I live in our Nation’s Capital and I love it.
It’s a great city for so many reasons: It’s super walkable; there are hundreds of miles of bike paths around the area (56 miles in the District itself!); the architecture is pretty; each neighborhood has its own distinct personality; the residents are some of the best educated in the nation; the public transit system is clean and safe; there’s so much culture – museums, theaters, galleries – and most of it is free… I could go on. And on.
But one thing I do not like about living here: The tourists.
I know, I know. This city belongs to all Americans, so I can’t really get territorial.
But from April to September, DC is transformed into the urban equivalent of Walmart as loud people wearing Cheetoh-stained flag shirts and fanny packs crowd the sidewalks (four-across, no less!) with their mouths agape, making it hard for those of us who live here to get from Point A to Point B. I’m here to tell you that the stereotype of “Obnoxious American Tourists” isn’t reserved for how we behave in other countries.
So then, to continue the analogy: If DC is like Walmart for six months of the year, Independence Day is like Black Friday. People show up early. They push and shove to jockey into position. There are more people than real estate. And Neil Diamond is playing over the PA system.
Most locals either stay home and watch the fireworks from their roof decks or scoot out of the city all together, choosing to relax on a beach for a week while the inmates run the asylum back in DC.
This year, since Independence Day fell on a Thursday and Alan had to work on Friday, we decided to stay in the area. The forecast was hot and humid, so rather than hanging in the District, I hopped on my bike Thursday morning to head to Alan’s place in Arlington so we could relax by the pool and grill up some steaks for dinner, far from the crowds.
We thought we were clever – hatching a plan that allowed Alan to avoid the District in his car on a notoriously crazy traffic day – but apparently we had overlooked a wee detail. Namely, the fact that it hasn’t even been three months since the Boston bombings.
Meaning: Homeland Security spared no effort in securing our Nation’s Capital, something I hadn’t realized until I was on my bike, trying without luck to cross Constitution Ave in front the White House.
As I came rolling down 15th Street, I saw a crowd ahead of me, blocking my path to Constitution Ave. I could tell they were watching a parade (as evidenced by the people dressed in old-timey gear, riding old-fashioned bicycles in circles while waving over the on-lookers’ heads), but this in itself didn’t deter me – I’ve accidentally participated in races, runs and parades before due to bad timing. (The most memorable was when I accidentally became the pace car for the Gay Pride Parade because I remembered to move my Jetta just as the cops where showing up to tow it.)
So the crowd was thick, but I was going to try to wiggle through and cross – until I saw that the Mall had an eight-food chain link fence barring access to the other side of the street. Huh? (After Googling, I’ve learned the barricade actually ran 32,000 feet in length.)
I did a U-turn and asked a cop for advice about where I’d be able to cut across the Mall. He was friendly but useless. Apparently when they’d done the briefing for the event, he had only paid attention to his specific role – not the overall design of the parade route and city plan in general.
I thanked him for nothing, then rode back up 15th Street, where I asked a Secret Service agent the same question. As expected, he was more dialed in and offered good advice. I’d have to cut up to the Memorial Bridge and take that route out of the city. No problem.
Or at least – no problem until I got to the bridge and saw that it was blocked by a series of Metro Buses parked nose-to-tail, creating a rather effective barricade, with cops monitoring the only gap that remained. Turns out, the ENTIRE Mall – from the Lincoln Memorial/Memorial Bridge to the Capitol Building, was fenced in. The only way to get out of town was to pass through one of nine pedestrian checkpoints.
So I biked back half a mile, then stood in line with other bikers and walkers trying to get to (or across) The Mall. The police inspected my bag and wiped my bike down with the chemical/explosive detecting wand typically used at airports.
The security measures ended up adding 30 minutes and two miles to my commute out of town. A headache on a hot day, but it appears the efforts were effective since there were no major “events.”
Unless you count Alan fetching me from the pool later that afternoon, blood dripping off his hand at an alarming rate after he took the tip off his finger with a potato peeler. Guess next year we’ll have to put an eight-foot fence around his kitchen.