Pardon this long email but just too many things happened on January 20!
Now after sending my email on January 19, I spent an hour later in the night, studying the map and identifying how to get to the National Mall and then 1100 New York Avenue NW from the National Mall [The National Mall is an open-area national park in downtown Washington, D.C. This is where the crowds would gather, to witness the inauguration. I would recommend using Google Maps to get an estimate of the area and keep track of my route. You have Capitol Hill...then Washington Monument, and then Lincoln Memorial. This collectively is often called the "National Mall" and is 3.0kms in length.
The planning was done to see the routes that lead there from my hotel, the Metro lines available and to check the alternate routes to take when streets start getting filled and blocked out by the Security Agencies. Well when you are among 2,000,000 people...you got to plan ahead!
So the day begins by getting up early morning, putting on 6 layers of clothes (it's -15C outside!) and heading out. I skipped breakfast cause every minute meant there are a 1000 others who get ahead of you. I reached the Metro Station at 6:45am and there was a queue to get into the station. It was already packed. By 7:30, I was inside, luckily I had purchased a day pass earlier so could skip the ticket purchase line. Then I had to wait for 4 trains as all trains coming in were packed. Finally the 4th subway came in, had some space and I managed to squeeze in. Now imagine this...you are heavily dressed to bear -15C of weather, and then squeeze in underground into a subway where there is no space. How hot would you feel? One thing to note here, the crowd was very orderly, lines were being maintained and people were patiently waiting for their turns to board. So while there was no space anywhere, there was no pushing or fighting and this is commendable indeed.
I finally get down at Metro Center and start walking down. It's already jam packed and I get a spot somewhere near 15th St NW (slightly in front of Washington Monument). I quickly head to the center to get a glance and then head towards the exit of the street as I need to get out after sometime. I wait there for 45mins or so 'experiencing' the moment and then head out to 1100 New York Avenue NW.
Why there? Cause it's inside the Security Perimeter and...there's a Google Office there! It's like our Embassy, our territory :) So this is how it went. On January 19, I was reading the news online and came across an article that mentioned Google was having it's own inaugural party in DC...wow! That's when it struck me that we may have an office here and quickly _ _ _ 'ed to find the address (Googlers, you know what I used, non-Googlers, this is an intentional effort to make you all jealous of our cool tools). I then noticed that the office was close by to the inauguration, so I called in and asked if I can come over on January 20, and they said sure come on in.
So I walk up to the building and get in but am told that the Google Office is not here and am guided to another building across the street. So I walk there. This building is slightly different. There is a security card scan machine outside the building which helps unlock the doors or there is a phone outside to call security and have them unlock it. So pick up the phone and call in, tell them I am a Google employee, need to access the Google office on the 2nd floor. They tell me if I don't have a security clearance card, no access, so I explain how I am a Google India employee and so on, they ask me whom I want to meet, I give a name and phone number, doesn't go through, so I give the mobile number, goes on voice mail. Now all this while, I have taken out my gloves to enable me to use my phone and all, so my hands are freezing and a good 15mins have passed. Finally, I tell them, ask any employee, they can check my credentials.
Now, 2 guards walk out of the building (finally!). These guys are big, well built, heavily armed, have a gun, some round circular stuff and a lot more. Definitely not normal guards. They ask for my security card, show them my badge and they go like, "Sir, this card does not grant you security clearance for this building. We cannot let you in." I was like but the Google office is here. That's when they tell me, "Sir, this is a Federal building, I am pretty sure there is no Google office here." Well the telephone operator never mentioned that! So I go like "uh...ok you know where the Google office is?" They didn't. Finally after asking around in another building, I find it.
_ _ _ had the incorrect, old address mentioned!
So finally I get to enter the office and immediately you feel at home. It's just like all our offices. The Google colour scheme, ample food and drink and the same Googlely atmosphere. They have 65inch LCDs' placed all over, Xbox 360s' (they had the game Rock Band set up!), Apple TV etc etc. And most importantly...rest rooms! Well for the uninitiated, there were 2,000,000 million people at the mall and only 7000 portable toilets in the area...do the math. I had this snack here, ready made popcorn in packets, cheddar cheese flavoured and I loved it. Also had Coca-Cola Cherry and liked it. Apart from that, the menu also consisted of mozarella cheese pizza, pasta, make your own salad counter (with all the Subway sauces) and wine once the new President was sworn in. There were also candy machines. I went on a photograph frenzy inside the Google office cause it was so cool (non-Googlers...sorry...this is restricted access). Met fellow Googlers who are mostly political analysts.
This makes you realise, no matter where you are int he world there is always a feeling that there is a Google office there for you, just like an Embassy. Your own land welcoming you with open arms. A Google office is just not an office, it's your home. It's not occupied by people but occupied by your extended family. You walk in and you immediately feel that warmth, at ease and the 'aaahhh I am home' feeling. There just isn't a feeling like this anywhere else.
We all watched the inauguration ceremony together and I was there! To be a part of one of the most historical moments in America! By the way, Barrack Obama was resworn in at the Whitehouse on January 21 because of the oath goof up on January 20.
Finally, the Metro alerts were great as Metro stations kept shutting down due to overcrowding and I was well informed. As soon as Metro Center reopened (which was for like 1 hr) and the Red Line cleared, I head out and back to the hotel.
I couldn't attend the Google inaugural party as all the passes had already been given out. I never realised earlier or would have signed up. The Googlers in the Washington office did ask around but all had been handed out. For good reason. Later on, I came to know the Google party was attended by John Kerry, Jessica Alba (oh man!) and others.
So anyways our inaugural ball was at the National Air and Space Museum. The Museum has the largest collection of Aircraft and Spacecraft in the world. The evening was great. Imagine a Museum with real air and spacecraft and you having tables next to the first rover to land on the Moon or next to a Soviet V-2 rocket, all lit up. The ambiance was great and I thoroughly enjoyed touring the entire museum over the next couple of hours in a night time setting which would otherwise not be possible. A couple of us then walked down towards Capitol Hill to see all lit up at night and then headed back to the hotel.
So that was January 20.
The next day I headed to the National Zoo to see the Panda Bears in particular. They are sooo cute. They are all chubby and adorable and you just feel like hugging them. It's hard to imagine they can actually be aggressive. The baby Panda (who by no means looks like a baby) was climbing up and down tress and all, clearly very active. One Panda was just sleeping. It was so cute. In his sleep, he would roll over from one side to the other. The third seemed to be taking a morning walk. Also saw Cheetahs like a couple of feet away from me. They were 3 of them all just lazying around...then there was a noise as a zoo vehicle wasn't getting started. So 2 of the Cheetahs came out and started staring at it with curiosity as t what was happening. Most other animals were missing due to the immense cold. There were Sea Lions that seemed to enjoy the cold and were playing in the water and then there was also a Komodo Dragon. Finally, headed back home.
This concludes my 3 email series of my visit to view the Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be spending today clearing some emails (darn it) and the next few days visiting the Smithsonian Museums.
Till we meet again...adios amigos!