Welcome to the Red Zone

That about sums it all up right there.

Walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on the eve of the 55th presidential inauguration, and you become aware that Washington, D.C., the bluest of the nation’s blue areas, has gone red – as in Republican, Southern, and filthy rich. At around 4 p.m. in the heart of downtown, women with frosted-blonde hair and long mink coats sashayed past me as I tried to catch a preview of the inaugural route, toting their official “2005 Presidential Inauguration” handbags. Their male companions, many of them donning black Stetson hats and cowboy boots, swaggered beside them. Time and again, as I walked along the route, I could hear the jovial Southern drawl as people extended hearty greetings and collectively took in the majestic gray-stoned surroundings.

At one point, a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair put up his hand and called out to me, “Hey there! What you doing, girl!”

I was slightly taken aback, simply because I cannot remember the last time someone called me a girl. The snow that had blanketed the downtown was beginning to turn to slush. Down at Freedom Plaza, empty and snow-covered bleachers stood waiting for the next day’s events. I tried jotting a few impressions – “the entire area seems a winter wasteland,” my notebook now says. “Desolate, dank, and COLD.” The kind of cold that makes your teeth hurt. The kind of cold that makes your pen dry. I was futilely scribbling when the man called me “girl.”

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“Oh, you’re taking notes. How nice!,” he said, tipping his hat, and carrying on.

That’s when I saw the “Red Zone” sign, the one you see up above. It referred, of course, to the six areas of the parade route open to ticket holders and general public – red was several blocks away from the White House. Purple was for invited Bush supporters. And then, there were the blue, green, orange, and yellow sections for the everyday folks.

Preparations for the parade were already underway by then. There were the seven-foot-high mesh fences cordoning off the White House. There were the metal police barricades aligning the sidewalks. There were the police cruisers – U.S. Capitol Police, U.S. Park Police, and the DC Police – stationed in intersections, their lights flashing red.

But the much-hyped security presence had yet to materialize, in human form. And most of the natives were hustling to get out of Dodge. Only the Red Staters, ebullient and invigorated, seemed to want to take in the sights along the route.

They make up the real Red Zone, and they're gearing up for damn good time.

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