Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration Shuffle

Back in NYC after long drive where I vainly tried to keep my eyes open so Matt wouldn't feel like he was a chauffeur. Despite a stop at one of those cookie cutter service stations, I fell asleep anyway, the coffee clutched in my hand.

We were up at 7:30 in the morning today, thinking to get an early start on the inauguration. But with getting the kids up and making some much-needed coffee and trying to figure out what to take, we didn't get out the door until about 8:30, by which time, it seemed all of DC was already awake.

We walked down Independence towards the Capitol with other groups of families and friends, passing by a few tee-shirt vendors hoping to make a buck off Capitol Hill. Yesterday, we had walked through the mall and found barricades on the Capitol side that forced us to make a wide detour north, so we kept to the sidewalk on the other side of the street, thinking there would be another chance to make the right-hand turn onto the mall. Instead, we found ourselves trapped in the area where ticket holders were lining up to get into the better part of the mall. Barricade after barricade, silver ticket area to purple ticket area, we found ourselves jammed among more and more people, and unable to find our way onto the mall. We were directed over to the freeway and along with thousands of people, walked through the tunnel, trying in vain to turn towards the mall. After FINALLY making it to the 7th Street area, we found that it was full. They said 14th Street was still open but by that time, we had totally lost hope of ever getting on the mall.

Since it was impossible to get ourselves out of the crowd, we plodded on like lemmings. Or like cattle - an elderly African-American woman good-humoredly started to moo, as she hung on to her grand-daughter and her niece. Some people around us were still happy and hopeful and excited, but most people by that time were confused and rather frustrated. Finally, just at the entrance to 14th Street, we stalled entirely, pinned on every side under the 14th and Jefferson street sign. We could see a sea of people across the way stretching all the way to the Monument and the back of a jumbotron, but nothing else. Oh well, I thought, the buck stops here. But suddenly, it seemed some gate was opened and we sprinted towards the nearest jumbotron on the mall.

The sun came out and as the mall filled out around us, we regained our festive mood. Somebody was handing out free flags and though I am normally not a flag-waving person, I took two. We saw a woman with a box of hot chocolate and Miles went off to buy us all some sugary warmth. The area behind us was cordoned off for handicapped people and diagonally to our left, we could see a jumbotron and a crane with a camera. The crowd was multi-generational, multi-ethnic and seemed to be primarily comprised of African-Americans, college kids and working-class families.

Miles had vanished into the dense cube of people gathered in front of the hot chocolate man and I worriedly went to look for him, as they announced Clinton and Bush, Sr. There was no cell phone reception, so I had to go back to the Jefferson and 14th sign to text him - calls would not go through at all. After weaving among the people at the hot chocolate stand, I gave up and went back to Matt and Marcelo, who were huddled on a portable cane chair that Marcelo insisted had been abandoned.

The crowd gasped as the jumbotron revealed Cheney in a wheelchair looking all but dead and booed when Bush appeared. Some people behind us began to sing, "Nah nah nah nah, hey hey, good bye!" Marcelo went off the the port-o-san just before a worried-looking blonde woman with a toddler in tow came up to me and asked if the chair was ours. I apologized profusely and she went off with it. Miles still wasn't back. We were all up on our feet now in anticipation of Obama being announced, waving our flags and stomping our feet in the cold. Matt and I dubbed it the Inauguration Shuffle or the 'Naug Dance. Boy, was it cold.

A shout went off when Obama appeared with his wife and two little girls. With that many people it sounded more like a roar. They say that 950,000 people can fill the entire mall, so there must have been about that many. Aretha Franklin sang America the Beautiful like a gospel song, the live feed to the jumbotrons causing a slight delay that sounded like she was echoing through an enormous cavern. Miles suddenly appeared with two tepid cups of hot chocolate. We gulped it down and tried to listen while some prayer was said, doing the Inauguration Shuffle and hoping this guy would keep it short. He finally finished and suddenly, there was Obama with his hand on the Bible, giving the oath of office. We shouted and waved our flags furiously and our Inauguration Shuffle turned into something more akin to a Hop.

We didn't stay after Obama's inauguration speech. It was way too cold - I wonder which sadistic Founding Father picked the end of January for the ceremony? We trudged back to Capitol Hill with the crowd, getting on the highway for a long detour.
Later, I realized that we probably should have tried to visit a museum or something on our last afternoon, but our brains seemed to have stopped working when our toes froze over. Instead, we got back to the house and lolled around for two hours before getting on the highway for the trip home.

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