Every day, thousands of people look up at the bright white Washington Monument towering over Washington, D.C. The building is an awe-inspiring sight, and the tallest all-stone building in the world. So imagine how thrilled people are to discover that people can actually go inside that impressive structure. With their children dragging their feet up the hill, parents trudge up the slope to the base of the monument, drawn by the building's siren song and heartened by the sight of a line of people slowly being fed into the massive obelisk, beaming with excitement. Then, as they approach, they see the sign on the door: All Tickets Have Been Distributed For Today.
Tickets? Yes, tickets. The Washington Monument has an elevator that has an average lap time of about 5 minutes, carrying around 20 people every trip. Add more than that and people start to panic - I've tried! The tickets exist because it's more respectful to the visitors who can report back for their ticket time and actually do something fun for the rest of the day instead of standing in a line for the Washington Monument, burning up the hours of their expensive D.C. vacation while they literally burn up in the sunshine. Someone smart figured it out because the number of tickets for each half hour block take exactly that much time to send through the building. For the fixed costs involved, specifically elevator volume, the system works as well as it can.
Of course, visitors don't know the logistics behind the ticket system, nor do they care at the point the sweat is beading on their brow in the 100 degree summer heat after trudging up the hill. For me, it hurts to tell someone they can't do something, but you have to grow some callouses or else you'll be miserable if you have my job. The same depressing scene plays out a hundred times an hour, and there is nothing I or anyone else can do about it.
Stage 1: Denial
Stage 2: Guilt
Realizing they have failed to plan ahead for this moment, a look of pain comes over the visitor's face. "I didn't realize I needed tickets."
Stage 3: Bargaining
So far, no one has tried to outright bribe me, but this phase can play out a number of ways:
1. "We came all the way from Florida, and this is our last day."
2. "We came all the way from California, and this is our last day."
3. "My mother is from India, and this is our last day."
4. "My wife is in a wheelchair, and this is our last day."
This is the stage where the pretty girls will try to flirt with you, various credentials get whipped out, all sorts of pouty expressions are unveiled, and, yes, people shamelessly exploit disabilities.
The only recourse for the ranger is to stick to the plan, "Sorry, you need tickets to get into the building." I am always reminded of my high school swimming coach, who often said, "Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Of course I can't say that to them, or else they will get angry.
Stage 4. Anger
Too late! Now they're angry.
"Augh! I didn't know you needed tickets! Can't we just go in? This is ridiculous!"
At this point, I just have to weather the storm and wait for them to calm down to the point where I can give them options. Thankfully, it doesn't always come to this. If you talk to a Midwesterner, they are much more accepting of hardship. People in the East find this fact amusing.
Stage 5. Acceptance
"Alright, kids, let's go."
I don't know what happens after this stage. By this point in the conversation, I'm already onto the next person back at Stage 1.
It doesn't have to end this way. How do you avoid all this headache? No problem. You don't have to know somebody or a secret code to get into the building. All you need is tickets.
How to Visit the Washington Monument
Option #1: Reserved tickets. If time is on your side and you aren't visiting in the next two months, reserve your tickets online at http://www.recreation.gov/. For a small fee, you can reserve your tickets ahead of schedule. It is totally worth the small fee they collect per ticket.
Option #2: First-come, First-Served Tickets. Most of the tickets are given out for the same day. Currently, the ticket window opens at 8:30 AM Eastern Time. The line forms well before that, especially on weekends, but most of the time the line isn't too long before 8:00 AM. You can only get tickets for the same day, not tomorrow or any other day, in this method. The tickets are free, and one person can pick up a maximum of 6 tickets. Tickets run out within 45 minutes in the winter, when the Monument is open from 9 to 5. Otherwise, the tickets run out within the first two hours when the Monument is open in the evening. Get there early, bring coffee and a box of donuts, a crossword, and enjoy the sunrise.
Option #3: Alternatives. The Old Post Office Tower has a nice view of downtown D.C. True, it's only half the height of the Washington Monument, but you can still see the whole downtown area and the building has an interesting history. On a humid day when the pollution is bad, you can see just as much from either building. You don't need a ticket and there is rarely a line to go up to the top of the bell tower.
I'll see you on the hill!