I think anyone reading this blog will find it obvious that I'm kind of a Jon Stewart fan. I don't know how else I could make that clear short of pulling my skirt up over my head when he walks by on the street and.. well, that's just silly. We don't live in the same neighborhood.

I also love going downtown for the craziness of major events so it was pretty much a given that I'd try and be there for the
Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

Here's the thing about stuff like this. If you're going to an large, crazy event on the National Mall, you have to know that a) it's going to be a miserable physical experience and b) chances are you are NOT going to see some or all of the event. You are just going for the people watching and to say "I was there." So as long as you go with low expectations, you're gonna have a great time.

I was downtown for The Million Man March, the opening of the Korean War Memorial, the AIDS quilt on the Mall, the FDR Memorial's opening day, Clinton's inauguration, and a host of street festivals and events, not to mention several 4th of Julys. I love this city like it's my hometown. There isn't much I would be my life on, but one sure suckers' bet is that whatever the event is, it's not going to be crowded, full of pushy, entitled tourists, and though you might be standing right next to it, you may not see or hear the thing you came down to see. But you are in D.C. and people in D.C. are hilarious. So half the fun is watching them.

From the buildup, I know the Rally was going to be as our Vice President would say, a big $%^&ing deal, but even I underestimated how many would be there.

We'd originally planned to get a babysitter and go unencumbered by shortlings that you could lose in a crowd, but, sadly, our plans for said babysitter fell through. I am seldom willing to admit defeat though, so we took them along. The rally didn't begin until noon, and The Dormouse had a piano lesson at 9:00, so we thought we'd just leave immediately afterward. I wanted to take the Metro down and not park, but The KoH wanted to drive like we did on the 4th of July so when we were ready to go back, we might be stuck in traffic, but at least the kids would be off their feet and strapped into carseats making them somewhat immobile and muchwhat less whiny about walking.

At 8:30, a friend of the KoH's from work called asking for directions to get to the Metro station nearest to us and then he called back at 9:00 to say he'd arrived there but there was a line of cars at least a mile long waiting to get into the parking lot of that station. It was then that I aborted my mass transportation plans and decided to go along with The KoH's idea to drive. Later, when we headed up an overpass to the Beltway and saw that the line of traffic waiting to get into the Metro parking lot now extended out and onto the right lane of the Beltway, I knew we'd made the right decision about driving. At very least we could abandon all plans at any point and just turn around.

So we headed downtown, taking back roads and surprisingly we managed to get there in record time, despite a sudden detour wherein the guy driving in the lane next to us (we learned later) went into diabetic shock and drove his car up the curb and into a tree. Even after stopping to call 9-1-1 and turning back to make sure he was okay, we were still downtown and on the Mall before most of my friends waiting at Metro stations even got on a train.

We parked on a street about four blocks from the Capitol at one of those new-fangled parking meters where you can call in and pay over the phone. (What will they think of next? Time traveling people to put quarters in right before the parking police come? Wait, THAT would be AWESOME!) They would only let me pay for two hours at a time, but I asked the guy, "Can I just call you when my time is up and add money to the meter?" and he assured me that, yes that's the way it works. People of D.C., a warning: this man is lying to you. More on that later.

The Mall itself was totally and irrefutably packed when we got there and the show hadn't even started. This is where I began the first of my sacrifices of the day. We could have gotten into the gated off area where you could see the stage but they told us once you were in, you couldn't leave, and three hours before the show started, they were already closing gates for peoples' safety due to high occupancy. We could have run down the road to get into some of the further-away gates and if it had just been me, I would have, but this is how you know you're a parent: you immediately give up on something you really, really want to do because it doesn't make sense for your kid. It just didn't seem to be the safest and/or smartest place to have two kids/one in a stroller, so we didn't even try to go where we could see one of the screens. We were where we could hear and walk around and see crazy people and that was enough.

At one point, we were walking down the road and a group of D.C. Right to Vote-ers came by me. If you're not living near D.C., you may not be aware that residents of the District have no representation in Congress. There is no elected Senator or Representative that pleads the case of the constituency in D.C. and votes with the body of government that is responsible for making federal laws. While you and I can vote out or in our elected federal representatives, the residents of D.C. cannot. And THAT, children, is what we call "taxation without representation." They tell you in grade school that the Revolutionary War ended what was protested at the Boston Tea Party, but that's not the whole truth. It's just too bad district residents didn't get the idea to create a Tea Party Movement before some others took it and used it for their own purposes.

Anyway, at any event on the mall, there's always a group of people reminding you of the taxation without representation that still occurs in our government. This time it was a small group chanting and holding signs and a black woman with short hair leading them. She looks familiar, I thought. Where do I know her from? Work? Church? Danggit, I hate when I see people from church somewhere like the grocery store because my brain can never come up with their names when they're not in the element I know them from. She's gonna say hello to me and I'm gonna have to come up with a good cover for not knowing her name... make sure to say 'Seems like I haven't seen you in awhile' and not 'I haven't seen you in awhile' in case you just saw her last week... maybe I can get The KoH to pull the old "Hi, my name is..." so she'll say her name and then I don't have to look like an idiot who forgot her name, I'll just look like I'm lacking in the social graces of introductions... here she comes... ready... and... (and that, friends, is a peek inside the madness inside Alice's head. Be afraid, be very afraid.)

Just then she bumped into my shoulder, knocking me aside and kept walking like she hadn't even seen me or noticed my existence in this big, wide world. And, as it turns out, she hadn't, because she didn't know me at all. As soon as she passed by me, I realized who it was:

Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The Roots were playing by now and I was in heaven - what a great band. But it was getting more and more crowded. We decided to head further down a bit,

and see more people with awesome posters.

Even the policemen were in support of "the cause."

Then suddenly, and I still don't really understand why, the crowd thickened and we were pretty much stuck in the middle of a mob. People were shoulder to shoulder, barely moving any direction. We were just trying to get a block away from the action, but there were so many people packed in, we couldn't take a step in any direction. The KoH and I each had one girl, but got seperated form each other. I tried to call or text him to set a meeting place, but there was absolutely no mobile service on the Mall because of the amount of people doing what I assume was exactly the same thing. As we stood there, stuck in the throng, a woman next to us had an anxiety attack and started sweating and shaking. Her friends lifted her up and pushed through the craziness, trying to get out, but they didn't have much more luck than I. A woman behind me started pushing me and saying loudly, "Excuse me, exCUSE ME!" as if anyone could do anything about letting her by. I finally said, "Look, I can't GO ANYWHERE, lady, we're all just as stuck as YOU ARE." To which my fellow hostages applauded in agreement. I managed to hold my camera up above peoples' heads and snap this sign that was beginning to seem less and less plausible.

Here's the thing. Aside from that one woman, everyone was SO NICE. There we all were, literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder, having lovely conversations with absolute strangers who had invaded our personal space and people were mostly funny and good humored about it all. Earlier as we stood in line for the port-a-johns with the girls, just to make them go before we wouldn't have a chance to later, three people asked me if I wanted to go in line in front of them because they were concerned that the kids wouldn't be able to wait. But however nice people are, the girls are little and not everyone could see them in the crowd. One guy trying to push his girlfriend on through the crowd inadvertently tripped her and she fell on top of The Caterpillar. I eventually had to put my arm out in front of The Dormouse to give her some breathing room because without it, her face would have been pushed right into the jackets of the people in front of her. As the woman having the anxiety attack finally moved on past us, I realized that it would only take a small event - one crazy to pull out a fake gun, or one person to lose his temper - to turn all the good-natured-ness of the crowd into panic and my kids would be trampled. If it had been just me, I'd have just let the crowd carry me along, but when someone else is in your care, you make totally different decisions. So as reasonable as people were, in that moment, I decided it was time to get my spawn out of there.

Finally, the crowd broke free into the next street up and we were able to escape the jam. I managed to find my husband, who had weirdly run into the guy from work who'd called about the Metro station earlier that morning, and we all moved up a block where the air was clear and you could breathe again without touching the people around before you exhaled.

We eventually found a nice place that wasn't too crowded between the art museums to sit and try to hear Jon as he came on.

The girls found others their age and made immediate friends. I love that kids do that.

It probably would have worked too, but that's about the time I realized I needed to call to put more money on my meter, and guess what? No cell service. We walked up a block to try and bounce off another tower and I managed to get a call out but the automated system told me I wasn't allowed to add money to the meter or park on the same block for another twenty-seven minutes. On any other day, I might have been willing to risk it, but at events like these, I've literally walked up to my car three minutes after the meter expired and had to beg the tow truck driver not to hitch my car up to his rig. The last thing I wanted to do was find a way to drag my family home with no car and then spend the afternoon at the tow yard, so we decided to walk back to the car before that happened. And by the time we got there, the girls were so tired, the only sane thing to do resembled just getting the heck out of there. It seemed only appropriate, so that's what we did.

We headed out of the city, paused for a brief interlude at a steak house, then went home and I watched the whole thing on CSPAN where I had a front row seat and could rewind it if I didn't hear something. I also managed to get this nice shot overlooking the city as we were driving away.

You'd never know what was going on down there from this vantage point.

Honestly, you'd think that I'd regret the whole experience, but I don't. I don't regret going and I don't regret leaving early. Half the fun at those events is watching the people around you and at many events -- not all of them, mind you -- but events like this one, or the Million Man March I attended years ago, what I'm struck with is what potential for awful-ness there is in a situation like that and how that Mostly. Just. Doesn't. Happen. And anything that adds to my people aren't always douchy and terrible bag of ammunition? That's, at the end of the day, a good experience.