Thursday, November 11, 2010

Images from the Rally to Restore Sanity

Though we couldn't see or hear what was happening on stage for a good half of our time at the Rally to Restore Sanity, we always had plenty to look at, primarily in the form of signs, some of which were serious, some of which were funny, and some of which were nonsensical.

The sign with the dodo bird on it said "Dodo birds feared nothing. Now they're extinct."

If you can't read it: This sing has a word in Arabic, under which it reads "Relax. It just says McDonalds."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity: The Experience

*I'm going to divide my comments on the Rally to Restore Sanity into three posts: one simply detailing the experience, one providing an analysis of it, and one with photos of the signs we saw and perhaps some other nonsense.

It's 6:20 a.m., when we turn over the engine of the Volvo and drive down the quiet Saturday morning streets of Durham, destination Washington D.C. and the Rally to Restore Sanity. For 3.5 hours, we move quickly and steadily down I-85 and then I-95, trees decked in their fall colors brightening our ride. When we approach the D.C. suburbs, traffic grows heavier but continues to move. Our first back-up is at the Franconia-Springfield exit, which takes you to the furthest out Metro stop on the Blue Line. Because it's not yet 10 a.m., we decide to push on to the West Falls Church Metro Station, which is both closer to the city (inside the Beltway) and closer to the home of the friends who we are staying with that night. We don't make it much further before we hit traffic. We watch the arrival time on our GPS push  back minute by minute, but we manage to arrive in the vicinity of the station around 10:15. We grab some food in a nearby shopping center and then turn down the side road to the station. That's when we get the first inkling of how big this rally is going to be.

The surface lot at West Falls Church is full, and the line to get into the garage is long. We join it and creep forward. Our friends, who tried the Vienna Station, which is on the same line as West Falls Church but is further out, call and tell us that it is full. We see a few cars come out of the garage, and I'm convinced there are no more spaces. We enter anyhow, and climb up, up, up through full floors of cars. We take the last spot on the fourth floor. Success.

At least until we get down the stairs and across the street to the actual station entrance. There we are confronted with a line that snakes back and forth and back and forth the entire length of the drop off lane outside the station. There are hundreds of people in this line, if not a thousand. But it is calm, orderly. People laugh, joke. No one pushes. We hop in line, and then I decide to try to pop my head inside the station and see just what is going on. I come running out two minutes later. "Come on," I yell to Jeff. "The line is for buying tickets, not getting on." Though we haven't lived in DC in two years, we still have our Smart Cards, and so we bypass the line, push through the turnstiles, and descend to the platform.

I check the sign. Train in two minutes. We scan the platform and try to guess where to stand to maximize our chances of getting on. We find a regular who says he knows where the doors open, and we stand with him and wait. The train pulls in. Packed. Packed. Packed. It's brake squeal and work hard to stop. It takes longer to stop than normal. The doors are ten feet in front of us. Far too far away for us to have a chance of being among the two or three people that squeeze on. We let it go. Another one will come soon, I think, but when I check the board, it's another 8 minutes. And then another 12. Metro is running its regular lazy Saturday schedule with trains spread far apart and with only six cars on each train instead of rush hour's eight.

Some people switch sides and hop on the train going in the opposite direction, their plan to take the train to the end of the line and get on there where it might not be so full. We decide to try for the next train and reposition ourselves. We chat with the people around us. When the train pulls in, it is again full. Beyond capacity. Beyond my comfort level. But this time a door is in front of us when the train stops, and we push our way in. There is no where to hold on, but there is no need to. I couldn't go anywhere if I wanted to. But still people laugh and joke, remain friendly.

 The train moves slowly, each stop taking forever, as people try to push on, and the doors refuse to close. The conductor asks that when we stop and the doors open we politely tell the people on the platform that there is no room and they should not try to enter. We laugh. When has that ever worked?

At a few minutes before noon, rally start time, our train pulls into Federal Station and we hop off along with all the locals. Out-of-towners continue on to the Smithsonian stop. Though closer, we know it will also be crazier. We walk past the Smithsonian museums and then onto the mall. There are people everywhere. In all the years I lived in DC, I have never seen so many people. Fourth of July looks tame, tame, tame compared to this. We mash our way into the crowd. The crowd is majority white, though there are significant numbers of people of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern descent in the crowd. African Americans are also present. Hispanics seems to be very underrepresented. The crowd is young, but the crowd is also old. There are families with small children. There are teenagers with their parents. There are people who belonged to the Vietnam protest era. There are grandparents. There are many more people in the 40-70 demographic than most people would have expected.

We hear distant music. The capitol, which is where the stage is located, is far, far ahead of us. 

"Has it started yet?" I ask Jeff.

"I don't know," he says. It's completely unclear what is going on.

"Let's try to get closer," he says.

We push forward, finding passageways here and there. We point out the signs we see. Some are serious. Some are funny. Some resonate. Some are purely silly.

The music ends. We hear words. People begin to chant: Louder, Louder, Louder.

"Who is that?" I ask.

"John Stewart," Jeff says. I can't tell.

The talking stops. Then we hear a mumble that grows louder.

"I think they're singing the national anthem," Jeff says. We stand quietly.

All the while, we try to keep pushing forward. We are still a good ways south of Seventh Street, which had been designated the entrance to the rally, the idea being that everyone would congregate from Seventh east to the capital. Instead, people are packed in almost all the way to 14th Street, near the Washington Monument.

The next thing we hear is the introduction of the Myth Busters. We hear bits and pieces of what they say, mainly that they want us to do the wave. We hear the countdown. We assume it begins. We wait and wait and nothing happens. We assume it dies. And then there's a rumble.

"I hear the wave coming," I say. And it does come, reaching us something like 30 seconds after it began.

From noon to two, most of the event passes us by. All I see are the shoulders of the people around me. Jeff says that he can sometimes see a Jumbotron, but that it is far, far ahead of us. Bits and pieces of soundwaves make their way to us. I catch a few lyrics of Crazy Town. We join a Love Train as it pushes forward. Most of the time we hear only the conversation of the people around us. Most of the time we see nothing but kids trying to climb trees and scale lamp posts for better views. Every once in a while our section erupts into cheers, but it's not for what is happening on stage, but for the kids who manage to scale the trees successfully. "Yes you can. Yes you can," the people around us cheer for the tree climbers. We have no idea what is happening on stage.

By about 2 p.m., we have successfully pushed our way up to Seventh Street. We see the First Aid Tent that was supposed to be at the back of the event, still a fair bit in front of us. Jeff is now able to see the Jumbotron in the far back. I can still only see the people around me, but I can now hear. We hear the Stewart-Colbert debate. We hear Stewart give his final speech. We hear the final group sing-along.

And with that, the Rally to Restore Sanity is over. We have friends we want to meet up with, but there are no phone signals. The lines are jammed. At 3:30 p.m., I receive a text that was sent at 12:30 p.m. We press against a truck as the crowds swarm pass and wait to find our friends. I look up Seventh Street. It is a mass of humanity as far as I can see in both directions. I wonder if the people waiting in line to buy tickets for the Metro ever made it here.

Eventually we meet up with our friends. We don't even want to try the Metro so we set off to find a bar. We walk north and south and east and west. We walk and walk and walk. Everywhere is packed. Eventually we find a seat outside. The wind is brisk, especially now that we are not packed together person to person.

Later we go to another friend's house and have dinner and drinks. At 11:30 p.m., when we board a Metro back to our car, it's still standing room only.