Since November 5th Washington has been bracing for an invasion of zealous Obamaites eager to see their man take the oath of office. Congressmen with only a couple of hundred tickets to hand out have been swamped with thousands of requests each. The city has furiously concocted crowd-control measures and warned residents that going downtown on inauguration day will be nearly impossible. Driving will be a wasted effort: the city centre will be filled with tour buses on the streets that are open,and many won’t be. Neither will the bridges crossing the Potomac river,which connect the District of Columbia to its suburbs in Virginia.
But something happened as would-be visitors were refused tickets and word of vast,unruly crowds got out: interest waned a bit. First estimates of how many would flock to the capital ranged as high as 5m. Now the city reckons as “few” as 2m might show up. That still means a doubling of Washington’s usual daytime population,and all of them will be jammed into the monument-heavy core of the city. But it is only 800,000 more than the record 1.2m that showed up for Lyndon Johnson’s inauguration in 1965. And many of those may stay away,if the weather is as freezing as forecast. Pennsylvania’s Red Lion bus company cancelled all its inauguration-week trips into Washington as its passengers backed out.
For city officials this is a relief. Not,though,for local entrepreneurs. Aiming to avoid the crowds and make some money in the process,Washingtonians planned holidays for inauguration week and put their flats and houses up for rent. The city government temporarily suspended rent controls to smooth the process,prompting residents to ask $10,000 or more for the use of their homes. But supply has vastly outstripped demand; only 5% of properties listed on inauguralhomes.com have been let so far,its founder reports,and prime real estate is going for only around $500 a night. Would-be landlords are slashing their prices and hawking their homes on Craigslist.
Meanwhile,those unable to make the pilgrimage might attend the next-best thing. MSNBC,a cable news channel,and Screenvision,an advertising firm,are showing the inauguration in 27 cinemas around the country. And there’s always the television.
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2008