If the message behind Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" is all about being reasonable, the attendees who most embody that spirit are probably the ones who bailed from the National Mall shortly after the event started.
Massive turnout for Saturday's rally quickly overwhelmed the Mall, forcing thousands of people into nearby streets and eventually, just giving up and leaving.
South of G Street, police were forced to close 7th Street NW to vehicular traffic as the beginnings of an early rally exodus took over the road. Further north, bars and restaurants quickly filled up with those seeking a bite to eat and a television on which to watch the rest of the spectacle on Comedy Central.
"I don't think they were expecting the amount of people who showed up down there," says John Brooks of D.C., who by 1:30 p.m. was sitting comfortably inside Chinatown's Bar Louie. Despite being from the area, Brooks and his family admit they got turned around amid the sea of people packing the streets. "We tried to help some tourists find their way, but it was hard."
Derrick Magnotta, a freshman at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, was in town this weekend for a Model UN conference, and had hoped to take part in the rally. But after being pushed out of his viewing spot close to the stage by security guards who were trying to keep access paths clear, he too found himself at Bar Louie. Is he disappointed?
"Yes and no," says Magnotta. "We have to be back by 4 p.m. ... we would have been there until midnight trying to get out of it if we had stayed."
It was a similar scene at other nearby businesses that had the foresight to tune their TVs in to the live broadcast. The normally spacious bar at Clyde's quickly became standing room only. A line formed on the sidewalk to get inside the Iron Horse Tap Room. By 2 p.m., the wait for a table for four at Carmine's was at least an hour.
"We could barely see, barely hear," says grad student Liza Meckler, who gave up on the rally after getting stuck in a crowd on the Mall west of 7th Street. After all that, she was happy just to be able to sit down, relax, and watch it all unfold on television.