clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

TOURISTS SING DETOUR BLUES WHEN THE FAMOUS VISIT WASHINGTON

Outside the downtown hotel where Nelson and Winnie Mandela are staying, crowds chanted "Man-del-a! Man-del-a!" Nearby, Debora Cates of St. Louis and her companions shrieked, "Oh no! He's here again!"

Cates, Kim Lingo and Bernice Gum this week are learning the drawbacks of vacationing in the nation's capital while there's a famous person around.Streets become blocked for security and for motorcades. Traffic grinds to a halt. Pedestrians are detoured blocks out of their way. Life gets, well, disrupted when bigwig visitors come to town.

It happened again Tuesday when Mandela took a 40-minute walk through the heart of downtown and into a residential neighborhood during early rush-hour traffic.

Mandela, wearing a New York Yankees jacket and cap, was surrounded by about 50 police and other security officers as he left his hotel and walked about two miles, waving to surprised onlookers.

Traffic quickly backed up when Mandela walked down the middle of a busy business street. Police ordered pedestrians to keep their hands in sight as he passed by.

Washingtonians are pretty used to it, but it can be discombobulating for the millions of tourists who visit here each year.

"He's really cramping our style, that man. It's like, `Oh no! He's here again,' " joked Cates, a 30-year-old airline worker who was resting from a tour at a Smithsonian museum Monday.

There have been a lot of motorcades. The African National Congress leader stayed put after he got to his hotel Sunday afternoon. But streets were closed off when his wife, Winnie, later walked to a nearby church to address a program honoring South African women.

On Monday the couple crisscrossed the city, traveling first to the White House for meetings with President Bush, then down to the State Department, over to the AFL-CIO and up to Capitol Hill for dinner.

Cates and company first encountered the Mandela entourage Sunday when their tour bus sat helpless in traffic. On Monday, with Washington back at work, downtown traffic was so jammed they gave up and walked several blocks to their hotel.

Not every tourist was disgruntled about the disruption Mandela's visit caused. Some didn't know he was in town. And some had no idea who he was.

"I don't know what he's all about, to tell you the truth," said Jerry Gwyn of Mooresville, N.C., who was trying to find his way to Arlington Cemetery. "We learned of his visit last night on television."

Olidia Thomas and Jovita Davis of Ypsilanti, Mich., also were irritated by the stalled traffic and blocked streets that made it difficult to get to the popular tourist sites.

But Thomas said she took the wait in stride because "it's for a good cause. He needs to promote the need for support and to be more visible."

"Because Mandela is right here, we can't go into the White House," joked Bart Stuurman, 19, of the Netherlands. In fact, the White House is closed to tourists every Monday.

Stuurman is part of a Lions Club International Youth Camp touring the South this summer.

A companion, Alex Elizondo, 18, of Monterrey, Mexico, said, "I don't know him. I don't know anything about him," but then stared in disbelief when another friend, Pedro Ulovecio, 19, explained in rapid Spanish that Mandela had spent 27 years in prison "for the freedom of his country."

"That's nice," Elizondo said.

Hal Walls of Oklahoma City said, "I haven't put a whole lot of thought" into the Mandela visit "but there must be progress with the fact that he's here."