Verner column: 5,000 reasons to avoid inauguration

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

There are several reasons I won’t be going to Washington to experience the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, none of them having anything to do with him.
For one thing, I couldn’t get a ticket to the swearing-in ceremony. They were going for up to $7,500 apiece on eBay, according to the L.A. Times, before the school-marmish feds stepped in and said this was not the kind of economic stimulus initiative they had in mind. For that kind of cash, I’d expect a position in the Cabinet, as well as a seat on the dais beside the first mother-in-law. (Bush had Dick Cheney lurking at his elbow; Obama will have his mother-in-law living in the White House. This suggests some sort of cosmic equilibrium at work in presidential affairs. Let’s just hope the mother-in-law has a steadier aim.) For another thing, I have no earthly idea what one would wear to a presidential inauguration, although probably not a burqa or a desert-camo hunting outfit.
It will be a glorious occasion. I will be wishing the new president, his family and our nation Godspeed. I’ll just be doing it from several hundred miles away, confident that my positive thoughts will have fully as much intercessional force as if I were among the throng at the National Mall, crunched in between the fat guy from Minnesota whose furry ear flaps thwack me in the eye every time he swivels his head and the woman from Idaho whose screaming 2-year-old is baptizing bystanders with spewed apple juice and gaily whacking their kneecaps with a plastic American flag.
Although I won’t be in attendance, I wanted to get a sense of the scene there, a taste of the festive atmosphere. I called my friend Jim, who has lived and worked in D.C. for 28 years. His home is three blocks from Capitol Hill. His office is four blocks from the White House. He has been there through the inaugurations of Reagan, Clinton, the two Bushes ó and too many Redskin collapses to count. Given his experience as a Washington insider, geographically speaking, and a former history major, I knew he could help me grasp the grand sweep of this moment and perhaps even impart a vicarious appreciation for the majesty and solemnity of what will take place two days hence.
So, Jim, it must be an incredibly neat experience to be living in D.C. these days, huh?
“It’s hysterical. It’s nuts. People are out of their freaking minds to come here right now.”
The Republican National Committee has been saying the same thing for months.
Obviously, security precautions are intense. Even before the inauguration, much of Capitol Hill was barricaded and locked down, with many streets closed to vehicular traffic, bulked up police patrols and black-clad FBI guys peering down from rooftops. Contrary to popular perception, these weren’t counter-terrorism tactics but were measures implemented by Sen. Harry Reid to keep Roland Burris from taking his seat in the Senate. For the inauguration itself, even greater precautions are evident. Authorities have banned any items that might conceal explosives or firearms, including backpacks, beer coolers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s hair.
If the security measures alone aren’t enough to give one second thoughts about attending the inauguration, here’s a chilling statistic that puts in stark terms the likelihood of some sort of massive crisis occurring as Obama takes the oath of office: 5,000 porta-potties.
That’s right. For an event expected to attract anywhere from 2 million-5 million people, planners are bringing in only 5,000 porta-potties. Talk about overburdened infrastructure. Who works out the logistics for these things ó FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers? Even though these are probably the Franklin Mint’s special commemorative edition porta-potties ó bearing the presidential seal and eventually destined to be displayed as family heirlooms in living rooms across America ó they still have a capacity of only about 150 “uses” before achieving what, in legislative terms, might be considered a “full hopper.” You do the math.
So, while I am enjoying this splendid occurrence from the safe remove of Salisbury, here’s my advice for those who will be in Washington: Wear warm clothes, don’t overhydrate (the porta-potty wait could be excruciating) and beware of hyperactive children bearing juice bottles.
And what about you, Jim ó any parting observations as our republic prepares to enact the stately passing of power?
“If you want to see the inauguration, watch it on TV.”
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Chris Verner is editorial page editor of the Salisbury Post.