I have to admit, after such a long election cycle, I was a little “over” Barack Obama, and he hadn’t even been sworn in yet. For the past month, I had been going back and forth, back and forth, about attending the inauguration. I hadn’t been able to score tickets, but they were putting Jumbotrons out on the mall so people could go downtown and watch. I knew crowds would be so bad that the only way I’d get to the mall was to walk the three miles.
Normally not too bad, but the weather was for the mid 20s (which is unbelievably cold for the DC region) and I can’t handle the DC crowds on the 4th of July and this would be much, much worse. Plus, the predictions. 6 hours to wait for metro. Bring your own toilet paper and a sandwich. 4 million people sandwiched downtown. I couldn’t tell if this was the Inauguration or the zombie apocalypse. Barricading myself in the house and watching the whole thing on TV was sounding like a very attractive option.
Then, I remembered that my toes tend to freeze and lose feeling on a regular basis, like just hanging around the house. Spending all day outside in freezing temps? I’d need to find some new socks. And I’d need new mittens, as my gloves wouldn’t cut it.
But, when my grandchildren ask me where I was that day, did I really want to answer that it was too cold and too much of a hassle, so I watched it on TV while still wearing my pajamas? Lame.
It changed on Saturday morning. I was listening to Morning Edition on NPR and they were interviewing will.i.am, talking about the song and video he did to Obama’s “Yes, We Can” speech. Listening to that song again, just snatches played through the interview reminded me of the fire I had early last summer, before the primaries, before the general, before my political ADD tuned out and focused on other things. It reminded me of the hope I felt before the public decided that “Yes, we did” because apparently, once Obama won, all of our problems were solved.
We haven’t done anything yet. We’ve barely begun, but Yes, We Can.
And yes, I could brave the elements and walk my ass down to the National Mall and be a part of history.
On Sunday, they started closing the bridges between Arlington and the District. We also started noticing a definite increase in helicopter activity. (Living near the Pentagon, you get used to a certain amount of helicopters buzzing your house, but this was getting insane.) My husband Dan’s blackberry went off all day, giving updates to how messed up traffic and metro stops were with the concert on the mall.
Last night, some friends and I went downtown just to see what was going on. There was a free children’s concert in Chinatown, featuring the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, and others so it was CRAZY. Lots of small children running around, tons of tables set up and people on street corners selling every piece of Obama memorabilia imaginable. (One of the oddest being a poster of Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. shaking hands. I was actually impressed at how well it was Photoshopped.) Restaurants were packed, but sadly the ones with the longest lines weren’t awesome DC places, but rather the Hard Rock Cafe and Ruby Tuesday.
We then walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and saw lots of people all dressed up for the many balls tonight but as we got closer to the parade route, it was strangely quiet. There were very few people on the street besides the crews setting up bleachers and fences and walls. There were rows and rows and rows of Port-o-Potties and the only sounds were police sirens and helicopters. It was surreal. The Mall was similarly quiet, until we saw a crowd of people. When we went down to see what was going on, Anderson Cooper was being mobbed, taking pictures with everyone who wanted one.
Then, it was a metro ride home with locals’ normal complaints about tourists…
This morning was cold. While I knew we lived three miles from the Lincoln Memorial and that Fort Meyer would be closed to civilians, I didn’t put 2 and 2 together that if we couldn’t walk through base, then the memorial was A LOT further away than three miles… luckily, there was a special bus that would come a few blocks from us and then shuttle us to the mall. Hooray!
At 9, some friends came over and we bundled up. Dan threw the ingredients for a stew into the crockpot, turned it on, and we headed out. The special bus was supposed to come every 5-10 minutes. After 30 minutes of waiting, with no bus in sight, we saw an empty cab. Now, all the bridges were closed, but most were open to buses and taxis. We thought trying to get a cab would be insane, but there one was! We went over the 14th street bridge (which is a highway) but… all the exits were closed. There was no way to get OFF the highway. So, the cab dropped us off at a blocked exit and we walked in off the exit, towards the 12th street tunnel. It was weird. Walking across a highway with no one on it except some military? Over a frozen river? It screamed zombie movie to me. Then we came to the tunnel–lots of parked Atlantic City police cars and State Troopers from Kentucky.
But then we just saw a river of people coming towards the mall, to where we were headed. Then there was another river, and another. People smiling, taking pictures.
We found a spot on the mall, standing above the 12th street tunnell, between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, with a sometimes view of a Jumbotron (lots of people, means sometimes a tall person stands in front of you and you can’t see.)
Lots of Aaron Copeland playing. The crowd cheered when Teddy Kennedy appeared on screen and cheered for the Clintons, then booed for Clarence Thomas and President Bush. Lots of Obama shirts and signs. Lots of American Flags. Someone had a Flat Stanley, which made the children’s librarian in me cheer. My mom called to see where I was. My cousin’s daughter called to see if I was there. My friends texted me. There was a camera on a crane near us, which sometimes blocked the Jumbotron, but we all cheered and waved when it swooped by us. We talked to the people around us, some who had been there since dawn. It was a party.
A party with performances by Aretha Franklin, and Yo Yo Ma!
There were so many speakers around us, there was some sound delay and echoes, so it was hard to understand anything. I’ll have to rewatch Obama’s speech, because I do not know what he said.
After he spoke people left, trying to get to the parade (even though I hear the gates were closed at 11:30 this morning). I stayed for the poem, I was excited for that poem. We then walked to 14th street, caught in the crowd, hanging onto each other’s jackets to not lose each other. We walked over the bridge, back over the frozen river, with other people, though not the rivers of people from earlier, small streams of people heading home, looking for warmth. Once we hit Virginia, near Route 1, we scrambled down an embankment, and found another cab to take us the rest of the way, our legs frozen and leaden, our toes feeling like they were about to fall off.
We ate the delicious stew and watched the rest of the festivities on TV, and as the parade was delayed by 2.5 hours (it’s still happening now, as I write this) I think we made the right call on that one, because I can now feel my toes. Dan’s blackberry keeps buzzing with dire warnings of 10 block lines from the metro stations. It is dark now, and the parade is still going.
As I said earlier, I am tired of people saying “Yes, We Did” for I feel we have only taken the first step towards doing this, towards fixing our country. I am dismayed by the “Barack Obama: The Chosen One” sweatshirts I saw today. President Obama is a man–an inspiring man, a great man, but a man. He is not a God. We will not wake up tomorrow to a fixed country, but only one step closer to trying to fix our country. It will be a long and hard journey.
I was even more dismayed by those who booed President Bush. I am no fan of the former president, but to boo the outgoing President at the Inauguration is poor form and not part of the America I hope we’re working towards. It saddened me.
But, to close with part of the poem Elizabeth Alexander read today,
Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”
Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.
What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
-posted by Jennie