Up at 6:30 a.m., out the hotel door at 8:00 a.m., a bit of my homemade granola rumbling in my stomach, lubricated with some 2% ultra-high-temperature milk. Down to the Third Street tunnel, completely devoid of cars, looking for all the world like the set of Wall-E the movie.
But there were people there, thousands of them. Thousands and thousands and thousands. Two million, actually. All needing the basics of life. All needing to eat.
Water bottles popped out of pockets from time to time. A few granola bars here and there, and lots of soda pop. Gallons of coffee, Starbucks hopping with people in dire need of toilets and fuel.
But the biggest player in the street game looked like sandwiches, with lots of lettuce, sprouts, and tomatoes. The kind of sandwich Whole Foods might sell. Wrapped in plastic wrap or parchment paper or cellophane.
People unwrapping these beauties, offering tender bites to their loved ones walking along in the 20ish-degree weather blessing this inauguration.
I dared not drink much out of my water bottle — one trip to one of the thousands of port-a-potties lining the perimeter of the Mall signaled the futility of staying hydrated, medical advice notwithstanding. A bite or two of Monterey Jack cheese, bought in a grab-and-run trip to the P St. NW Whole Foods store, that sustained me until the final words of the inaugural speech and fueled my way through the crowds singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” undulating once more through the Third Street Tunnel.
No way to the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Restaurant — it just wasn’t physically possible.
A quick darting survey of the walk-ins crowding the Beacon Bar & Grill confirmed reality: Whole Foods on P Street NW, for those in our general neck of the city, provided the only option, the sheer wall-like masses of humanity thwarting even the most determined of restaurant goers.
And so we covered five more city blocks on sore frozen feet, scarfing up a chicken quesadilla and black bean burrito, to be heated in the Rolls-Royce of microwaves in our hotel room.
And it was good, very good.
(More after photo.)
I’d like to make a comment here about the legions of people in Washington, DC, who worked so hard to make the city a welcoming place for the hordes who descended upon them for this inaugural. From the National Guardsmen who stood at their posts starting at midnight and all through the day, the hotel workers, the restaurant waiters and cooks and managers who fed everyone, the cashiers who pleasantly answered all questions with beaming smiles, well, all of these people deserve a huge thanks.
One more quick thought before we leave DC today: President Obama talked about the old values that made it possible for America, and the idea of her, to endure. One of those values is simplicity. And simplicity in cooking and food falls into that lineup of “old” values.
Expect to see — more than ever — the culinary standbys that sustained us all in times past. That’s the trend, I suspect, what we’ll read when the culinary historians write in the future about these times.
© 2009 C. Bertelsen