Restoring Sanity

2010.10.31 in personal

As long-time redditors, occasional enjoyers of fine cable comedy, and reasonably-reasonable people, a few of us from RPI went to this weekend's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We had decided to go shortly after the announcement, and then promptly decided to not worry about it until last week, so there was a bit of a rush to plan things over the course of the last few days. It ended up working out just fine, though:

Friday afternoon, Connor drove Carol, Matt, Nate, and I down to Gino's house, in Cape May, NJ, where we stayed the night, meeting up with two of Gino's friends and an RPI alum, Pete. It was a long drive; we left at 16:30, and got to Gino's at about 22:00. After getting introduced to Gino's family and dogs, and not brainstorming sign ideas (I'd opted not to carry anything, as I had my big camera instead), I promptly went to sleep, leaving the others to paint their signs.

Getting up early (4:00) Saturday morning was a bit of a challenge, but somehow we got everyone awake, showered, and fed in an hour, somehow. We split into two cars — Gino took his friends and Connor, Pete took me and my apartmentmates. We drove to the metro stop at Shady Grove, about twenty miles from the National Mall; after that, it took well over an hour to get into the city, through the insanity of the mob at the metro station and everywhere else.

We met up with Mike as soon as we got into D.C., still a few blocks from the rally — it was about 11:00 at this point. There was quite a bit of hugging all around; I hadn't seen him since I left RPI in May, and never got to say goodbye when he moved to D.C. in August.

I should pause here and note that I spent a good part of the last two weeks playing Fallout 3, an action RPG set in post-nuclear-war Washington, so — even though I visited the city many, many years ago — until I set foot on the Mall, my primary memory of the layout of the center of the city involved far more mutated creatures and irradiated trenches than pristine roadways, green trees, and happy people... so that was a little bizarre.

The crowd was enormous; estimates seem to be ranging from 150,000 to 250,000, with the supposedly-most-accurate (and most recent) being 215,000 ± 20,000. We all entered the crowd together, but quickly got separated into two groups — Mike, Nate, and Carol forged ahead and managed to find a supposedly reasonably decent spot; the rest of us ended up wandering around trying (and failing) to find a place from which we could settle down and hear what was going on.

Unfortunately we didn't really succeed; we ended up milling through different parts of the crowd instead, looking at signs and taking in the fact that we were in Washington with a crazy crowd of people. I heard a small fraction of the rally itself (mostly just music), but I guess I really don't mind; I'll watch the recorded version at some point in the near future so that I can understand what was going on around me, but for now I'm mostly happy with how it ended up.

Gino and I eventually got split off from the rest of our group; we had walkie-talkies, but it took quite a while of wandering around to eventually find them. There was no hope for finding Carol's group, since the makeup of the crowd ensured that all of the cell service (on all four networks!) was entirely swamped, and they didn't have a radio.

I enjoyed the signs; this was one of my favorites, of course! There are many lists of awesome signs on the internet, and literally thousands of pictures of them on Flickr. Quite a few people stopped Matt to take a picture of the sign that Connor and Gino had constructed for him, "Boehner works hard on legislation", a horrible, horrible play on the obvious-but-incorrect pronunciation of the unfortunately-likely-future Speaker of the House's last name, targeting, well... 20-something white guys (the reddit crowd), a pretty significant chunk of the rally population. Anyway, he got a ton of laughs (a few crippling laughs, too!), and quite a few people made him stop moving so they could take a picture (though I've failed to find any of these on the internet so far). After all, it was primarily supposed to be a parody-rally.

Since we got separated, I don't have any pictures of Nate or Carol's signs, but I think Nate has some and will post them at some point. They had "I think Obama is pretty OK" (I wanted them to add a question mark, and a comma between the last two words, but they wouldn't go for it...) and "Don't Drink and Drive, KTHX", I believe.

Some crazy (despite what the sign says) people decided to climb into the trees around the Mall; I'm sure they had a much better view than anyone on the ground... lucky!

There was also a surprisingly large contingent of older people, which it was nice to see (going against reddit's assumption that they're most of the "problem"), though I'm sure the transportation problems were much worse for them, and quite a few babies, which just made me wonder what in the world was going on in their parents' minds.

We eventually headed to the Washington Monument, where the cell service was in a semi-functional state, and left Carol, Nate, and Mike a few voicemails and texts, before heading back to the subway. The trip back to Shady Grove took an exceptionally long time; while Connor managed to literally jam himself through the door on the first train that we saw, Gino and Matt and I missed at least six trains before there was one we could get on. We were to the point of "if we don't get on the next train, we're riding in the other direction for a while and then turning around" before we finally made it on. Once we finally did get on, people just refused to stop attempting to cram more bodies onto the train, resulting in a distinct lack of need to hold onto anything — we were just a solid mass, all holding each other up, mostly unable to breathe. It was pretty terrible, though got a lot better after a few stops.

One old man getting onto the subway didn't quite fit, and got his head and glasses crushed in the door (I think he managed to recover his glasses without them breaking, though I'm certain they weren't entirely in the shape they had been before he got on the train). It was somewhat horrifying how bad the crowd was at understanding what needed to happen to make things work...

We went to the Dogfish Head Brewpub, about ten minutes from the metro station, for dinner. Of course, at this point, we were still missing Nate, Carol, and Mike — we managed to get ahold of them and retrieve them from the metro station just in time for our reservation.

The food was great, and they put the ten of us in our own little room, which was nice. Connor and Pete were quite excited to visit (this part of the trip had been planned for quite a while as well), and I think everyone had a good time.

On the way out, we dropped Mike back off at the metro station, managing to actually say proper goodbyes to him this time, which was sad, but nice to have the opportunity! It was certainly nice to see him, even if only for a short while...

There's the Troy crew (plus Gino) with the only remaining sign (Carol and Nate managed to accidentally leave theirs in a Starbucks on the way home, unfortunately), getting ready to go to breakfast back in Cape May. Gino took us out to a little diner near the water, and then over to the Washington St. Mall to acquire fudge.

I'm not sure if he's sad we're leaving, or if he's ready to kill us if we don't leave...

We got back home just in time for some trick-or-treaters today; a weekend well spent, even if none of us have any idea what was going on the whole time!