WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Perhaps the snipers on the rooftops and media helicopters could make a pattern out of the braiding lines of humanity, but down on the ground it was baffling.
Thousands upon thousands -- many wielding tickets -- missed out on the historic inauguration,
Last night in bars, patrons hoisted beers in one hand while shifting sleeping bags on their backs.
Their encampments started a line last night that by 7:30 a.m. was already a seething knot. Perhaps the sardine-packed streets kept folks too crowded to be cold, keeping the pandemonium at bay. Down on Second and D streets, several thousand people were in an eddy, trapped and penguining inches at a time in all directions. It was hours before they noticed a hole in a fence that they could have used to escape.
Back on Massachusetts Avenue, vendors hawked chemical hand warmers, T-shirts and Barack Obama hand puppets. A block off from the throng the streets are empty by 11 a.m. Around the corner, an apocalyptic tableau of ticket-clenching attendees surge out of a traffic tunnel. The crowd rumors have already begun.
Obama's people have rented all the Segways in the district. Random packages around town stalled the security sweeps. Then one finally takes: A group of uniformed U.S. Army officers passing by the crowd in the opposite direction announces that the metal detectors are down. The thousands of purple ticket holders are out of luck.
The crowd dissolves, revealing a carpet of trash and newsprint that the wind carries up to the seventh floor of the Federal Home Loan building on Second and D streets.
Blocks over at Union Station, a disheartening fluid seeps from a row of portable toilets. Inside the station, a large projection screen is set up for viewing, but remains blank.
The ceremony, however, plays on a smaller TV on the station floor, where a few hundred people gather to catch Obama place his hand on the Bible. One man holds up his camera like a periscope to get a clearer view of the television while the woman he's with uses binoculars to peer at a TV behind a bar 100 yards away.
Disappointed and displaced, the crowd remains calm. They may have missed their chance at history, but they don't allow history to escape them.