Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 20 - The day I was a part of History

Hello All!,

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 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 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! 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 rooms! Well for the uninitiated, there were 2,000,000 million people at the mall and only 7000 portable toilets in the 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!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19 - The day the world descended onto Washington DC

Hello All,

The day began with 2 sessions, one was USA and it's Foreign Policy (pretty good) and Web and Politics (horrible). We moved on at 11:00 to the University of Maryland for a session with Al Gore. The session was really good. Al Gore primarily spoke about USA's 3 problems - The current economic crisis, 2 wars abroad and Global Warming. He proceeded to explain on how investment in renewable energy will solve all 3 problems. For example, renewable energy will reduce USA's dependence on oil in the middle-east reducing it's involvement there, also the job creation will boost the economy and help combat global warming (of course I have given you the 1 sentence summary of his brilliant 1 hr session). He also spoke about the Smart Power Grid system he has proposed for the USA to reduce energy loss from point of generation to point of consumption.

When coming back from the University of Maryland, traffic was horrible...people have started trickling in for the Inauguration Ceremony. Roads into Washington are shut for tomorrow.

I had signed for Metro SMS alerts (so I know for tomorrow the status of the Metro Lines). Already receiving such messages:

"The Secret Service has closed the Judiciary Square F St entrance for the remainder of the night."

"The Independence Avenue entrance of Smithsonian station is exit only until further notice due to crowded stations." And we aren't even at D-Day!

Now the exciting part...

On my floor in the hotel, the layout, it's like a +, so 4 aisles of rooms with the elevator in the center. Today, one aisle has been completely blocked off and is guarded by 3 agents (don't know which agency but I heard people say they were Secret Service). They are exactly like in the movies, black suit, all dressed with that microphone spring thingy behind their ears. Oh and somebody in that row ordered Room Service for breakfast and they were inspecting the food and all. The funny part being there are no suites on my floor so no idea who is staying there. Oh and also Federal Agents did a 'sweep' of our hotel today. They were dressed in a cream / greenish uniform with Federal Agents printed at the back and heavily armed. The reason for the sweeps being that there are hotels here where President Elect Barrack Obama has been invited to attend the Inaugural Ball (my hotel being one of them).

Oh and all through the day (later half once I was back) we had VIP convoys pass by all day. You can differentiate cause the VIP convoys have these really weird siren noises...tried to search for a YouTube video to highlight the same but couldn't find one. So yeah, really weird noise and usually you have 2 normal cop cars, followed by a limousine (or some other big shot car) and then those black vans with sirens...again...just like the movies! And should see the way these cars make turns on high speed!

There have been various convoys passing by all day with different convoy sizes...the biggest I saw from my hotel window was something like 20 units which had 2 limousines and also an ambulance at the end and before the ambulance some fancy looking van. There are a lot of hotels in my area as my hotel falls just within the outermost security ring for Capitol Hill and therefore lot of activity. We also have helicopters hovering above now and then and next to important buildings further down, you have Humvees / Jeeps with Army personnel. Also, huge barricades have been deployed. As the streets get filled with crowds tomorrow starting from Capitol Hill, those streets shall be cut off by dragging these barricades to prevent a further influx of people. Oh and when you go further down, as in really close to National Mall, you will see soldiers (I am assuming they will be snipers tomorrow) on top of buildings.

We are planning to head down early to National Mall to experience the moment. Looking at the crowds don't know how far we will get. Then after 'experiencing' the moment, I will head down to 1100 New York Avenue. Why there? Will break the suspense tomorrow :) I just hope I can navigate myself around later on. Our conference supervisors will be there at strategic locations beginning at 3:00am to guide us here and there, but with an official estimate of 2,000,000 people (and now some channels are saying 4,000,000 but I think that's hugely exaggerated), they said we best be prepared to be on our own.

Signing off...

Monday, January 19, 2009

An Eventful Day - January 18 - Kick Off to the Inauguration!

Sunday, January 18

Hello All!,

Today is the 2nd day of my conference and today was an eventful day so sharing the same...

The day started with a 5:00am breakfast...can you believe it? 5:00am! Had to get up at 4:00am...with 4, 5 minute snoozes so got up at 4:20am. We headed to the University of Maryland for a talk hosted by General Colin L Powell which was awesome. He spoke about elections, his life and considerably on leadership. His speech on leadership was awesome with numerous examples in his life. For example, he spoke about how in Viertnam he commanded 2 different Commanders, one used to always go in aggressively when given a task and another used to ask a ton of questions and then proceed. Both finally achieved their assignment, but as a leader he spoke about how he handled both, cause the aggressive guy should have asked some questions and the more cautious guy should have asked fewer questions, both were great in their job, but style of working was different and how he learned to handle them both.

He also spoke about being a follower. He has served under 4 presidents and how he worked under all 4 and how different were their working styles.

Later in the morning, we had a session with James Carville (Democratic Strategist and CNN Political Contributor) and Mary Matalin (Republican Strategist and former Presidential Advisor)

Now in the USA both these people are extremely popular in the political discussions arena, both are strategists for their respective parties, one a hardcore Democrat, the other...a hardcore Republican

And the best part...they both are married to each other! It was an interesting session with each other bashing the other and both discussing political strategies.

We had other sessions with prominent guys but not as interesting so will skip that.

Now...the kick off to the Inaugural Celebrations at the Lincoln Memorial with Barrack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, U2 and a lot more! These were the ones I could remember

We headed out real early around afternoon and yet could not get a front spot. Really crowded...thousands and I mean THOUSANDS were there. I luckily got a decent spot as I went in early and Lincoln Memorial was right in front of me and Washington Monument behind me. For the photograph crazy I clicked 3 pics but as you will see, you can't see anything...too far.

To be honest, I just don't get it. You stand for hours in a crowded spot listening to music when you can't see the musicians and have to depend on giant screens. Yes, I saw Obama but he was like an ant in the distance and it's tiring standing all day.

So anyways later on Obama spoke and he is a great speaker and listening to him live makes you understand how he got votes.

For more details on this event, visit it also has a pic of the crazy crowd

Finally headed out and walked a couple of miles along the Washington area. A couple of miles is quite a bit. Don't have count but if you want to check Google Maps it was from Lincoln Memorial to Federal Triangle to Mayflower House. Thought I would walk to the hotel but got so tired finally took the Metro from there. Oh and also bought a day pass for January 20 for the Metro. First time I traveled in a Metro alone :)

Again, I don't think I am in a position to walk on inaugural day to the National Mall. It's too far. Weather was not a problem today as I put on 6 layers of clothing! So I was warm.

Oh people are actually waiting out midnight onwards (and I mean hundred thousand people literally). Oh and and all through the roads portable toilets have been lined up for people to relieve's real funny have taken snaps.

I am planning to go in at 4:00am but need to find a big enough group as crazy (don't want to get lost)...again uncertain...cause the expected turnout is 2,000,000 and to be frank, today I really didn't enjoy the crowds. We were initially 3 guys and the crowd was huge. Getting in is the first part but getting out is even worse, so lets see how it goes.

So that's about it for today...dead tired. Bough some Root Beer from's non-alcoholic (before somebody starts saying things)...2 litres for $1.49, cheaper than water (water was $2.49 for 2 liters). By the way you don't get Root Beer in India and I love it so always have it whenever in the USA.

And yesterday went to a Mexican joint called Chipotle (or something like that), had a Burrito was good and filling.

So that's me signing off for today!