets, made sacrifices to get here, and didn't get to see a thing. I believe that someone owes us an explanation. And to whom it may concern: if you want to brag about the unprecedented number of people coming to the are and about how much planning went into the details of this event, then PROVE IT. Bumps in the road may be inevitable, plans may need to be adjusted, but be professional, give us some sort of reasoning. Keep us updated. We did our part, no one got out of line, no one protested or caused any uproar, so you should have done your part and held up your end of the bargain. I could go on for days, but I'm exhausted from this long, tiresome day...

  14. Oh Aimee, this sucks! I actually read about this online and thought of you guys so I came to your blog to check and sure enough, you guys were among the ones left out. I couldn't believe it! I'm SO sorry, I know how much it must have meant to you to be there.

    I'm so glad you were able to watch on TV, though. We were watching here, as well. Quite an educational moment for Gabby! Of course I got emotional and cried, and she totally made fun of me, little stinker! One day she'll understand better!

  15. I definitely feel for you and all of the other purple ticket holders.. but it just goes to show, Aim. You should have just stuck with my tickets ;) (please don't hurt me.. I'm JUST JOKING!!) I'm proud of you for being such a good sport about it.. but here's my recommendation...A special meeting with Obama should be set up for all of you purple ticket holders. How does that sound? Talk to your senate members and congressmen/women, and make it happen! :)

  16. Yup, I had purple tickets too. And got shut out.

    I am so happy about Obama but so bitter about what happened. A few police officers, some barricades and a little crowd control and it would have all been fine. It was heartbreaking to see all those mags empty... and noone going through security. I still don't understand what happened. The situation was unsafe with all those mobs of people. I was scared and pissed off.

  17. I was in the purple line and got in -- though we could see as we went in that people behind us were going to be in some serious trouble. Folks from where we were on up to the front had taken a really strong stance against people cutting in line, and actually formed a human wall to prevent cutting... me, my wife and others were out in the road telling people to go to the back of the line and trying to keep some semblance of order because it was clear that the police didn't have the manpower to do so. Making things worse, the Yellow line got so long that it intersected with the Purple one around 1st and C at a right angle, meaning that late arriving Purples along with a mass of unticketed folks got cut off by the Yellow line and jammed the area... so that anyone who was in the Purple Line more than say a block or so back was totally cut off by the Yellow line and this late-arriving mass. Given that some of those cut-off people had probably been there since 5:15 or so (we got there a bit before 5), that really sucks.

    Honestly, it's too bad that the people further back in the Purple line didn't pick up the "no linecutting" efforts... once our group started moving forward and made it to the area where the police were actually enforcing order, we just concentrated on getting inside and no one behind us picked up the line-control efforts -- meaning that the masses that had piled up just jammed the entire area. If the police had been there to clear things out or maybe if other line-waiters had taken up the task, the situation would have been improved.

    The real problem was just a shortage of police and a lack of information. The police who were there were helpful -- multiple times, we'd call an officer over and he'd help us remove someone who was cutting in line, but he was typically the only officer we could see. Those of us who were there by 5 or so had a lot of time to watch the situation evolving and figure out the potential problems, so our front section was pretty well organized, but it rapidly became clear that it was going to be a serious mess about, oh, 200 feet back from where we were. Sorry you guys all got caught up in it!

  18. Same thing at the Blue Gate. You can thank these guys, next time you are at the airport:

  19. Here is a video we created about our experience with "Purple Gate 2009".


  20. The Nation's Capital will celebrate the effective, efficient security measures during the recent Inauguration festivities at the National Bollard Festival.

    See http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/celebrate-inaugural-security/


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