Nothing conveys a large national gathering in Washington as much as the sight of massive amounts of fencing, deployed jersey walls and acres of Port-O-Johns as far as the Beltway eyes can see.  Amidst the red, white and blue bunting being draped around Washington, the increased security patrols and non-stop chatter about what’s going to be closed and what you can and cannot bring with you to the Inauguration is the fact that a city seen by much of the American public as the capital of gridlock has indeed become the world’s capital of gridlock.

For anyone who has tried to move around DC over the past week, new magnitudes of frustration and undiscovered modifiers to regularly-used swear words have become the new norm.

As frustrating as all of these newly-installed nuisances are, I am fully supportive and understanding of what the US Secret Service is doing to protect the soon to be First Family.  I am also understanding of all of the other efforts that DHS, the Metropolitan Police Department and other National Capital Region planners, public safety and emergency managers are doing to make next week’s historic moments safe and secure.  

Unfortunately, there is a frustrating irony by the fact that the combined efforts to execute an event that celebrates the inauguration of the new leader of the free world hardly looks anything like freedom.

On my drive into and out of Washington every day, I see metal fencing lining the center medians of portions of the GW Parkway to prevent cars from parking there next week.  

Drive up and down the Mall area of the City or anywhere near the US Capitol and the term “fenced in” will take on a whole new meaning.

Along H and I Streets, in Northwest, jersey walls are parceled out around the sidewalks to prevent a truck bomber from driving up and around those used to block the streets.

Surrounding the Washington Monument are areas (and acres) that I can only describe as ‘Port-O-Potty’ Land.  It is without a doubt a portable plumber’s economic paradise given what they making on their rentals (or deployments, depending on your point of view).  Before next week is over, though, the same area may also qualify as a Super Fund site. 

The four bridges connecting Virginia to DC are to be closed to regular vehicle traffic.

While there are absolute necessities to all of these measures, I have a tinge of disappointment in observing all of this. 

It has nothing to do with the bill for all of these efforts (which may make the recent bank bailouts look like bargains).

It’s the fact that the times we live in have taken our Inauguration, the moment that we as a nation have one of us stand up, raise their right hand and swear to lead us and the rest of the free world, to become an almost ardent and overt display of Fortress America rather than Freedom America.

I am thrilled and humbled by the history that my family and in particular my children will witness next week.  The 32-word oath that Barack Obama will utter next week is something that all Americans can take tremendous pride in watching.  Amidst the history and pageantry of this great American moment will be the fact that we are having to go to such extremes to preserve the security (and sanctity) of this one, uniquely American moment.

That’s my disappointment with the coming Inauguration, and I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings.  Like the simpler days of our childhood, it’s a time to remember things the way they used to be and probably never will be again.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More