The Insane Thing I Did (for Sanity)

2 11 2010

Some 200,000 folks descended on the National Mall this past Saturday, and I was among them. Yes, I departed my house at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and then stood (for what seemed like hours) in the freezing cold in front of Citi Field, waiting with throngs of strangers for my turn to board one of the buses so graciously provided by Arianna Huffington and her eponymous Post. I was certainly not alone. Reports that the Huffington Post had corralled some 200 buses to take New Yorkers to D.C. and back (in one day!) did not exaggerate. In fact, I’m guessing it was more than that, since it seemed like there were nearly 10,000 people standing outside the field that morning. Crazy, huh? Or just crazy enough?

Now here’s the thing: I hate crowds. I avoid Times Square like the plague, and grumble the whole time I’m forced to walk through it. I once had a mini-panic attack on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. But this was different. Whether it was because it was 5:30 in the morning, or because it was so freezing, or, more likely, because these were “sane” people on the way to a Rally to Restore Sanity, this crowd was polite, friendly, fun even. There was no pushing to get out of the cold and onto a bus. There was no pushing period. Pleasant conversations, funny signs, friendly people. It was rather uplifting, exciting to be part of something so huge. (Read this guy’s great account for more.)

The bus ride was uneventful. A little sleeping (or trying to sleep). A break at a rest stop in Delaware. A conversation with the girl next to me about how winter is terrible but how California (she was from LA) does not have these gorgeous leaves at which we were looking. And then some traffic. Turns out, though, that I was on the lucky end. We arrived in D.C. around noon, while many others on the buses made it even later, missing much of the rally.

Once there, I pushed my way into the subway (er, Metro), still feeling rather spirited despite the now somewhat pushier crowd. Making my way out of the Metro took a good 20 minutes, as the crowd twisted serpentine and wound its way to the massive escalators. (I tried to get a photo of the throngs moving up the escalators, which looked like something out of a sci-fi thriller, but it didn’t come out.)

The rally itself was more of the same. Crowds. A bit more pushing now. Some irrational yelling to turn the sound louder (irrational, because the yelling itself drowned out what little sound you could hear). I heard about half of what was happening onstage. I saw none of it. I did not manage to meet up with my friend from California who was somewhere in the crowd. I was bumped by backpacks and elbows and maybe a silly sign or two.

And though a couple times I wanted to shove annoying backpack man who refused to stand still, for the most part, I was happy, even in the madness. Stephen Colbert was funny. Jon Stewart was, though some say tame, also uplifting. Tony Bennett sang “America the Beautiful.”

Then I, (by this point, I’ll admit, somewhat worse for the wear from the crowds) made my way back to the Metro, back to more lines, and back to the bus. I spent the next four hours gazing out the window, listening to my Buena Vista Social Club, and wondering if I’d just wasted a day. But the leaves were rather incandescent, and when they finally opened onto a vast river, lighting up either side with burnt oranges and fiery reds, I had my answer.

Yes, it was somewhat crazy to rise at 5:30 a.m. and to spend eight hours on a bus for a measly three hours being pushed around in a crowd on the Washington Mall, unable to see and barely able to hear. Yes, it might have been “saner” at stay at home and watch the live stream. But the fact was that i was part of something huge. And that’s what Saturday was about. It was about doing something insane to support something saner, and it was about being a part of something amazing. So the crowds, while first exhilarating and then exasperating, were a crucial component to what was ultimately a strange, but incredible, day.