austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

I'm your travel agent man, I'll take you to another land

What seemed mysterious to me during the event was that my father had not called. He'd said he would in the morning to see if we could possibly meet up, to eat if not to actually see each other. But not only did I not hear him --- not surprising since I still don't recognize my phone's ring tone --- but there weren't even missed calls or voice-mail messages.

What there was, was an incredible mass of people. From our spot there was no seeing just how far ahead it went, apart from the implicit stopping point of the stage, which without a sense of how big it was provided no sense of how far away it was. Looking backwards, it looked as if the crowd just kept going on and on and on, maybe back to ... well, the vicinity of the Washington Monument? Did it stop short of there? Did it go on past there? There wasn't any way to tell; the crowd was too thick, and I wasn't tall enough, even when I hopped.

After the rally ended, the dispersal began. My inclination in crowds trying to disperse, whether the mob on the bus, or the passengers in an airplane, or the people in a movie theater, or the audience leaving a lecture, is to sit still, maybe reading my book, and let them go, and leave later on when there's less of a challenge finding the way out. bunny_hugger's friends were more inclined to plunge away right away and try to get ahead of the wave of people; and, well, I might be wrong about my approaches anyway. Although it was tough at times --- the flow of people kept trying to rip our little band apart --- we were able to stick together, as we poured first to the sides of the Mall, and then heading northward.

What we really wanted was something to drink; none of us had eaten anything since about 9 am, and we hadn't drank anything in at least as long. My proposal was that we could start walking in any direction until the crowd thinned out, then go another couple of blocks, and that would likely be somewhere we could sit. This was an excellent theory, defeated only by the fact that the crowd never dispersed.

It thinned, certainly, especially once we got off the Mall, a process which took the better part of an hour. There was some good in that, since it gave us the chance to see many more signs and costumed people and to wonder what the people protesting the Sochi Olympics were all about. (Apparently the Sochi Olympics have something to do with genocide.) But, and I can't emphasize this quite enough, there were a lot of people there. All friendly, all happy to help, all quite understanding of how hard it is to keep a chain of people together when some are trying to go as fast as possible and others are trying to read or photograph all the signs, but still, a lot of people.

The most striking, most wondrous thing to me was after walking a couple blocks away from the mall and I turned back and saw not just that the street was full back to the mall, but that from where we were the mall was still full, and the street opposite us was also full up as far as I could see. That's how many people were there, and this was just one street, and just a few blocks. The street ahead of us was just as packed, and just as far as we could see in that direction. Local hills meant we weren't quite going off to the horizon in both directions, but it wouldn't have made much difference to the impression left.

We kept seeing new strange things as we walked. There was someone who was carrying a ``Fighting Ignorance --- It's Taking Longer Than We Thought'' sign; I was eager to find out if this was a fellow Cecil Adams fan, maybe even another participant in, but wasn't able to get near enough to interact. There was a band, apparently, which had taken its bus and built a dragon float around it. This we really wanted to get close to, to see just what was going on, although again there was the huge crowd, and the desire to find someplace to sit, somewhere to get a drink, somewhere to pause.

So we kept walking, and kept walking, and kept walking. Somewhere around the Washington Library we had the idea to move over a block, so as to be on a street which wasn't a direct path from the Mall, and this was considerably less crowded. Unfortunately it had fewer restaurants or bars or much of anything to go into; we did finally find someplace and they estimated they'd be able to seat four people in something like an hour. We decided to carry on and found Chinatown and a Subway restaurant which bunny_hugger recognized, but still, nothing that didn't have a stream of people going far out.

A mysterious thing happened while we were on the way to a small park where we finally sat and recuperated for a while: I found I have voice mail. I tried to listen to it, but the phone made some weird noise and hung up on me. That's odd enough by itself, but the thing was, after a few tries I did get through. The message was from my father, reporting where he'd gotten to before the rally started. It was a message left from before noon. A little while later I found two more voice mails from my father, and had a similarly hard time actually listening to them. I tried to call my father, since bunny_hugger and I hoped to get to dinner with him, but the phone kept hanging up on me.

Finally I realized what was happening; the mass of nearly a quarter million people breaking up after the rally had overloaded Verizon's cell phone network. And then I realized this was why my efforts to use the iPad to guide us to a restaurant or any other kind of specific site wasn't working either: AT&T was no less overloaded. Whatever else the Rally might have accomplished, it had left two cell phone networks crushed under the accumulated weight.

Toward the end of the rally bunny_hugger had realized that I had my iPad and we could see what was on stage through the Internet streaming of the event. But she thought it was too late in the event to start that now. Given what I learned about the cell phone networks it's probably just as well; my iPad was very shaky just getting the basic maps of the city, without even looking at traffic or aerial photographs. Live Internet video was probably hopeless.

We talked some and developed the plan of heading back towards the Mall, I think because we concluded finding somewhere to sit was hopeless but we could go to the bathroom at a Barnes and Noble I'd noticed. And that was a fair idea except that the line to the bathroom at Barnes and Noble was as long as any for a cafe or bar or restaurant. Actually, it was the women's room line that was so long; the men's room ... well, had three people in it when I went in, and was pretty soon emptied. I suggested to some of the women waiting that if they didn't mind it was clear and I could stand guard, but nobody was having it.

At the bookstore I briefly made contact with my father, but the overloaded phone system crashed again. I tried again, getting through half a call before that crashed; and again, almost getting to where my father answered the phone before it hung up. But between the half-completed calls, the voice mails I was able to get, and the e-mail he'd sent in the morning and that I got in the afternoon, we had a rough plan. If we wanted to join my father, uncle, and affiliated parties for dinner, we should get to the end of the Metro's orange line at about 6:30 pm. If we left right now, we ... might just be able to get through the Metro crowds and ride to the end of the line.

So, regretting that we didn't find anywhere to sit, we said goodbye to bunny_hugger's friend, and the friend's friend; they were planning to find a bar and then get back to the hotel and we'd probably see them later, certainly Sunday morning for breakfast. bunny_hugger and I walked back to Metro Center, and discovered the first train we got on --- since we had to connect --- was pleasantly empty, probably because we were going roughly into the city in that direction and a quarter-million people were trying to go out. The train we connected to was not nearly so empty, although it didn't achieve the packing density of the morning.

We were well on the way to introducing bunny_hugger to further extensions of my family.

Trivia: By 1880 there were 97,568 miles of telegraph cable strung underneath the world's oceans. Source: Empire: The Rise And Demise Of The British World Order And The Lessons For Global Power, Niall Ferguson.

Currently Reading: The Klondike Fever: The Life And Death Of The Last Great Gold Rush, Pierre Berton.


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