Did someone drop a neutron bomb on upper northwest D.C.?

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 20 2009 11:12 AM

Inaugorophobia

Did someone drop a neutron bomb on upper northwest D.C.?

See all of Slate's inauguration coverage.

Where did everybody go?

My friend and former neighbor, Marie, is visiting from Berkeley, Calif. She brought her 16-year-old daughter, Zoe. Also visiting is my sister, Patsy. Marie, Zoe, and Patsy all have tickets to watch the inauguration. Marie got hers through a friend who works for a union. Patsy got hers through her son, Adam Levine, the lead singer for Maroon 5, who are in town to play at various inaugural parties, including Vice President Joe Biden's inaugural ball tonight for his "home states" of Delaware and Pennsylvania. (Click here to watch my nephew get harrassed by TMZ.com on his way to Al Gore's "green" inaugural ball.)

All were gone when I woke up this morning. Patsy decamped yesterday to Adam's hotel, which I'm told is crawling with celebrities. (Hollywood swarming Washington—it's like jocks storming the chess club!) Marie and Zoe got up at sparrow's fart to take the Metro to the Capitol. My son, Will, considered going even earlier with a friend, but decided against it, and is still asleep. (He's 15.) I roused my daughter, Alice (13) at 8 a.m. She's walking to the ceremony with a friend from school who lives near the National Cathedral. Listening to the radio, I heard that the easternmost part of the Mall had already reached crowd capacity. I have some anxiety about exposing my daughter to a Hajj-like mob, but the kids will be accompanied by a dad who works for the government managing relief efforts for natural disasters worldwide. We left early, figuring the roads would be packed from here (Takoma D.C., at the city's northernmost tip) to the cathedral.

But they weren't. All was silent. It was as though a blizzard had blanketed Washington, but there was no snow.

Driving down through Rock Creek Park on a major north-south commuting route, I saw perhaps two or three other cars. Turning south on Connecticut Ave in the city's Cleveland Park neighborhood, I noticed that a couple of in-line skaters had taken possession of the lane to my right. We'd left half an hour to get to our destination. We arrived in about 10 minutes.

Then I drove home. I've got a cold, I don't care much for crowds, and the man-on-the-street interviews I've heard on the radio weren't stirring my competitive instincts. (Better to read Curtis Sittenfeld's enchanting Slate serial, All Along, This Was What Was Supposed To Happen.) I've been to an inauguration (the one where George H.W. Bush pissed off Nancy Reagan by promising a kinder, gentler nation), and I don't need to shiver at another. Granted, this one is more important. But Will and I will watch it on TV.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.