What’s The Word? SoulStice Speaks On His Experience At Obamas Inauguration
This past Sunday, watching the big concert at the Lincoln Memorial in HD from our couch, Amanda and I decided that we had to try and be there for the Inauguration on Tuesday. We’d spent the preceding couple of days fretting about the mammoth crowds and the fact that we didn’t have tickets to the Inauguration. Still, by Sunday we were excited enough about the event that we just had to be a part of it (joining the millions descending on Washington that presumably felt the same way). Once we made that decision, events seemed to start lining up in our favor. First, Amanda found out that her officemate, who lives in Capitol Hill, was heading out of town (maybe running away?) and was willing to leave us the keys to her place. Next, we found out that my Dad, a national rep for the National Education Association, was able to get us two Silver tickets from Sen. Dick Durbin’s stash. Now we were really in business.
We found out about the tickets Monday around noon. Since Amanda was off work for MLK day, she headed right down to DC to pick the tickets up from my Dad. Around 9:30pm that night, we headed back in to DC for the night, armed with two blankets, two overnight bags, hats, gloves, scarves, Under Armor gear under our pants and shirts, M&Ms, trail mix and a few of those disposable heat packs. We braced for heavy traffic as we drove down 29 toward the Silver Spring metro station, but the roads were perfectly clear. In Silver Spring, we parked in Amanda’s normal commuter garage, afforded a 24-hour parking stay courtesy of Amanda’s commuter parking pass. From there, we grabbed a train to Union Station – the crowd was no big deal and we even got seats on the metro. The area around Union Station was teeming with people in suits that didn’t quite seem to know where they were going. We walked the 2 miles from Union Station to our residence for the night – a two-story townhouse in NE DC’s Capitol Hill district. During that walk, we got our first taste of the bitter cold that we would become well acquainted with the next day. Fortunately, the house was warm and we were able to get a good night’s sleep.
Tuesday morning, we woke up around 6am and were out of the house by around 6:45am. The crowds gradually thickened as we walked the 2 miles from the townhouse to the mall area until finally, we hit 3rd and a Independence and ran into a wall of bodies. We came to the realization that the “line” for the Silver section began blocks away from the entry point to the national mall and hurried to get our spot in the rapidly growing line. It took about two and a half hours to get from the back of that line up to the entry point, scooting along in an ever-thickening crowd. Had it been a different kind of occasion, people could easily have become irate under those conditions. Just standing on Independence Street felt like being in a club that was violating the fire code. But just being part of that crowd on that day was a real privilege. The vibe was positive and people braved cold and crowd with an infectious sense of anticipation and purpose. We made several brief friendships with people as we waited, some from DC and others from farther away. The friendships would generally last about as long as it took the crowd to get moving again and then you’d almost immediately become separated. Luckily Amanda and I managed to stay together, although we did have a plan to meet up at a designated point afterwards if we lost each other.
Eventually we got to the Silver gate. Standing off to side of the gate was none other than Sam Jackson (yes, the actor). It was very random that he was just standing there with what seemed to be his family (waiting for better seats, maybe?). We tried our best to take pictures of him from the crowd, but once the line started moving again, he was all but forgotten as we inched closer to the mall. There were so many people gathered at the gate at one time that they couldn’t check tickets individually. Instead, they asked the few hundred people that were “next” in line to wave their tickets in the air (translation – you totally could have gotten in without a ticket). After waving our tickets in the air (actually, I didn’t bother with this, I was too busy taking pictures), we proceeded through security, got patted down and entered the mall. We moved up to the front-most part of the Silver section, not too far from the Reflecting Pool, around 10am and made sure we had a good view of the nearest Jumbotron screen. Then we waited and the cold settled in. Standing around in the cold is so much worse than walking around in the cold. Eventually I lost feeling in my toes and had to stuff a few of the heat packs into my shoes. The crowd was still in good spirits. They showed the actors and politicians entering the “stage” on the Jumbotron. To me, this part felt like the end of a play when all of the actors come back on stage (in this case after the compelling drama of a 2-year presidential campaign) to take a bow. We cheered for politicians that were on “our team” and booed those that weren’t. Bush actually got the second loudest boo, while Cheney in his wheelchair, got the loudest. I joked that maybe he’d been crippled by the weight of his bad decisions. Later, I found out that he’d actually been hurt moving boxes out of his office. If there’s any justice in the world, it was a box of notes for his memoirs. Someone standing behind us objected to the booing yelling “be nice!” Smiling, I turned around and informed her that it was too cold to be nice.
Eventually Obama stood to give his speech and the crowd went as crazy as we could, given the 9-degree wind chill. Amanda and I watched as he spoke. It’s hard to describe the feeling exactly. I beamed with a mixture of pride for my country and my race, hope for the future and vindication as everything I’d been thinking for the last 8 years was eloquently set forth with the architects of that 8-year stumble watching uncomfortably. Being there on the national mall in that moment was beautifully cold and surreal. I pictured future generations watching tapes of this speech as we watched Kennedy and King’s speeches and wondered which quotes would make the most lasting soundbytes. We cheered one last time as Obama said “God bless these United States of America.” Almost immediately after it was over, the cold promptly overtook the surrealism and the crowd began to disperse. We made our way, slowly and patiently, back towards the townhouse. We passed vendor after vendor, frantically trying to sell off the last of their Obama t-shirts, key chains, towels, backpacks, plates and every other conceivable form of paraphernalia. Around 3pm, we decided to get out of town while the getting was good. We tried and failed to catch a glimpse of the parade on our way out. The Union Station metro was awash with people and the US Army was standing by the doors preventing any more people from going down into the crowded metro underground. We decided to avoid the whole scene and walked to the New York Avenue station, which was surprisingly empty. Our guess was that out-of-towners didn’t know about that station and residents were unwilling to walk to that part of town. From there it was (again surprisingly) smooth sailing back to Silver Spring and up to Columbia. Once we got in and got settled, we turned on the TV and watched the whole ceremony over again on C-Span.
Peace, hope and hard work ahead – SoulStice