By Andy Roesgen
WASHINGTON (AA) – On a crisp, sunny, blustery afternoon, the scene outside the north side of the US Capitol is one of TV news reporters and cameras looking for any locals to interview along with big military-style trucks and camouflage-clad National Guardsmen holding assault weapons.
There are a few D.C. residents who jog past or walk by with their dogs.
Many Americans who would normally make the trip from around the nation are instead taking the advice of D.C.'s Mayor, Muriel Bowser, and staying home. A taxi ride from Reagan National Airport to the Capitol normally takes about 15 minutes; a ride this week takes at least 45 minutes, thanks to all the road closures. And that's just to get a mile and a half from the north end of the Capitol, where National Guard troops block all traffic from getting any closer.
From there, it's a four-block hike to stand behind concrete barriers and simply stare at the Capitol dome from afar, ringed by law enforcement of every kind and razor-wire fencing.
But the people who are making the trip are people who've been to inaugurations in the past and who won't be denied the chance to soak it in again, even if no ordinary American is allowed anywhere close.
"President Obama's inauguration, I literally slept outside," marveled Teri McClain, a Black flight attendant from Seattle who used some of her vacation time to come to D.C.
McClain bought some dolls at a nearby gift shop: a President Obama doll, a Joe Biden doll, a Kamala Harris doll and a little presidential limousine that she propped up on the concrete barrier, using the Capitol as a backdrop, for a few silly selfies.
Why did she come here?
"Should I say white supremacy brought me here?" she asked.
On her trips to Obama's two inaugurations, "everything was open, it was fun, and here you are, just a switch, of oh my god, in four years, it's hate, lies and it's all shut down. It's just a disgrace."
McClain said she saw a few Trump supporters in the gift shop looking for a diminishing number of items. A gift shop not far from the Capitol, The Market, said they stopped selling Trump merchandise a couple days ago.
"His tenure is ending," a clerk curtly said.
Bob Nee, from Massachusetts, made the trip as well. He recalled living in D.C. in 1968 when civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
"I saw the city in flames, and I saw it taken care of by the military, so [the enormous security here] is not strange for me. What is strange about it, and what is horrible about it, is that it's only happening because of [outgoing President Donald] Trump. This would not be occurring if it were not for one person."
Some critics in right-wing circles are complaining that the unprecedented security, including some 25,000 National Guard troops, nearly a thousand active duty military personnel, the Secret Service and countless local police, is paranoia-fueled overkill.
Not according to Nee.
"I think it's worth it, because I think it's most important that nothing impede the transition of administrations."
Nee said he doesn't need to actually see Joe Biden being sworn in as the 46th president.
"I just came to be here in Washington when it happens."
A Black man who called himself "Johnson,” wearing a "Black Lives Matter" face mask, said he's a 50-year resident of D.C., as he leaned over the barrier for a better look at the Capitol.
He was here for Obama's inaugurations, but he gets angry talking about the security now. He, too, called it "overkill,” but only because he thinks security was so lacking two weeks ago during the Capitol insurrection.
"It's too late now! They did what they had to do. They're not coming back," he said of the rioters.
"If we [Black people] were down here, starting some [stuff], it would be a bloodbath down here. White privilege."
But the mood is sometimes light here as the Biden presidency takes over.
An older man lugged a stereo system on wheels and parked himself on a foldable seat in front of the barriers, hoping to be interviewed by reporters. A sign he carried urged people to look past hate and disagreements, and the stereo blared the music of Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley. A group of Christian singers strummed guitar music nearby. This was as close as any of them will ever get to the inauguration of Biden.
And Teri McClain pulled out one more doll for a spot on the barrier: a nearly naked, bloating, pouting Trump figure.
She said she couldn't resist.