Driving to our nation’s capital from Southern Virginia, you pass by a whole lot of military and governmental installations: Belvoir, Quantico, Alexandria, and others. I was driving near Richmond, looking at the fog collecting over the swamps by the side of the interstate, and listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing about finding America. I had expected to write a pithy piece about how the Rally to Restore Sanity would show Washington that the loose assortment of hipsters, internet geeks, and slacktivists that they had previously largely ignored (with few notable exceptions) had suddenly become the Next Big Voting Pool, and write a message of hope for the future and an admonishment to not lose the momentum.
In the interests of covering all my bases, however, I came equipped with a flask of bourbon, a packet of cigars, a cell phone with still and video camera, and my trusty laptop. I’d forgotten the condoms, but was otherwise perfectly equipped to commit acts of journalism. A good friend had suggested I leave my ever-present knife at home, so I stashed it in the car. Sanity and all that, and besides, this wasn’t expected to be too bonkers.
Over the next twelve hours, I was proven wrong in more ways than I could have ever imagined, and a couple times I mourned the absence of the knife.
I generally wear a three-day shave, a Hulk Hogan moustache, dark glasses, a purple paisley do-rag, and a Popeye squint when out in public because that way the sort of people who aren’t worth talking to will leave you the hell alone on the subway. I immediately fell into a discussion on labor unions with a photojournalist, his wife, and a guy who looked like the love child of Steve Buscemi and Vinnie Barbarino. When the immensely crowded train lurched to a halt at L’Enfant Plaza and issued forth its passengers, we were directed toward the Mall by cheerful, lucid volunteers. I began to wonder if maybe my suspicions of madness were unfounded, and then I turned a corner to see a guy holding a sign demanding no amnesty or guest worker visas for immigrants, and immediate deportation of anyone found here illegally. I asked him what exactly he meant by that, and he replied in heavily accented English that if you weren’t born here, you shouldn’t be here. I asked him where his ancestors were from and he didn’t seem to understand the relevance of the question. The point that basically everybody but Native Americans were immigrants to America, and we were pretty uniformly dicks to those guys sailed straight over his head, and he stopped paying attention to me at that point.
Over the next few hours, I was vomited on twice by people I assumed to be unrelated, witnessed an old man in wizard robes lick the back of a policeman’s hat (the policeman was distracted by screaming at a very stoned young man who had climbed one of the trees in the Mall), listened to a surprising assortment of excellent musical acts, had my phone stolen a couple times (luckily everyone was immobilized by the crowd so retrieval was a simple matter of snatching it back and threatening the thief with anatomically unlikely retribution), and witnessed unholy anarchy as the local cellular networks were completely destroyed by sheer force of numbers and everyone tried their calls, text messages, and Qik uploads over… and over… and over again. AT&T never had a chance.
By the time the rally was over, the National Mall east of 7th and every possible surface for a couple blocks in every direction was UTTERLY jammed with a seething mass of humanity. On my way out, I saw people had climbed the portable toilets – some looking for their comrades, others jeering and preaching to the crowd, and a couple folks doing jumping jacks. The toilets, including the impromptu exercise yard, were still in constant use despite the rapidly disintegrating roofs. I can only imagine some poor jerk trying to answer nature’s call got a surprise.
Discarded signs, flyers, food wrappers and water bottles, assorted effluvia and bodily fluids, and the occasional demolished cell phone littered the ground, and the word on the street was WHAT’S NEXT – afterparties, pub crawls, and the never-ending quest for illicit substances. However, just as much as that was chatter about the midterm elections – who was secretly or not-so-secretly a tea party stooge, who was trying to do the right thing but bogged down by the politics game, who was a pretty good incumbent but should step down to make room for a rising star with some good ideas and enough political capital to make them happen.
My God, I thought, maybe I was right all along and this WAS the slacktivist voter pool captured in the act of becoming. Its birth – or perhaps baptism – was just a little dirtier than most. I kept those particular stars in my eyes right up to the point where I finally punched my way onto the exiting subway, and an unknown but very friendly gentleman in his twenties squeezed my genitals, along with the genitals of several other folks on the subway, before somehow wriggling through the crowded train and escaping the wrath of the groped.
I love Washington.