Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day - Ceremony

I wake up at 7:30am on my own accord. The couch is comfy and I'm exhausted from being on my feet in the cold until 2am, but I just can't sleep late anymore. I turn on the t.v. to see what's happening on the Mall, 2 miles away. "Oh my God." I just keep repeating it over and over. The news shows keep showing these wide shots of the Mall, already full, and people jumping up and down happy and screaming. The ticker at the bottom says 18 degrees. I wait for my friend to get up and then show here the scenes. Now we have scored some tickets to the standing area - these are supposedly the prized golden tickets. We are both in a near coma and say, "I'm not going. I'm not standing in the cold for 5 hours" After 2 more hours of lying around, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, we decide we have to go. How can we not go??? Of course this dilemma has been plaguing everyone in DC for weeks. The logistics are so overwhelming - how can you go? But then how can you not?

We quickly shower, pack bags and head out the door and immediately get a taxi. It takes us ALL THE WAY TO 4TH AND K! This is a dream come true. We run up to the check point at 11:10 having heard that checkpoints are closing to everyone, ticket or not, at 11:30. The checkpoint is already closed. The guards suggest that we walk all the way under the Mall in the 3rd Avenue tunnel to another "possibly" open check point. This tunnel freaks me out in a car and there's no way we're walking, unsure of what chaos looms on the other side. Instead we really kick ourselves for being lazy - over and over. We stumble around getting as close as we can...kind of between Union Station and the Capitol, but a little more towards PA ave. There are just people everywhere. Just thousands and thousands of frustrated, frantic people everywhere. The barricades are 15 feet high and hard to see through. They kind of resemble animal pens but taller. They're black and ominous. At any rate, about 100 yards away we see about 100 people waving their tickets int he air. They have purple tickets. They immediately remind us of Holocaust victims, trying to get into safety, showing their credentials, hoping for leniency from the guards. The more we talk to people the worse it gets. We don't feel so badly for leaving late. Our friends left 3 hours before us and didn't get in. There was a great story on NPR today about all the people with tickets denied entrance. Campaign staffers who paid their own plane fare, hotel, got up at 4am, all denied, due to gate crashers (or perhaps poor planning).

We are finding our current location unacceptible but don't quite know what to do. We meet a couple who had been here at 7:30am with purple tickets who didn't get in either. Security checkpoints were closed at various times and people were sent to other ones. It was like a game of wack-a-mole, with the people being the hammer...wandering around in the cold looking for an opening. We try one more attempt at our silver checkpoint and end up down an alley at a kind of hidden restaurant. With about 6 other people, we press our faces against the glass, trying to see the t.v.s inside. It's a pathetic scene. Us outside, the Capitol in the backdrop, so close but way too far, and we are straining to see past the reflection on the windows of a dive bar, to make out the images on small tvs. This is just tragic. And mind you I'm with someone who spent the 1996 inauguration behind the flags on the Capitol itself, watching Clinton take his oath and give his speech from 10 feet behind him. I'm afraid she may turn into a puddle. I don't blame her.

We turn to our rights, and notice a checkpoint with no line. What is that? Who are those people. We walk up and get in line, fully expecting to be sent away. We go right through, bags determined to be safe...we later realize that was a checkpoint for getting into the Pennsylvania Ave viewing area. So we go in, and find a nice spot on a grassy knoll near the end of Constitution. We've good pretty good seats, all things considered. My friend is still disappointed but I'm ok. We can kind of hear, and can see jumbotron colors flickering through the tree branches. Aretha is unmistakable. Her singing makes everyone unable to contain themselves. The crowd is excited. Lots of black people crying, lots of white people cheering. We all get a little antsy as it moves past 12pm...we hear snippets of the ceremony and speech, but know that really listening is for later at home on tv.

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