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Baltimore-area fans flood Washington to watch Capitals' victory parade: 'Absolutely worth it'

Adam Curtis walked into Baltimore’s Penn Station around 7 a.m. On a normal Tuesday, Penn Station is like any other metropolitan train stop, filled with rush-hour commuters; on a normal Tuesday, Curtis would be at work.

“I told my boss I was taking off,” said Curtis, a marketing manager for artificial intelligence company Catalyte. “It wasn’t an ask; it was a tell. Just wanted to get down as early as I could today.”

On this Tuesday, dozens of Baltimore-area Capitals fans rose around dawn to catch an early train to Washington to celebrate the first Stanley Cup victory parade in team history.

Excited uncertainty drifted around the fans congregated around the marble walls and sipping coffee on the dark wood benches. Few knew exactly what a celebratory parade was really like. Soon, they would flood the streets and disappear into the masses, indistinguishable from the Washington residents who’d likely been camped out as the sun was coming up.

Curtis, 34, a Baltimore resident, had imagined nothing but the best.

“Just excitement, to see the city come together over something that D.C. hasn’t had in over 20 years and just make that sense of community,” said Curtis, an Alexandria, Va., native. “It’s been great to see the players out with the Cup, and not just behind closed doors but really experience it with the fans who have cried, bled and everything else with the players.”

By 8:30, Curtis exited the train and planted himself on 7th Street NW and Madison Drive in Washington, right by the end of the parade route where it pours out onto the National Mall.

“Amazing to be down here,” he said after the parade. “It’s been a sea of red from one end to the other; I’ve never seen so many people.”

Everything Curtis had dreamed up had been bested by reality. From his view 10 feet back from the barrier, he got to enjoy the players spending a little more time stopped in his section before retiring to the stage to speak on the Mall.

Just enough time to become “men of the people” again.

“I saw [coach] Barry Trotz get down from his bus, high-five a bunch of fans, and get back on and chug a beer,” Curtis said. “Well, the fans were chanting, ‘Chug, chug, chug.’ [Trotz] maybe sipped.”

Unlike Curtis and many of the Baltimore-area fans, Robert Feigley, 44, of Edgemere-Sparrows Point, had ridden the 8:04 a.m. MARC train down from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. His train had filled to the brim with Caps fans, which — to his amusement — had ruffled the regulars.

“The commuters were [unhappy] because they had to stand up,” he said.

Feigley, a long-suffering fan indoctrinated into the Caps community after staying up for the four-overtime “Easter Epic” playoff loss as a child, buried himself in the Caps rally on the Mall rather than watching the parade.

To him, it was “absolutely worth it.”

“It was the massive crowd, [the players] getting up and speaking,” said Feigley, adding, “and the drinking.”

Father Joe Neuheimer, 50, drove from York Pa., to Penn Station, and then traveled down to Washington with his 14-year-old daughter, Stephanie. The two had watched all the games together from home.

“It’s time to enjoy the moment and not sour it with alcohol,” he said.

Julie Stone, 20, of Ellicott City was on the Metro at Greenbelt by 8 a.m. She settled on the steps of the National Archives within the hour — elevated, so she’d be able to see over the hundreds surrounding her.

The energy from the fans kept her going amid the crowd — no estimate of its size was made available — even though she couldn’t wade through the people to make it to the stage.

“Overall, the parade was definitely worth taking off work and waking up super early. It was so satisfying to be surrounded by so many great Caps fans,” Stone said via email, as cell service became limited in the crowd of thousands. “We all had been waiting so long for this moment. And really, you never know when you’re going to experience something like this again! So it definitely wasn’t taken for granted.”

For supporters of such teams as the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins, what to do after the Stanley Cup Final becomes second nature. Because of that, asking an employer for a day off might be a little tricky, considering how often a victory parade occurs in such places.

But for many pilgrims who journeyed down to the capital, a wave of understanding had washed over the Baltimore’s workplaces.

“I told [my boss] the truth,” said Hallie Feldman, 31, of Baltimore. “And she said, ‘You should go. It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ ”

A potential vacation day had been floating around Chris Leverenz’s office as the Capitals’ playoff run rolled on.

“[My boss] knew I was going to the parade for months if it was going to happen,” said Leverenz, 38, of Baltimore. “I didn’t take off before Game 5 because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but then he made me log the time into our scheduler.”

Few had to tell a lie to come.

“I made it a mental health day,” Brandie Pomplon, 27, of Parkville, said a little sheepishly.

But for one employer, just giving the day off wasn’t enough. Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, which had previously promised free crab cakes to anyone who’d throw a steamed crab onto the ice during Game 4, bused 53 customers and two staffers down.

There were fans who didn’t have an employer they needed to ask permission from. Bruce Anderson, the longtime organist for the Capitals, made the drive down from Lutherville to Washington on Monday to beat the traffic, and stayed in a hotel overnight.

On Tuesday morning, he marched in the parade.

“It was a surreal experience walking up Constitution Avenue with all those people,” Anderson said in a text. “Ended up right in front of the stage for the ceremony. To see the joy on everybody who works for the Capitals and how much fun the team was having was a memory of a lifetime.”

As if the trip from Baltimore to Washington wasn’t long enough, 23-year-old Baltimore native Monica Benson crossed more than 1,600 miles to be present for the celebration.

“I work in Denver,” said Benson, a candidate for a neuroscience Ph.D. at the University of Colorado Denver. “Every game day, I wore the same shirt I never washed. And I told [people] not to talk to me that day — Game 6 in the Penguins series, Game 6 in the Tampa Bay series, and all through the [Final series].”

Matt Frese, 37, who originally hails Albuquerque, N.M., picked up a love for the Capitals in 2008 after tagging along with a friend to a playoff game.

“I wasn’t even committed on going down [Tuesday] until yesterday morning,” he said. “I waited 25 years to see this, might be another 25.”

And while many enjoyed all of Tuesday work-free, Frese had to sacrifice a good night’s sleep to be among the people on the National Mall.

“I’m gonna get home today about 3, 4 o’clock and have to sit down in front of the computer and clock eight hours,” he said, “but it’ll be worth it.”

kfominykh@baltsun.com

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