D.C. readies as millions head to city
Obama’s inaugural events are expected to draw unprecedented crowds.
Sonya Ali is bracing herself for Inauguration Day. Since Barack Obama ate lunch last Saturday at her family’s diner – Ben’s Chili Bowl, a Washington landmark – folks have been stopping by to see where the president-elect sat and then order what he had: a chili half-smoke and sweet tea.Skip to next paragraph
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But nothing will compare with the crowds expected on Jan. 20, when the District of Columbia will play host to an unprecedented crush of humanity, coming to witness history as America inaugurates its first black president.
Predictions range from 1.5 million to 3 million visitors, but who knows? Weather will be a factor. Around town, inaugural planning – both official and unofficial – has been in the works for months. Essential employees who work downtown are preparing to sleep at the office on inauguration eve, rather than risk traffic the next morning. Restaurants are laying in extra supplies.
“Fifty big cans of potato chips came in today, and 100 more are coming tomorrow,” says Ms. Ali. She predicts hours-long lines at Ben’s on Tuesday, “bigger than [at] our 50th anniversary last summer.”
Around the White House, signs of presidential turnover abound. Construction workers are putting the finishing touches to the reviewing stand for the inaugural parade.
Stepped up security has made it hard for tourists to take the usual snapshots of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Across Lafayette Park, a stone’s throw from the White House, security around the Hay-Adams Hotel – the Obama family’s temporary residence – is presidential-level tight.
But it’s all the events of this long weekend, starting with a big concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, that have sent planners into overdrive. Around downtown D.C., portable toilets are sprouting up like mushrooms after a spring rain (a total of 5,000 are planned).
Each day, it seems, new details emerge for dealing with the expected masses. Visitors and local residents are being discouraged from driving into the city. Folks living or staying in Virginia who want to head into D.C. are going to have it especially tough: Personal vehicles will be banned from all Potomac River bridges from Virginia into the district beginning at 2 a.m. on Inauguration Day. That’s the thanks Virginia gets for voting for Mr. Obama, some wags are muttering.
Layers of security
The Secret Service has mapped out street closures in D.C. for Inauguration Day, and authorities have already begun sealing off a several-square-mile area around the Capitol, where Obama will take the oath of office. More than 20,000 law enforcement personnel, some in plainclothes, plus bomb-sniffing dogs and air patrols will be deployed on Inauguration Day, according to published reports.