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The Thin Blue Line: On the Inaugural Parade Trail


Some time in the last couple of weeks a blue line was painted down the center of Pennsylvania Ave. NW from the U.S. Capitol to the White House. It marks the route of Tuesday's Inaugural Parade.

You might question its necessity. How easy is it to get lost when marching west on Pennsylvania Avenue? Wouldn't you just follow the band in front of you? But it's just one element of the transformation that Washington undergoes every four years.

Up go the bleachers, up go the "No Parking" signs, in come the satellite TV trucks.

I walked the line yesterday and as I did I was reminded how nice our city is. Of course it has its share of problems -- more than its share, some might argue -- but Washington along the parade route is handsome, with imposing buildings that encapsulate our society: an almost equal mix of commerce, government and culture. Here's some of what I saw along the way.


These police cars were near the National Gallery of Art, with their lights on. I thought they were checking out the Lexus, suspiciously parked in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue. But no, the Lexus had a red light mounted on its dashboard, just another law enforcement vehicle.


Washington is a rectilinear city, with L'Enfant's horizontal and vertical design interrupted by the occasional diagonal avenue. The blue line is one more straight edge in the town that invented straight edge.


Most traffic cones are orange. I liked this fluorescent green one, not far from the Old Post Office. Does it clash with the blue line?


The blue line isn't continuous. It stops at cross streets and then picks up on the other side of the intersection. They turn off the striping machine for manhole covers, too.


Many of the light poles along the parade route have blue tape on them. What does that signify? Does it mark ticketed seating areas? Is it like the blazes on a hiking trail? Or is it totally unrelated?


This grid of colors reminded me of a Mondrian painting.


Nearing our destination of the White House, the street turns from asphalt to more decorative stone. The bleachers are nicer here, too, than further down Pennsylvania. And still more blue lines appear, perpendicular to our blue line. They must section off seating areas, flat blue fences to keep spectators in, um, line.


What is it about a line that makes us want to straddle it?

I did the same thing when visiting Berlin, as most tourists do, standing over the line linking the old East and West. The prime meridian in Greenwich is another line people can't resist standing on either side of.


The end of the line: the Presidential Reviewing Stand. Will Obama be a line that joins us or a line that divides us? And does anyone know if the line was painted red for Bush's two inaugurals?

By John Kelly  |  January 15, 2009; 9:39 AM ET
 | Tags: inauguration  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Where Were You in '85? Or 2005? Inaugural Memories
Next: Obama, a Lost Bird and the Nature of Celebrity


The paint stripes around the manhole cover are probably not spray paint. A spray paint machine would not do the curved ends, rather the paint would end in a straight perpendicular edge. This would appear to be a thick tape, a hastily applied (notice the two ends are not in line) and cut hand job in a town that has known its share of hand jobs.


Posted by: DLDx | January 15, 2009 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Many on my side of the Potomac are looking forward to the lines being drawn that will tell them how to get around on Tuesday what with 395, 66, and the GW Pkwy north of Alexandria closed. One wonders how people arriving at National Airport and picking up their rental cars will react when they find out that they can't get there from here. I am, though, pleased that viewing the parade route was such a positive experience for you.

Posted by: mfromalexva | January 15, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I hope the paint is easily removed from that beautiful stone.

Also, nice shoes.


Posted by: DLDx | January 15, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

The blue line reminds me of the one in New York along the marathon route. Don't know if that line is still there, but I remember when I was a kid they repainted it every year.

Posted by: 1995hoo | January 15, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

All I can think about is the scene in Animal House where the parade is following the conductor blindly and he leads them down a dead end alley. I think with a nice can of blue spray paint we could make the whole parade go wherever we like!

Also, nice Straight Edge reference!

Posted by: TerpPhysicist | January 15, 2009 10:39 AM | Report abuse

The blue tape around the light posts might be related to the light-post painting that's been going on. I think they used it for posting "wet paint" signs.

Posted by: dcvoter1 | January 15, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

If DC has any budget problems..look no further than the Lexus law enforcement vehicle.

Posted by: rdy4all2000 | January 15, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

rdy4all2000 - The safe bet is that the Lexus was once used to carry drugs and its previous owner gave it to the police.


Posted by: DLDx | January 15, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

@DLD: Yes, the material near the manhole cover was not paint. The line seemed to be composed of two different things. On the asphalt it was spray paint. On the nice stone near the White House (which is where I snapped that manhole cover), it looked like a wide, thick gloopy tape, like you see for lane markers. The tape looked like maybe it could be pulled up, whereas the paint looked like regular paint, although maybe it's a special sort that washes away after a few weeks.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | January 15, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

John - I don't think you meant to say that the Lexis is parked in front of the National Gallery of Art. Did you mean the National Archives? Or am I lost (again)?

Posted by: hail-fellow-well-met | January 15, 2009 7:15 PM | Report abuse

@Hail-fellow: See that blocky building to the right? That's the East Building of the National Gallery. The West Building is further to the right, off-camera. The Archives are further up Pennsylvania.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | January 15, 2009 9:28 PM | Report abuse

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