Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Trip to the Rally to Restore Sanity, Part One: Sanity Lost.

I don’t like buses. In fact I hate them. To me, riding the bus is a necessary when absolutely unavoidable evil… root canal.

They are loud, bumpy, cramped and uncomfortable. In Brooklyn, the city buses are the best way to go and manageable, but beyond that, I’d rather be strapped into a chair Clockwork Orange style and forced to watch Glenn Beck give a chalkboard lecture.

So when Arianna Huffington announced so joyfully that she would provide free bus transportation for anyone wanting to get to the Rally To Restore Sanity, I hesitated. For a second. The word “free” generally helps me get over myself. By yesterday afternoon I was sorry I had heard about her offer at all.

Before I start on the disaster that Huffington established, let me say a few positive things because that would only be fair. I’ll even do it without qualifiers.

First, it was a good impulse and a great idea to begin with. After all, Freedom Works, the Koch Brothers and other Right Wing corporate funded groups go out of their way to bus in Teabaggers to their ridiculous events, so why not counter that with similar help? Good and nice idea. Plus this would provide the ability for people like me, of very little means of finance AND transportation to go, thus increasing the attendance numbers.

Second, great thinking to have the pick up point in New York City be at City Field in Flushing Queens and the D.C. drop off be at RFK stadium in Southeast Downtown. Both locations have the facility to handle multiple buses and have public transportation close by that also has the capacity to handle large crowds. RFK is also a reasonable if a little long walk to the National Mall.

Sadly, the thinking that went into this undertaking seems to have stopped abruptly at these two points.

Here is Arianna giving the same info on Countdown after her visit on Friday.

This was accurate, if by 6am you mean 8am.

Don’t for a second think that I am not taking into account the very large task it is to bus 10,000 plus people. It is a big job…very big…but it’s actually not a hard one. Not once you think it through.

Let me tell you what went wrong, then I’ll tell how simple it should have been for it to go right, barring acts of God.

Emails from HuffPo indeed instructed us to arrive by 5:30 check in so that buses would leave at 6am.

This was after having us register, then confirm, then a few days later RE-confirm. I don’t know why there needed to be a re-confirm, but there was. By the way, I had to email the bus organizers because I hadn’t received a clear confirmation that my re-confirmation had gone through. This was a first, though minor indication that something on the other end wasn’t working.

Trouble indicator; the time for a re-confirmation is within two days of the actual event, not two weeks. In that time people may have been able to make other arrangements (car rides with friends for example) or may not be able to go at all. Some friends cancelled because they balked at having to be at Citi Field at 5:30 in the morning, many of those friends found friends with cars. If you have to have a re-confirmation early on, have a re-re-confirmation just before the event. This could save you time…and money. Original estimates had bus riders at 14,000, but we ended up being 10,000. That’s a lot of buses you end up not needing at the last minute. Potential money saved…potential easing of organizing done. Now this last point is based on a 14,000 that was hearsay so I my point on planning may or may not apply though as a general rule, confirmation on the last day or two before an event is pretty much common sense.

I arrived at Citifield at 5:12 am. There was already a considerable crowd of people, there were young men and women with bullhorns speaking not very clearly or loudly instructing us to have our IDs and confirmation printouts or phone images ready. Nothing else. Since there was no indication as to where a line started or ended I figured that the one I saw as I came closer to the stadium was where I should go. I followed this line to it’s end which was just about to the Right Field entrance and then curling back.

While waiting I made friends with a young couple, of which there were many, John and Kyla. We made conversation. This was comforting to me because my plan to meet an old friend was quickly coming to be an impossibility. That’s a different time though.

John and Kyla and I were confused by the line, it didn’t seem to have particular shape or direction and after awhile there seemed to be another line of a very different shape or make up. 5:30 came and went and neither line was moving.

Now we were over by the Right Field entrance. It was pretty chilly and I was regretting not having brought my hat, but I knew the rest of the day would be warmer in DC and as 6 was approaching I’d be on a bus soon.

Not so much.

The line itself did not begin to move until about 5:45 and that was in small drips and drabs.

Every now and then one of the staff would come by with these bullhorns and start talking. What they said I cannot tell you because somehow they managed to be inaudible. No matter how many times we shouted “Please speak up” nothing changed.

For the record, speaking into a bullhorn does not require that you speak in a whisper. It requires that you check your volume, speak at at least normal volume and continue to check that you can be heard.

None.Of.This.Happened. EVER.

We got people who were standing close enough to hear her to spread the word that they were simply repeating the instructions about the IDs and confirmations. Nothing about where the buses were or how the line would be working or what we would be expecting.


The line very slowly moved. 5:45/ 5:50 / 6:00. As it moved. , many who were past the curve simply turned direction and cut the line. Part of this was people being sneaky, but it was largely because we were all very confused and had no idea what was actually happening.

We managed to move from Right Field entrance about a third of the way to the main entrance. By the time we reached the main entrance we realized that there was another line on the other side, that probably went to the Left Field entrance. 6:10 / 6:20 / 6:30.

We manage to get around enough that we can see a bit more of the crowd. The sun was rising. It was very pretty but we were getting very cold as the wind off the bay was now whipping against us. This is not Huffington’s fault, the weather is the weather, but since we were supposed to be on our way by 6:45 and had yet another hour before even boarding the bus, I’m going to say that it was indeed her fault that I was freezing my ass off and had chattering teeth, despite a very warm fleece.

I spoke to my friend on the phone that I had missed meeting. She had arrived 20 minutes later than I had and yet somehow managed to be close to getting checked in and boarded once the buses arrived. This is still after the supposed leave time of 6am…but the fact that people who arrived later were getting boarded earlier indicates a very clear lack of any system whatsoever.

We rounded the corner and saw the other side. The crowd was still quite huge. There was still no sense for us of what was going on, but there WERE people kind of directing us without being entirely clear. But there was a tent, and in that tent we would finally show our photo IDs and re confirmations. The stuff that was supposed to be ready almost 2 hours ago.

There were three people checking IDs and printouts. Once done we moved on to have our bags security checked. Security checks are fine and absolutely understandable. But some people packed a lot of things and it would have been a good idea in an advance email to make sure that people understood that there would be a security check and that packing very lightly (as I did) was a good idea.

The security guy gave us wrist bands to wear with the Huffington Post letterhead printed on them. We were told these would be VERY important as this was what would get us back on the bus on the way back.

Now this was done…the buses had been pulling up and waiting about 10 or 15 at a time…we had to continue along another line, this one a bit more organized but only a bit. This lead all the way down to the end of the lot, where we would then board buses by walking back up the way we came and finding a bus and boarding. Huff Crew would announce that there were a few more seats in a given bus. The bus would fill and be on it’s way.

It is now for me 7:45. Finally I get down to the right spot, we walk up, find a bus and get on. 5 minutes after being full, we are on our way, nearly 2 hours after the announced departure time that Arianna announced many many times.

I should add that at about 7am Arianna herself was out thanking people for coming. She never made mention of things running late. I didn’t think much of that at the time. She was getting a lot of adoration and being swamped by people wanting pictures with her and all that. However angry I am at her…(and after watching her on Hardball just a moment ago I am even angrier) I can understand how that is a very heady and distracting thing. I also frankly did appreciate her saying hello.

She left abruptly, I assume to catch her bus.

Alright, we are, leaving two hours late, which means that instead of arriving at the planned 11am we would arrive at about 1pm. Which means getting to the Rally closer to 1:30. This is frustrating but not terrible. We would get there by the time Stewart and Colbert were scheduled to come on stage and we would still catch the bulk of it, albeit from a great distance.

Below is my diagram of what happened. This is from GoogleMaps shot of Citi Field. I’ve moved the crowd on the right is a bit off kilter because of the angle of the picture. Imagine the green oval being closer to the wall and on actual sidewalk. Forgive my crude power point. Yes I did once do this professionally but I've had a bazillion things to do today.

Click on the picture to see it full size. Then click the BACK command on your browser to return to the blog.

But…..there’s a lot of construction on I95 between here and D.C. and by the time we were hitting it, after 9am…we were screwed. We basically crawled the entire length of Delaware and slowed quite a bit through Maryland…then once we approached Baltimore it was slow going for the rest of the way.

We would have missed this traffic had we left on time because the traffic flow would have been lower. And even if we hadn’t with the same amount of delay, we would have made it by 12:30 at the latest and not missed much at all.

Instead, we arrived at RFK stadium at a little after 2:15pm. The rally itself was scheduled to stop at 3.

Now some buses had left before us and had arrived before us, but not by much. And some folks did get to the rally way way in the back and managed to catch an hour.

Once we got out of the RFK parking lot, about a 5 or 8 minute trek we were greeted by a guy with a bullhorn. This guy could be heard. “Arianna Huffington personally welcomes you to D.C.”

Personally? Really? You don’t look like Arianna Huffington to me. Plus at the moment we are all really pissed the fuck off and mentioning her name is counterproductive to say the least.

There was no acknowledgement of how bloody late we were, no mention of an apology. Instead we were given instructions on how to cross the street. Right…never done THAT before.

Because the train station was crowded and I figured it would be awhile before even getting into the Metro, let alone an actual metro train I chose to walk…it’s a long walk but not terrible. Still longer than we had been told but I’m pretty fast.

So…by the time I got to the Mall people were leaving. As it turns out there was still some show left, but there was quite an exodus.

I had made friends with another young couple on the walk over…we ended up having Thai food and beer and watching the last half hour on TV.

At the bar we met a guy named Steve. Steve had been driving by at 3am in Queens and saw signs for the rally and decided to come by. He hadn’t registered or re-registered…and he’d also never gotten a wrist band. He got onto the bus and got on on the way back.

The way back makes sense to me because when we got back to the buses our wrists were never checked. Never. We were told we better make sure we had our wrist bands as we approached the buses, but no one ever actually looked.

When we got on the bus, the crew didn’t even bother to check to see if the bus was full, we had about 4 empty seats. They didn’t bother to look and sent our driver on her way.

I’m not mad at Steven even fact I’m thrilled that a guy who wanted to go and didn’t know about the buses got to….but he’s another clear indication that what little bit of a system there was, wasn’t even adhered to in any way.

Our driver, by the way, was amazing. When traffic allowed she pushed the limits and on the way home got us back to Citi Field about 45 minutes early. What might have been…ah what might have been.

Steven informed me that he saw that despite the fact that the buses were already there by 5, the crew itself was not ready to deal with anything until 6.

Now, lest you think I’m being unfair, let me show you how in fact the way to organize this that would have worked. I would tell you that I have some experience working with large events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade (Downtown coordinator) and several large events such as fashion and spring festivals that take up entire parks and streets.

But really, anyone who has put a kid on a school bus could have figured this out.

Below is how I would have planned this. I figured this out in about 15 minutes while on the bus, stuck somewhere in Maryland on I95.

First. When you announce to people to arrive at 5:30, that means that you make sure you are ready for them at 4:30 at the latest. WHY? Because once people arrive and they have to be processed it’s going to feel like a shit storm on the crew and they will need an hour to relax after set up to be ready and raring to go.

As well, the 7 train arrives every 20 minutes at this station...there's even a schedule easily found on any map program and at that hour the train actually does arrive on time. Which means you can even plan ahead for the waves of people.

Google, Arianna, look it up.

This diagram should demonstrate pretty much how it should have happened. Again, click to enlarge, then BACK to return here.

Again, I thought this up in 15 minutes. Huffington and her crew had weeks. WHAT.THE.FUCK.

The bus drivers clearly knew what they were doing so as they loaded even in that haphazard system, they were in and out fairly quickly.

In closing I do think it was a great impulse. And I'm appreciative of that impulse. But there seems to be a lot of back slapping for what amounts to a failure.

Don't offer something that you don't follow through properly on and then brag about getting 10,000 people there on your website and then have Chris Matthews congratulate you on it on National Television.

Acknowledge the problem. At the very least acknowledge it. Apologies would be nice too.

For me, Arianna has no credibility whatsoever. I can't take anything she says seriously because she seems so far to be living in the same bubble that Republicans and other inside the beltway jerkoffs suffer from.

I'm done with her.

I invite suggestions, comments, complaints.

Tomorrow I will blog about the nicer aspects of the trip. There were nice people to meet and it was a beautiful day. Plus I got to see Donna Brazile.

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