Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In D.C. on Inauguration Day

Ah, nothing like adding to an already long weekend by skipping a day of work to go into Washington, D.C. for a truly historic event. Yes, I was one in that one-point-whatever million crowd that gathered to witness via jumbotron* the inauguration of President Obama. Here is my account of the day.

I stayed with a friend at her uncle's house outside the city, and we went in to D.C. on Tuesday morning with this uncle's family, which included two little girls. We were all very well bundled up. I had at least two layers everywhere: two pairs of socks and winter boots, long johns under corduroys, a long-sleeve t-shirt under a fuzzy turtle-neck sweater, my winter parka, double-layer wool mittens, a scarf, and a polar fleece-lined wool hat. All that, and I still managed some mobility. We got a relatively late start, arriving at the Metro station probably around 9:15. The crowds weren't bad at all there, probably because everyone was already in the city by then. The metro ride was slow, though, because, as the conductor kept telling us, "A customer was hit by a train at Gallery Place, so as of now all trains are turning around at Farragut North". We were annoyed at the inconvenience, since Gallery Place was our destination, but decided it wasn't as much of an inconvenience as the poor person struck by the train had experienced. As it turned out, though, the person was not actually hit by the train; I heard she managed to duck into the space below the platform when the train came by, and ended up with only a dislocated shoulder probably from when she was trying to get back up on the platform. Anyway, before we got to Farragut North, they opened Gallery Place back up, so everything ended up fine. When we got off at the Gallery Place stop, there were huge crowds heading up the escalators, so it took a while. We walked around a bit, because we were meeting a couple other families in a museum, and then we made our way to the Mall.

The Mall was crowded. We heard that they had closed the Mall at some point, but we got there around 11:20 or so, and by then it seemed that no one was stopping anyone from entering. Since we figured that one jumbotron looked like any other jumbotron, and there was no way we were going to be close enough not to need a jumbotron, we didn't mind being far from the Capitol Building. We got onto the Mall near the Smithsonian Castle. It was not a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd there (though the porta-potties were lined up shoulder to shoulder), so we easily got in enough to see the Capitol Building as well as a jumbotron. I think we were very lucky that getting into the city was relatively easy, and we got a pretty good view, and we even kind of cheated because we didn't get up early.

The crowd was really cool. I don't know when I'll ever again be in a crowd that big, and that happy. I mean, everyone was in a really, really good mood (people who were not in a good mood today weren't going to bother going out in the cold and the crowds). At one point coming out of the subway, someone had tripped slightly and crashed into the person in front of him. He apologized profusely, but she said, "It's alright, you can do no wrong today. It's a good day." Yes, spirits were high, and the crowds were overly polite and forgiving.

The ceremony was very nice. It was about what anyone saw on TV, but it was great hearing the great cheering roar of the crowd in person, and see those thousands upon thousands of little flags waving over the crowd. I wasn't even bothered by the cold, except when I took my hands out of my mittens to take pictures. Speaking of the camera, to be honest, I think I may have missed some of the gravity of the moment because I was too busy lining up my shot to stop and think about the fact that Obama is taking the Oath of Office right now! I noticed my friend was tearing up and I was not, and wondered for a second what was wrong with me, but the thought quickly passed because I was too busy cheering my lungs out (the video I was taking successfully recorded my unflattering scream).

However easy it was for us to get in to the city, we paid for it on the way out. I mean, we started leaving the Mall some time after 12:30. We were trying to cut across to the American History Museum, and it took us until the end of the ceremony to get there (so no, we didn't technically leave until it was over). Of course, everyone else was already going into the museum, so once we got there, we decided instead to go straight home. Right, "straight" home. Cut to 3:30--Eleni and company finally board the metro. Yeah, we were walking around for two and a half hours easily before we got into a station. I don't even remember which stations we tried, I just remember the endless streams of people. No matter how far we walked from the Mall, there seemed to be just as many people walking just as far, and all the metro stations were overflowing and they were closing them down. It was slow going because we had the children with us, but luckily they were with the friends we had met in the city, so they were occupied and mostly not complaining. I was starting to complain, because I was beginning to notice just how cold my nose was and my feet weren't happy walking so much. But we did finally make it out.

We watched the parade on the TV at home, drinking hot chocolate and appreciating the heat. It was a crazy, long day, but it was a good day. Sure, it would have been warmer, more comfortable, less-time consuming, and I would have been able to see and hear better if I had watched from home, it wouldn't make nearly as good a story. It was historic for being the inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president. Hopefully, a great presidency will turn it into an even more historic occasion. And I will be able to say that I was there.

*All day, I kept wanting to say "Megatron" instead of "JumboTron". No, Eleni, they are not the same thing. If Megatron (or 20 Megatrons!) were on the National Mall with well over a million people gathered there for Inauguration Day, it could very well be the plot of the next Michael Bay film.

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