This morning there was gridlock in the District.
No, not the political wrangling between a Democratic president and a newly Republican Congress.
It was the traffic kind. The kind that begins with a capital “O.”
I was running out the door a little late (a rare occurrence), and I spotted a bus at the end of my street, turning down Connecticut Ave. This wasn’t just any bus – it was a 43.
For those who don’t live in the District, that’s the express bus that runs under Dupont Circle, and deposits me in front of my office in less than 4 minutes, like some sort of cosmic wormhole.
It appeared to be momentarily stopped at the corner, so I jogged to the end of my street and knocked on the door. The bus driver let me in, but then declared that we wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
I looked through the windshield, and saw a line of cars and buses ahead of us, all frozen in place.
Then I noticed the ubiquitous D.C. police cars blocking traffic, and the motorcycle motorcade parked and at the ready.
“It’s Obama,” she said.
I live across the street from the Washington Hilton, nicknamed the Hinckley Hilton for its historical significance (and to tell it apart from all the others in the city).
President Reagan was shot there in 1981 by lone and loony gunman John Hinckley, Jr., who claimed he was out to impress a young Jodie Foster.
The hotel is a somewhat ugly behemoth in my neighborhood, but has enough history to merit a future blog. For now, suffice to say it’s a regular venue for important political functions. It receives frequent presidential visits, despite the past association with an assassination-attempt.
It turns out that today was the annual National Prayer Breakfast, held at the Hilton the first Thursday of each February, and gets regular presidential attendance.
I decided to forgo the bus ride – the driver offered to trade places with me – and continue my commute the old fashioned way.
Policemen were stationed at the intersection with Florida Ave., stopping cars and pedestrians in all directions. It was a strange sight to look ahead down the normally congested Connecticut Ave., and to see it totally devoid of cars.
Eventually we heard sirens and saw the black SUVs and presidential motorcade drive past, complete with small flags on the hood. Someone squealed that she saw the President – probably a tourist.
But most of the crowd just stood silently and patiently on the corner as the motorcade passed down Florida Ave. and under Dupont Circle.
Washingtonians are usually an impatient bunch, but this is a ritual that you endure regularly as a resident of the District.
The pedestrians were released first, and I continued the rest of my walk to work. The only sound was the loud footfalls from the backlog of fellow commuters – but absolutely no noise of traffic or signs of cars on the normally busy avenue beside us.
The experience this morning made me reflect on something I usually take for granted after living in D.C. for the past decade – the somewhat modern phenomena (at least late 20th Century) of presidential gridlock.
When the President isn’t traveling on the helicopter Marine One – which you can often see and hear buzzing by on the skyline – he brings car traffic to a standstill wherever he goes.
It must be extremely frustrating for him (although he’s not the one stuck in traffic) to cause such reverberations with every move he makes. It’s one explanation as to why you don’t see presidents around town quite as much – although Obama has so far made more of an effort to connect with his neighbors than his predecessor did.
Needless to say, this morning I arrived at the front door of my office before any of the buses did.
Just another commute in the Historic District…