At long last, the thrilling conclusion to my Fall Break adventure: the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)!
Getting to D.C. was actually an unexpectedly dramatic undertaking. You see, two weeks previously, when we'd arranged all this, Guy's mom had purchased bus tickets for us online. Everything fell into place with perfect ease. The plan was set: we would get up painfully early, catch the bus, arrive in D.C. at 11:50, and make our way to the Mall as quickly as possible. Then we would try to meet up with people, if it worked out.
Things began according to plan. My cell phone alarm inexplicably failed to go off, but Guy woke me up a few minutes after 5:00, so we were still on schedule. We groggily packed chocolate and sandwiches for the bus, then checked for Homestuck updates. Clearly we have our priorities straight. (Homestuck is the webcomic I was raving about here. Guy's the one who got me hooked on it.)
Guy's mother, who had also gotten up ludicrously early, drove us into the city and dropped us off at the bus depot by 5:30. She said she'd wait for a while, to make sure we found the right bus. This turned out to be a good thing.
Guy's mom, Lisa.
It didn't take us long to find the bus to D.C. It was the one with an incredibly long line--a line of far too many people to fit on one Greyhound bus. There were at least one hundred people in the line before it snaked out of sight around a corner. Even to my sleepy brain, this was odd.
This is this xkcd comic. It's a little hard to read because of the angle here, but the beret-wearing Existentialist is voicing a very Stewart-worthy comment.
Guy and I found a sign taped to a pillar. It described the three different types of tickets the bus company sold. There was "Reserved," then "Premier," then "Standard Seating." Reserved and Premier both guaranteed ticketholders a seat on the bus; Standard, however, was first-come, first-serve. Uh-oh. Guy checked our tickets. Sure enough, we had Standard Seating, and we were definitely not among the first come.
We backtracked to the car. Guy's mom, Lisa, was pretty concerned. She drove us to the Amtrak station next. There was one train left going to D.C. before the rally, but the tickets were $295 per person. Next!
We tried using Lisa's smartphone to find out what was going on with the Huffington Post buses. According to their Twitter account, huge crowds of people had begun to gather at four in the morning. They did say they'd supposedly have enough buses, but we suspected they'd underestimated the number of people who wanted to go to the rally. Thousands of sanity-seekers from New York alone . . . that would be amazing. But where did that leave us?
With an impromptu roadtrip!
Lisa very much wanted to drive us down, but she had a rehearsal that afternoon, so Guy called his dad. By the time we got back to the house, Mike was awake and ready to go, armed with decaf coffee. (Ah, the power of the placebo.) We headed out shortly before six as the sky began to turn from black to blue to wow.
New York City at sunrise is a glorious sight. Movies show it all the time, I know, but I was still blown away--it's an extraordinarily beautiful thing. Colors sheening off buildings; buildings silhouetted against colors; it's very different from sunset over Puget Sound, but just as breathtaking.
Guy's favorite sign.
On the road, we played literature trivia games and theorized excitedly about the traffic. How many people were coming? Would it be as historic as we hoped? When we pulled off the highway for a rest stop, the bathroom lines were incredibly long and the fast-food outlet was full of people discussing the rally.
The trip was also interspersed with phone calls. One of the friends we'd been planning to meet (who lives in D.C.) called to warn us against using the Metro. He said people were literally packed into the cars like sardines and some people were running up the down escalators to get out of the stations. We weren't the only ones with an adventure: he'd had to take a train back to the beginning of the line to even get on, and then it had taken an hour to get back to where he'd started. When he finally got out, some of the streets near the Mall were closed because there was a horse show going on!
Lisa called a few times with updates on the traffic. She was pretty concerned that we wouldn't make it to the rally in time and then feel disappointed. She needn't have worried; we were thrilled just to be trying. We were on the highway with an unknown number of fellow-thinkers! Whether or not it worked, we were part of something. "This is fun anyway," Guy said. "And it's exciting!"
Once we were reasonably sure people would be awake, Guy and I took turns calling various other friends to give them progress reports. The time passed in a happy, excited-but-mellow blur--the perfect mindset for this rally.
We got into the city at 11:50, just as we would have on the bus. Actually, that bus was probably somewhere behind us; we had a GPS gizmo that was constantly recalculating routes and leading us off on side roads that cut off great swathes of congested highway.
Mike dropped us off somewhere near the Capitol building and drove off in search of a gas station and a parking spot. Guy and I followed the crowds of people streaming off to the right. I had one last call to make, to the friend who'd inspired this whole adventure in the first place.
"Guess where we are!"
"Stuck on the bridge?"
"No, we're here! And there's someone with a leprechaun hat and a sign that says 'Green Tea Party'!"
The sign on the right was probably my favorite of the day.
The crowds trying to get in were practically impossible. It soon became clear we were not meeting anyone at this business. No one really knew where they were going; we were lucky enough to hear some official rally volunteers say where the entrance was and worked that way, literally shuffling through the crowds. I don't think I'd ever been among people that tightly packed before, and was kind of glad I was with a native New Yorker, who was probably more adept at navigating crowds than I. (Guy, if I'm wrong, don't tell me; just let me keep my illusions.)
People were sitting on portapotties and in trees to watch. I didn't realize the Mall had trees on it.
In any case, we got to an entrance at around 12:15. It was perfect; we hadn't missed anything. There was music, but no one was talking yet. We found a spot where we could see a JumboTron and even glimpse the top of the arch above the stage. The sound was pretty quiet, though.
When the Myth Busters came on to warm up the crowd, people realized that they couldn't hear very well and chants of "Louder!" and "Turn it up! Turn it up!" rose from the surrounding masses. The problem was eventually addressed. Meanwhile, we did the Wave, laughed like mad scientists, and jumped en masse, creating a big enough thump to register on a seismograph. (Aw yeah.)
I always have wondered why people don't take more pictures of the crowds at things like these. Now I know why. The nearest chunk of 100,000 people is just a bunch of heads.
Once the Myth Busters left, the rally began in earnest. I can't try to sum it up, honestly. If you weren't there, or watching it on live on the internet or TV, I strongly urge you to go watch it here, right now. You'll probably see more of it than I did, actually--turns out being 5'5" is kind of a handicap in a crowd--but being there was a unique experience, and I wouldn't change anything about it.
Well, actually, it wasn't all that unique, because there were at least one hundred thousand other people there, but see, that's part of the experience . . . which was unique . . . uh . . . .
Let's look at another sign, shall we?
Now, I've already said I can't summarize the whole thing, but I can at least point out some of my favorite parts.
-The Train War--Peace Train versus Crazy Train (or something), eventually conquered by Love Train--even Colbert eventually admitted that "I'd get on that train."
--Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert singing "There's No One More American Than Me." Favorite lines: "I think that Lady Liberty's the finest girl I've seen / You know that I would hit that if I were tall and green"; "My roll of toilet paper used up sixty-seven trees"; "From gay men who like football to straight men who like Glee . . . There's no one more American than me!"
--Giving out medals: awards for acts of sanity or fearmongering, respectively. The news outlets that wouldn't let their employees attend the rally won one of the latter. My favorite of the recipients of the former was the man known mainly as "that skateboard dude" who rescued a Koran from a group of people who were going to burn it. He's famous for the line, "And I was like, Dude, you have no Koran." He threw his medal out into the crowd. Go him.
--During one of the song, the people around us started chanting "Yes you can." The object of this chant was a man climbing a tree in which three other people were already seated. He made it.
--Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert "debating" sanity versus fear. There were good points made; Colbert had some truly chilling video montages of people panicking over truly weird things and news anchors feeding the hysteria, but he was countered by Jon's examples of people you can trust. Example: not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all robots are Cylons. When was the last time you saw R2-D2 at a rally? Anyone? Anyone?
But my favorite part was unquestionably Jon Stewart's serious speech at the end, in which he discussed what exactly this rally was about and what he hoped it would accomplish. I was impressed. There were some amusing lines in there, but mostly, it was honest, serious business. And Stewart can do some damn good speechifyin' when he wants to.
No one knew quite what the rally was going to be, he said, but we all showed up on the basis of a few fundamental ideas: we're tired of manufactured divisions, showy politics, and constant messages of fear. Americans, he said, are not as hopelessly divided as the media like to tell us we are. We're mostly "people who are just a little bit late for whatever they're trying to get to." In other words, politics is usually on the back burner for people, not a huge all-defining characteristic: picking up the kids from school on time matters much more than who the neighbors voted for. He also came back several times to the theme of stereotype-busting: there is a middle ground between rifle-toting let-the-poor-die-of-no-health-care creationist and weed-smoking money-bleeding terrorist-loving socialist, and pretty much every real person falls in that middle ground.
What stuck with me most, though, came just after Stewart assured us he wasn't trying to downplay anyone's problems. "I'm not saying times aren't hard," he said. "But we are living in hard times; we are NOT living in end times."
That's obvious, but it's something I think we overlook. Yes, things are bad, but they could be a lot worse. We're worried about swine flu and health care and the economy and have periodic media flurries over foiled terrorist attacks. Those are serious things. But: swine flu hasn't decimated the world's population; the terrorist attacks are foiled; Obamacare is beginning to be implemented without tax riots and there's no sign of death panels yet. People are managing to work together and stop the worst-case scenarios from happening. Granted, it's not yet 2012, but I think it's safe to say that the end of the world doesn't seem all that imminent.
The rally ended right at 3:00, as planned. Guy and I left the Mall with the crowds, earnestly discussing what had just happened. It was clearly not equally a rally for sanity and fear. It was "Stephen Colbert in Jon Stewart's rally," as Guy put it; he played the antagonist very well, but ultimately it was Stewart's attitude and message that were most memorable.
Our path took us past the temporary stables set up for the horse show our friend had mentioned.
Navigating diagonal streets is tricky, as Guy and I discovered when trying to find Mike. It turned out he'd managed to find a parking spot and had gotten to see at least part of the rally. He'd also gotten us both Rally to Restore Sanity T-shirts, which we of course promptly put on. Then it was off for the return journey.
The ride back was also rife with phone calls. Friends and family were briefed and gushed at. People we'd tentatively planned to meet were apologized to, or apologized to us; I got a text from a girl in my French class saying, in effect, "I thought we could just find each other. Guess I didn't really know what 100,000 people was going to be like!"
It was late enough now that I could call the West Coast to check in with my family. My ten-year-old brother answered the phone and asked if I had "jumped ten times as hard as a car crashing into a brick wall." --Turns out he'd been watching the whole thing with my mom on the computer at home. I am so proud of that kid.
My mom heard the tale of the odyssey and the t-shirts and told me, "Forget about us, get these people to adopt you."
And so ended the epic of Fall Break: in a pleasant blend of joy, determination, friendship, and, yes, sanity.