So began the opening hours of the latest shutdown for a federal government that has become familiar with furloughs, and a country that has almost come to shrug off stalemates and spending fights — at least at first.
“It’s an annoyance, but you can work around it,” said Desmond Hadlum, who drove in with his wife, Ann, to go snowshoeing. They stopped a park ranger at the entrance gate to ask about the shutdown.
“So far, so good,” the ranger replied.
But the shutdown’s effects — especially visible on Saturday at closed or unstaffed National Park Service sites, and at checkpoints at airports and the nation’s borders as officers stood guard without pay — will be magnified once the standoff seeps past Christmas, when federal offices would ordinarily be open and staffed with the approximately 380,000 employees who have been told to stay home while President Donald Trump and Congress try to reach a spending accord.
An additional 420,000 or so employees, their duties classified as essential, were ordered to work without pay during what some elected officials, including Trump, said could be a protracted battle over the president’s insistence on $5 billion for a wall along the border with Mexico.
But the impasse in Washington changed little on Saturday along the border, where a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter hovered over the Rio Grande. Border Patrol pickup trucks kicked up dirt as they drove on unpaved roads, with one bouncing across the flood levee, the same structure where Trump said he aims to construct the border wall he pledged during his campaign. At the Anzalduas International Bridge, vehicles were lined up for inspection by American officers who were not certain when they would receive their next paychecks.
“They’re going to do their job like they’re supposed to,” said Art Del Cueto, the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union. “Nothing changes, except they don’t get paid.”
In Washington, a bar near congressional offices, the Capitol Lounge, offered a modest respite for federal workers: $5 cocktails during the shutdown. One option — a blend of tequila, orange juice and grenadine — was christened “Mexico Will Pay for This,” a nod to the dispute over the wall.
But most federal employees are scattered across the country, far from Capitol Hill. In interviews on Saturday, some said they were frustrated by the political gridlock that left their finances uncertain.
“The big thing is, it’s already a very tough job,” said Justin Tarovisky, a correctional officer at the U.S. Penitentiary Hazelton, in northern West Virginia. “But when you know that you’ve got to go to work and you’re not going to be paid for it — or it’s going to be late, no matter what — it really brings you down.”
The blue-shirted officers of the Transportation Security Administration, who were expected to screen 41 million passengers this holiday, stood beside body scanners and X-ray machines on Saturday after spending the previous days girding for a shutdown.
“It’s a job,” said Daniel Defosse, a TSA worker, as he stacked plastic bins at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, just after the Senate adjourned on Friday. “It comes with the territory, honestly.”
Others were more exasperated, like the TSA officer who sat at a guard desk nearby, staring at a computer screen and clicking a mouse.
“What would you think if you didn’t get paid?” said the officer, who would not give his name but said he felt frustrated and resigned over a shutdown he feared would last a while.
As for the political leaders whose bickering triggered the shutdown, he had one word: “Selfish.”
Some members of Congress, especially lawmakers from the Washington area, expressed sympathy for the workers, and the Senate on Friday unanimously approved a measure that would compensate federal workers “at the earliest date possible after the lapse in appropriations ends, regardless of scheduled pay dates.”
But Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., whose tenure in Congress will end next month, said few lawmakers were focused on the repercussions of a shutdown on federal workers, particularly because of the government’s history of ultimately paying its employees.
“It’s not as if these folks don’t get paid — it’s just that there’s a lag and a delay in doing so,” Sanford said.
Federal workers, and their labor unions, broadly condemned the shutdown and the consequences of its timing. J. David Cox Sr., the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union for federal workers, called the shutdown “a dereliction of duty by Congress and the president.”
Despite the government’s record of offering back pay to its workers, current and former employees said any uncertainty was worrisome, particularly for the lowest-paid employees.
“They’re not sitting on a huge pile of cash for an emergency,” said Joyce Vance, who was the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the shutdown in 2013, which affected the entire government and lasted 16 days. “People can’t pay their rent, they can’t put food on the table.”
During the 2013 shutdown, about 850,000 workers were furloughed each day. Soon after, the Obama administration estimated “the largest direct cost” of the shutdown was work that went unperformed — and the $2 billion the government eventually paid them.
Some parts of the government were suffering no consequences from this latest iteration of a shutdown. The Defense Department, for example, was operating normally because Congress had already approved its funding.
But some federal agencies warned that the disruption’s effects would spread. The Smithsonian Institution could close its museums, as well as the National Zoo in Washington, early next year if no agreement is reached. And the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator told employees there was enough remaining money for the EPA “to operate for a limited period of time.”
Tourists in Atlanta did not benefit from any leftover dollars that kept parts of the government open a little longer. People who tried Saturday visits to the birth home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were met with a closed door and a Park Service sign.
“AREA CLOSED,” it read. “Because of a lapse in federal appropriations, this national park facility is closed for the safety of visitors and park resources.”
In Colorado, visitors were more perplexed than annoyed. In Estes Park, near Rocky Mountain National Park, there were worries among some merchants that a prolonged shutdown could dry up holiday business if tourists stayed away. Visitors wondered whether the park would still be open if a blizzard clobbered the roads.
Outside the shuttered Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, three Sri Lankan friends who attend college in North Dakota took photos of one another against a backdrop of stunning snowy peaks and said the shutdown hadn’t dampened their experience. They had driven down for winter break, and had already spotted elk and mountain goats.
In a way, Gihan Gamage, 26, said the chaos in Washington reminded him of home.
“We have our own political mess. We didn’t have a prime minister for a month,” he said. “I thought it was like a Third World country thing. It’s the same story.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.