WASHINGTON, D.C. — Want to come to Washington to see Barack Obama, change personified, get sworn in as president firsthand? Let’s see if we can’t take some of the bloom off the inauguration rose.
Washington officials are planning for the possibility of 4 million people descending on downtown D.C. for the big day Jan. 20. If they are wise, most will leave the cars at home and take public transit. That is, they’ll hop on a subway system that bogs down on nights when the Wizards are playing at Verizon Center – capacity 20,000.
Now, there are 240,000 tickets for the inauguration, some of which are available to the Jacksonian masses through their members of Congress. Each House member is expecting to get 200; each senator, 400. Most of them are for standing spots, not seats. So far, most of Minnesota’s delegation is reporting requests outnumbering tickets somewhere between three to one and 10 to one. And you want to get one?
Did I mention it’s going to be cold? January in Washington does not produce weather that would cause Arne Carlson to cancel school, but there will be long lines, security checks and cold port-a-potties.
“Since the Inaugural Ceremony is held outside, visitors with tickets … should be prepared for winter weather conditions, security screening lines, and at least several hours of standing prior to the ceremony’s start,” a note from St. Paul Rep. Betty McCollum says helpfully.
(Incidentally, in 1985, when the temp dropped to 7 degrees, Reagan’s second inauguration got moved indoors.)
Tell ’em you’re from Wyoming
Let’s say you want to try it. In your favor, my theory is that the distance you live from D.C. is inversely related to your chances of getting a ticket, so your odds are better if you’re in the Midwest than if you live in neighboring Virginia or Maryland. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb is asking for a proximity exception to get more tickets – he’s had 26,000 requests. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin has had more than 45,000 requests.
Your best odds are probably in Wyoming, the least-populous state, which also happens to be pretty far from D.C. It can’t hurt to call them up and see if they’ll have some extras.
For Minnesota’s 1st District Rep. Tim Walz, who reports requests in the hundreds, not all the requests come from southern Minnesota. “Most are from the district,” says spokeswoman Meredith Salsbery. “Some are just calling every member they can think of.”
For her part, McCollum says she has 10 requests for every ticket she expects to get. Michele Bachmann’s office says they’ll go first-come, first-served.
Colleagues John Kline and Jim Oberstar are planning a lottery to determine who gets tickets. (“Process Will Ensure Equitable Allocation,” Kline’s press release says.) They won’t announce the results until early or mid-December. That means if you want a cheap flight, you’ll probably have to book it without knowing yet whether you’ve got a ticket. (Forget about cheap hotel rooms; they are gone. I’ve got friends who are renting their basements for a very reasonable rate, however. E-mail me.)
The tickets themselves are free, by the way. Congressional offices don’t have them yet. Any brokers who claim to have tickets to sell are lying. Once the tickets are passed out, of course, those liars will become much in demand, especially now that legislation to make inaugural scalping a crime looks unlikely to get a vote before Congress goes home for the year.
What’s all the fuss about having a ticket anyway? If you end up here without one, hope is not lost. Most of the spots along the parade route will be open to the public, no ticket needed, and much of that turf will bring you closer to Obama than a spot in the official lineup.
Jumbotrons will broadcast the ceremony on the National Mall, and the congressional office buildings also will have places to watch indoors. Those spectators will probably be sipping cider, coats off, having more fun than you, frozen in place and clutching your ticket.
But maybe it will all be worth it, considering what you can sell that stub for on eBay.