Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Notes

Well, we are off early this morning to see some more monuments and memorials, but I wanted to make a few notes about yesterday, Inauguration Day.

First of all, it was cold.  I think I've mentioned this a few times, but yesterday it was especially relevant, as, by the time we were done, we were very very nearly frozen solid.  At the very very least, I know that our collective forty toes and some of the same number of fingers were absent any warmth.  This is mostly because we had such a very long time to wait, on the street, with little else to do but pace back and forth, stamp the ground and kick our feet together in hopes of staying alive long enough to see the new President pass by our spot.

The day began at 6:45 when we got up.  We left the house at 7:30 and when we boarded the train here in Forest Glen, it was already about half full.  Four stops later and it was so packed that no one was getting on or off till we reached Union Station.  This is where we entered the city, and by this time, which was only 8:30, the throngs were massive.  We were swept up into the flow of people out onto the street, where the crowds could open up.  Cars of course, were at a minimum, so people were simply walking everywhere.  There was a wonderful sense of enthusiasm and camaraderie as we made our way toward the Mall.  People were laughing and smiling, carrying signs and of course everyone had a camera of some kind.

It's hard to judge these things, but I have no hesitation in observing that many, if not actually most of the people were black.  There was a pervasive, underlying joy in everyone's demeanor as we thronged together, funneled by pedestrian barriers and the unseen will of the crowd toward the tent that was the primary security checkpoint.  We had each taken a bottle of water, but were forced to abandon it at the checkpoint for reasons I did not understand.  The guard who removed my bottle insisted that I "return to the end of the line" but I was in no mood to try that after being forced through the gauntlet once, so I simply threw it into the massive pile that was accumulating at that spot and moved on.  They checked my coat, patted me down, inspected my little bag-o-goodies that David had so thoughtfully provided and bang, I was in!

Now, that would have been wonderful, and in some ways it certainly was, but in fact this simply signified the beginning, not the end, of our ordeal.  We quickly walked up Constitution Avenue and found a spot hear the rail next to some people huddled on a blanket on the ground.  It turns out they had been there since 3am!  Needless to say, it was obviously not necessary to have subjected themselves to all that for such a spot, but it did appear to be an ideal place to see the parade go by.

From this spot, we could see the Capitol, though no details of the ceremony were visible, even had we had binoculars, I believe, but we could hear the ceremony from loudspeakers placed on the light poles all down the street.  It was cold, of course, but sunny, so it made the three hours till the ceremony began more tolerable than you might expect.  We chatted with those around us, speculated about the timing and generally expressed the relief and excitement that so possessed us all while slowly and inexorably getting colder and colder.

When the ceremony began, it was blissfully short, as seemed Mr. Obama's speech.  Doubtless it was longer than it seemed, for as we huddled around a radio to catch every word, each word, each phrase caught up in our ears and hearts.  Many around us, including me, cried.  There were high fives and cheers and more than a few "Amens".  I said a few myself.  It felt like a fabulous preacher was at the pulpit, and instead of empty promises about the Kingdom of Heaven, we were instead offered solid assurances that Mr. Obama had indeed come to Washington to make a difference in the way we live our lives henceforth.

His speech was justly critical of the past yet focused on the optimism for the future.  I certainly felt it and I know many others did, here, on the Mall, where more than a million had gathered, and in may other places around the world.  That includes China, where Jeff and Sara could see the speech on the internet in English even as their hosts were censoring the speech in Chinese for their own people.  And, almost as soon as it was over, we were treated to the wonderful and long time coming sight of Mr. Bush departing in his Air Force helicopter for the last time.  I've read that the people on the Mall chanted "Hey hey hey, goodbye" but we simply cheered and thanked the powers that be that we'd lived to see the day.

I don't want to focus too much on the negative, but it is clear that we have endured too much for too long, those of us who stand for both peace and safety, for whom, as Mr. Obama said, the choice between security and ideals is a false one.  I am thrilled to know that my friends in other countries will no longer ask me what the hell we think we are doing over here, to know that in a very short time, relations between our nations will recover, and we can again go out without fear and with pride in our nation and the way it upholds its principles and ideals.

Alas, after this wonderful moment came a long and very cold interlude.  We moved further down the street to get a better spot for viewing the parade and hunkered down while the President ate lunch and Ted Kennedy--bless his 'Lion' heart and soul--collapsed and thus delayed the start of the parade for more than an hour.  The expectation had been that we would see the President and his wife begin walking up the parade route a few blocks from us around 2pm, but it wasn't until nearly 3:30 that the event actually got underway and by that time, the cold had rendered us numb.  We were even prepared to call it off and head out in another 15 minutes but fortunately it began before we gave up.  At that moment, David and I climbed up on a large iron gate behind us to get a better view and angle for photographs.  I watched and took pictures of the motorcycle police, the color guard, the Army band and the Fife and Drum Corps before the Presidential motorcade finally appeared.

That's right, the motorcade.  It turns out that he and Michelle got out to walk but not until they'd passed by our spot by several blocks!  David managed to get a photograph of him smiling through the darkened window of his limousine, but it wasn't till it had passed and he said, "Well, that's it!" that I realized I'd missed the very thing I'd hoped to see after enduring the numbing cold for eight hours.  O well.

I did say from the outset that I did not come to see Mr. Obama but to see the people who had put him there, and this is exactly what I got.  I felt the emotion, I saw the faces and I lived the moment.  This and nothing more did I hope for and, as I expect it will be in the coming years, hope will lift and carry us to a new level of freedom and prosperity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You need to go home now and take care of Hudson's!!! Not really, I am sure they are doing fine without you, but it makes me feel a lot better when you are there. Repeating, can't wait to see you and hear your stories in the flesh. It sounds like your day of inauguration is just like a typical day in China (sans the smiles).