The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

The streets of Washington D.C. are spacious and open much like many other capital cities.  There is ample space to parade about or send down long lines of police cars or military equipment.  On most days the streets are gushing with extremely important machines with flashing lights and plenty of men and women armed to the teeth who wear sunglasses and earpieces and storm from place to place so they can then stand for an hour after long hour protecting the white hat people from the black hat people.  The streets of D.C. are not so much a way of passage but a stage to perform upon.

As the capital of the Free World, there is nothing unusual about the constant shuffling about of important people as they do whatever they need to do in order to make the gears of crime and government run.  Motorcades buzz about loading and unloading bureaucrats and apparatchiki no one has ever heard about but who in some way control the levers of power or touch screens or whatever they use.  Black SUVs, armored cars, dark sedans, vans full of all sorts of young staff, lanyards about their necks exclaiming some access to some private spot or special level of an office.


Add to this mess that the government shifts every few years sending off old old people and bringing in new old people.  There is a great deal of chaos under the surface of limestone edifices, polite statues, and institutes, embassies, think tanks, and other cabals of egg heads and prognosticators who type up various papers on certain subjects.  The level of frenetic activity increases tenfold when it is time to change the president, especially when the party of the president differs from that of the sitting official.  All about the downtown stormed troopers, spectators, bewildered foreign tourists, and the usual assortment of homeless derelicts, the eternal and unchanging denizens of the city who are neither political nor replaced by election.
More than usual the election and eventual inauguration brings important officials out to the streets.  Police of all sorts rushes about to prepare the city for a change in regimes.  In order to ensure the safety of the officials and allow the city to host a number of visitors from all over the nation, and perhaps the world, the city must be fortified.  Cement barriers are set up on the streets while other avenues have a number of city buses put into place to form a castle unimpregnable and defendable.  Gates are set up to block sidewalks.  There is a closing in of the open city.  Little pens are built so that when there are crowds in attendance, they can be controlled to the highest level of advanced scientific methods now approved by our security services.  The city is divided up as I imagine Berlin looked after the war.  I almost expect control officers to demand passports and documents.  The steel grates line many walkways that the parade will follow.  It looks as these barriers have been used in previous inaugurations and I can only assume that there is a warehouse somewhere that contains all the materials needed to divide up the downtown into manageable bits.

Close to the capital building the great mall is also set up for the event.  Mats are placed on the ground so that the grass is not ruined and the lawn turned into mud.  There are tents and a number of portable toilets.  Very soon thousands of people will be witness to the inauguration and then divide up into a number of parties, some formal, others kegs with red plastic cups where they will toast to the success of their side.  I have never been to an inauguration, so I am not certain as if this one is special in any way other than that the media at large is very much against the incoming regime and yet the city was filling up with those who seem to be looking forward to the day after tomorrow.

Between the spectators are hawkers selling caps, flags, and other memorabilia to commemorate the transfer of power.  I assume these people were ready to sell whatever was needed whoever was the face on the flags, caps, or buttons printed perhaps the day before or rushed in directly from the People’s Republic of China.  Here and there were people with cameras and those talking into microphones in front of those cameras.  “The time of crony capitalism is over,” said one red-faced gentleman to a person who perhaps was a reporter as another person stood holding a large camera.  A number of younger people surrounded a man with a shirt that read “Blacks commit hate crimes too” exclaiming “We’re journalism students!”  An older gentleman stood with a sign in front of the capital building with a short statement for which members of the public lined up to have their picture taken with as perhaps this person is some sort of celebrity if not enjoying that minor fame right now.  There were many of these ad-hoc interviews all over the downtown.  In addition, citizens were using cell phones for the Live Now mode of the Book Of Face, were swinging about a device giving some imagined interview to space ghosts, or perhaps sharing with a limited number of friends and family the personal experience of being in the center of the nation the day (or two days) before a huge historic event.

This writer was once political.  There was this time I protested the Iraq War II.  At the time right before the war, I was living with several roommates.  All but one backed out, so there was extra room in the car.  Larry recommended I put a quick ad on Craigslist, a service that once held reputable services, goods that weren’t scams, jobs that didn’t involve prostitution.  My ad for ride sharing was responded to quickly and before I knew it, we fetched two additional protestors.  One was a typical young urban professional.  She had never been to a protest before nor to D.C. but was interested to see what was happening. Other than a vague antiwar stance didn’t have what appeared to be a set number of political convictions.  Sort of like the majority of people who inhabit Gotham.  The other was a very chatty activist type, who confessed to having been an exotic dancer in her past even though none of us asked.  Both Carmine and Cloe sat in the back, and I drove the long miles down to D.C.  The drive between these two cities is a long and ugly one full of traffic.  If one has a chance, travel by train, but even while in greater comfort and speed the view is of an unbroken landscape of blasted 19th and 20th-century industrialism looking like the battle for Stalingrad spilled over into New Jersey, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, BWI, and New Carrollton and whatever side we were on lost.  It is a bleak peek into our environment both social and of nature spoiled and ravaged.

After many hours, the little junky car I was driving got smaller and smaller until it was the size of a clown car.  It was a relief to finally enter the city so we could stretch our legs and do some protesting.  These were still the days before smartphones, and with the job I had at the time, there was no money for any fancy GPS system so we got lost (kids ask your parents what getting lost is).  So we had to find our way about using a paper map (also kids ask your parents what a ‘paper map is’).  We turned one street.  Then another street.  Found parking on a street that was next to a park of some kind.  Does anyone have any quarters?  Does the meter take dimes?  Just quarters.  I had at this time been to Moscow more times than D.C.  in my travels.  I was uncertain where I was in this strange city, but many things looked familiar based on pictures and a general knowledge of United States history.  We did not see a protest anywhere.  It was a very cold day.  Wars are usually started during cold spells.  Cloe went over to some random people and attempted to engage them in some sort of political discussion. “What do you think about the war?” she may have hollered.


I was not convinced that these two gentlemen weren’t indigent.  Carmine had to pee.  I was tired from the long drive.  We found some facilities and I got a coffee.  Now I had to pee.  The gray, cold day, sapped me of any enthusiasm for a protest.  I don’t like crowds, non-exclusive events, the threat of violence from the state, nor looked forward to being arrested for this or any cause and the organization I worked for had an unclear policy on political activities other than I had to sign a statement that I would uphold the United States Constitution (true story).  Nevertheless, protest the war we must.  We trudged to the end of the park only to see another park looming ahead.  Gaddamn there are a lot of parks here.  Way off in the distance, we saw a large crowd cross a street.  “There they are!” This must be the protest.  By then Cloe was in some new conversation with another random person.  I began to suspect that she was on some sort of mind-altering drug.  Carmine was not a quite good company for Larry and me. She was standoffish.  More so than anyone who responds to a Craigslist ad should be.  If you are going to do ride-sharing of any sort one must be adventurous and unafraid and have the attitude, well if today I get abducted and chopped up into pieces that’s ok.  Carmine also seemed to find less and less convivial relations with Cloe and some degree of annoyance.  We also were growing to hate Cloe.  Larry wondered quietly if we could just leave them both there in the city and go somewhere fun.

We trudged to the other end of the city but found no protest there. It was as if the city had swallowed the entire event in one gulp.  “Protest! Oh, Iraq War II Protest! Where are you?” I called out but answer there came none.  We asked a friendly security officer, but he didn’t know where the protest was.  No one with a uniform knew where the protest was.  We approached some protestor types but they turned out to be homeless travelers.  A-political crust punks who were useless in that whatever politics they subscribed to they lived every day but in the streets.  Our protest grew tired.  Our protestors grew hungry.  We looked at the eateries that were open, and we could afford to eat at exactly none of them.


Cloe and Carmine reminded me, the driver, that they had things to do in the city this evening.  We returned to the little red old Nissan and started the long, dank drive back to Gotham in the quickly coming darkness of a cold day.  We stopped off in Baltimore for something to eat, and after getting lost some more, wound up at what we suspected was a gay bar.  “This is a long trip just to take me to a gay bar,” Larry joked.  Our other passengers were getting antsy and had stopped talking to each other for reasons neither of us could determine.  It made for a quiet ride back to Gotham.  Cloe demanded she be dropped off in front of her building because while it was not a bad neighborhood, I mean, it was up and coming and had vibrant energy and immigrants and she wasn’t prejudiced in any way, but she felt this was only right due to the hour for us to deliver her even if it took us out of our way back to our home in our own “not a bad” neighborhood.  I had nothing to do, and Larry was a game, but our other protestor jumped out at the first occasion and fled the backseat to the closest subway.  Thanks, she may have yelled out, but more than likely didn’t.

We finally got rid of Cloe and drove back to the loft we shared in Brooklyn with a number of others.  Tired, I cracked open a beer.  I was satisfied that we had made a difference and the suffering and discomfort were worth it.  Although I suspect that action would not stop the war, and it didn’t.  I didn’t return to D.C. again until after the war was over.  Today I know the city a lot better.  Walking to my work, I saw the setup for the inauguration and considered the historic moment I was passing by.  I thought of the coming protest on the following day, the throngs of masses in the city either for or against the new regime and I remembered my own political activism and how little it mattered.  I wondered what these crowds would accomplish on the stage of the city.  Eating my oysters and sipping on a martini, I thought, when is the next train back to Gotham?

The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and the people were singin’ they went
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

The Band




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