How the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) Almost Drove Me Insane…

…but it still rocked!

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Originally posted on 11/02/2010

I’ll skip over the bulk of the trip to D.C. other than to say that we got in several hours after we’d intended to and none of us felt so hot. I will also offer a brief plug to the Hyatt Somerfield Suites, because that was by far the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in for such a reasonable price. The kitchenette even had a mini-dishwasher. Unfortunately, as fantastic as the room otherwise was, the mattresses turned out to be a little too firm. I put forth this information to make clear that; we were already all a little tired and sore when we started our day.

We came out to the very nice continental breakfast at about 9:30. My sister had already popped out earlier, just to see what they had to eat, and reported back that there were several people talking about the rally. Since we’d already seen two vehicles on our way to D.C. — one car with Sanity or Bust messages written on its windows, and a trailer being towed bearing a large sticker of the March to Keep Fear Alive poster — this furthered our excitement. I kept trying not to expect too much, because I didn’t want to overhype this in my head. In hindsight, that was a huge mistake on my part.

During breakfast we watched CNN coverage from the Mall; given the size of the crowd at 9:30, that we might have underestimated the turnout seemed more likely than my earlier worry. We decided to eat quickly and get on the road. Our hotel was in Herndon, so we drove to the West Falls Church Metro station; parked in the all-day lot, and walked toward the station. By the time we saw the line, we were almost to the entrance to the skywalk — which was absolutely packed with people and had a line about 10 feet out of said skywalk. This, as we soon found out, was the line to buy Metro passes.

This is where our arriving late really nailed us, because we had planned to drive in Friday night and get Metro passes, because we weren’t sure if they had machines or what. But since we got in so late, and the front desk clerk told us they did have machines to get passes on the weekends, we decided not to bother. If only…

I’m not great with gauging time, but I’d say we waited around 40 minutes to get to the fare machines. And while we waited, we saw another problem emerge. From the skywalk you can see the platform, and we could observe people not being able to board the already full train cars. “Ruh roh Raggy” should’ve gone off in my head. In fact, I really am a little ashamed I didn’t start getting nervous earlier than that. But I’m jumping ahead.

In line for passes we saw some good signs and costumes. One person I’m fairly certain was dressed as a talking vagina. Another wore a sombrero bearing a small placard reading “Fear Me, por favor?” A sign we watched wait at the platform for a while read, “WTF?! THEY’RE MAKING A SEQUEL TO TRON?” They were making fun of people who’d taken the Tea Party’s tendency toward period costumes to heart, only they mostly chose turn of the century England as the period of choice.

After the lengthy line to get tickets was done, we went down to the platform; the down escalator was still working then. We stood, exchanging some brief conversation with a local woman who was trying to get to a salon, and watched at least three trains go without room to spare. Another group had already shifted tactics, and jumped on trains going in the other direction, realizing they were more likely to get on the trains at the originating point two stations away. After our fourth full train, we followed suit.

That is right about the moment I remembered that I’m claustrophobic.

Seriously, I don’t think it clicked until right around then. I wasn’t even panicking yet; I just suddenly realized that it could be a problem once I was on the train. I generally do okay in tight spaces, as long as the air isn’t too stuffy and I can at least move a little. Even the dark doesn’t exacerbate my problem too much; it’s only if I can’t move parts of my body or I can’t get enough fresh air that I really lose it.

We caught the first train back to the Vienna station, and instead of being deboarded, waited while they did what they do to have this train go back the other way. As we waited several people crowded on. I wasn’t doing too bad though, I was more worried about how short I am and how tall the grab bar was. It wasn’t that I couldn’t reach it, but it was something of a stretch, which is pretty hard on the shoulders as you’re being jostled around on the train. Another local woman was telling us how surprised she was by this turn out, indicating it hadn’t been this bad since the inauguration.

After the first couple of stations we were already overfull, but more people were somehow getting on the train. The people at our nearest doors did what they could to prevent more from shoving their way on, but I don’t think as much effort was made at the other end of our car. By the time we got to the first underground station, I was in trouble. The air was getting very hot and stagnant, thanks to so many bodies breathing on board. When we’d started the ride I was behind two men whose nationalities I hadn’t placed (they only spoke once the whole trip). By at this point I was practically spooning one of them, and not out of choice — though the other one was kind of cute. My left arm was starting to go numb, because people being so crammed was pulling my messenger bag down and the strap was digging badly into my shoulder. I made it almost two stations that way, and unfortunately it was the last two stations which opened on my side of the car, or things might’ve played out differently.

Sis and I were standing within two feet of one another, but couldn’t have reached out and touched each other if we’d tried. But we could see and hear on another, and she knew I had already been struggling. I was tearing up by then, and when she again asked if I was OK I stopped saying yes. I told her I didn’t think I could do it, that I was going to have to get off at the next station on my side, even if I had to shove my way off (I’m not sure I said the last part aloud). She told me to do what I had to and she and Michael would meet wait for me at the stop for the Mall. Unfortunately for me, the next station that boarded on my side of the car was the right before the Federal Triangle, which was one stop before the Smithsonian; basically I waited too long and had no choice but to wait it out. Miraculously, I didn’t faint or completely lose it. The one thing I can be grateful for is that my tears were relatively silent.

It was around 1PM when we finally got off the Metro, went up the non-functional escalator, and walked up and out into the Mall. It was a beautiful day out, a nice cool sunny afternoon with a wonderful sweet breeze in the air, which was even more of a relief considering my mental state. In fact, it was so nice that I mentally recuperated more quickly than you’d expect.

Physically we were SOL I’m afraid. We’d already been on our feet for about 4 hours, and we didn’t get to sit down — for any length of time — for at least 2 hours after that. We made our way past the crowds in shock and awe. The sheer amount of people was so overwhelming — in some ways more than the monuments and buildings we’d seen on TV but never in person (my sister is the only one of us who’d ever been to D.C. before). We hit our first wall several blocks away from the stage; the people were already so densely packed there was no way to move forward. We shifted sideways; blending along the outer rails and watched so many people as we went. Signs and costumes, tea t-shirts and giant paper-machete heads; in some ways it was like Carnivale, especially in the mood. There was such joviality in the crowd. No matter our politics or positions, the overwhelming theme of all the sarcasm and silliness was the same; that what we really need in this country is intelligent respectful discourse and a sense of humor. The mood was so infectious I completely forgot my kid almost seeing Missy Smith’s campaign ad on TV the night before, and how much that pissed me off.

We listened to Ozzy play as we made our way around, and by the last 30–45 minutes we made it to a spot where we could hear the bulk of what was being said on stage. I was disappointed that we missed so much of that part, even if we did get to hear Colbert’s fear ‘melt’ away. We did get to hear the most important thing, in my opinion; John’s closing speech.

And I think that — along with the people we saw and spoke to — is what really matters. John’s moment of sincerity said it all; we’re not as divided as we think and we’re damn well not as divided as the pundits want us to believe we are. We have to work, shop, drive, live and function with each other every day; and we keep doing it no matter what our politics. It’s not a civil war or a fascist state out there, no matter what the screamers tell us. Brothers might be arguing with brothers; but they aren’t killing each other or reporting each other as communist sympathizers. It might feel like it’s getting that bad, but it hasn’t yet, and we have to stop letting pundits on either side tell us it is.

Does that mean we don’t decry the handful of people who are acting insane, such as the infamous Rand Paul head stomper? No, we are obligated to call that idiot by his rightful name, and anyone who doesn’t condemn his actions. But it also means we don’t treat every person who’s ever attended a Rand Paul rally like he/she is the head stomper in question.

After the Rally was officially over, we sat on the grass for a while, just watching people go by and talking. It was such a wonderful time. So many people stayed on the Mall, enjoying the history and grandeur of the place. People made a really conscious effort not to leave crap lying around too; I even watched two guys laughingly give another kid props for trying to balance a piece of garbage on the overflowing can. No one got snippy; and the few anti-Sanity protesters were mostly ignored. No one argued, no one screamed, no one was rude or mean. One young man was selling stickers to raise money to get back to Florida; we paid for two, but only took one. A couple in matching t-shirts danced around and played; they were quite cute. A group of older ladies settled on the grass behind us, one apologized profusely for bumping me while trying to get down herself (she was as sore and stiff as we were) and I told her not to worry about it. It was the ultimate people watching experience, and it’s what got the most time from my rented camcorder.

A police officer at the Metro later told us they estimated 225,000 people showed up to the Rally. They even brought in special gap trains to get us all home, to prevent the problems we had arriving; no one was expecting the kind of turn out we got. And I think that’s what really speaks to the importance of the Rally. It’s not because the numbers outshone Beck’s rally, or to further prove John’s place as a highly influential person in the world today. One attendee was quoted in the NYTimes as saying, “The battle for the American mind right now is between talk show hosts and comedians. I choose the comedians.”

2017 Note: When I went looking for an image for this article I found so many amazing signs from that lovely day. Here are literally just a very few of my favorites. If you’re ever feeling down or upset, I highly suggest you Google, “rally to restore sanity and/or fear signs.” You’ll feel better in remarkably good time.

The Rally was such a remarkable and once in a lifetime experience. Please help me have another with my whole family. You can read more about how you can help here.