The musical alarm clock on my cell phone jarred me awake at on Tuesday morning, reminding me of my intent to join the throngs on the Mall to witness history as we welcome the 44th president. I had timed my return so that I could attend this monumental event, so with stinging eyes and a head still clouded with sleep, I got up and dressed in four layers of clothes to brave the frigid temperatures predicted for the day. Mark and I were hosting five people who had come from New York, New Jersey (orginally Texas) and Washington state to see this.
Cruisin' Rockville in Jake's RV at 2 am!
There were no excuses to miss out. I could sleep the next day, but this I had to be a part of.
We had actually started celebrating on Saturday by attending a CouchSurfing party downtown at Jonathan's condo near U Street. Through the night there must have been over 100 people crammed into his first floor living room and kitchen, united in celebrating the dawning of a new administration and a historical achievement not thought possible fifty years ago. While we missed the free concert on Sunday, most of our guests arrived that night and we ended up hanging out at home. We attempted a grocery store run around 2 am in Jake's home on wheels. Although we didn't find any stores open except for a 7-11 and McDonald's, it was fun cruising the Pike and we all suddenly wanted to own an RV.
Kristi & Dave waiting in line for their silver inauguration tickets
On Monday I did venture to the Rayburn building with two of my guests, Kristi and Dave from Seattle. They had actually written their congressman to secure tickets to the swearing-in ceremony. In order to obtain the tickets, however, we had to wait in a long line that wrapped all the way around the building. Luckily, Kristi scouted out a second line that was shorter and we ended up waiting for about an hour an a half total. Getting the tickets was easy once we were inside the building, though. We met people in line from all over and afterwards got to walk in front of the Capitol building, which was bedecked with flags and podiums in preparation for the next day's events. Several hundred folding chairs were spread out over the lawn in front of the Capitol. Two jumbotrons displayed "56th Inauguration" and a waving flag. We bought some Obama buttons and paraphernalia and headed back to Rockville to rest up for the big day.
The Capitol building one day before the inauguration
The Metro ride downtown on Tuesday gradually became more crowded, and it was only . Confusion was growing as to which station would be the best to exit, but we selected Judiciary Square and joined the already assembled crowd waiting for the security gates to open. This ended up being a bad decision. For more than three hours, we stood in nearly the same spot at the corner of 3rd & D, waiting for some movement. Police officers were of absolutely no help and provided nothing but muffled announcements of misinformation.
Mark and I around 5 am waiting to get into the Mall
At about someone learned that the line was suddenly designated for the parade only, and we bailed quickly before the remainder of the crowd found out.
We decided to take a tunnel that we had been seeing folks walk under for awhile. The tunnel was actually a highway leading to I-395 and into Virginia, but we climbed up the embankment after the tunnel to join another river of people to find the nearest Mall entrance. On our way, we passed the Silver Ticket line, which went on for well over a mile.
Finally on the Mall, with a couple million people
Walking on down Independence Avenue, we started to hear music and followed it through the entrance of the Sackler Gallery. It was a choir that sounded like heavenly angels singing. It certainly was like heaven when we stumbled out onto the Mall where we saw the masses assembled and realized we'd finally made it. By then it was almost 10 am. Not only had we made it, but we were able to see a jumbotron in the distance as well as much needed port-a-potties! Mark and I found a patch of grass that hadn't been occupied and stood in place to stake our claim. I got a text message from Kristi that they had finally gotten in as well, which was purely miraculous since they hadn't even found the Silver line until we got to the Mall. Various other friends were scattered about somewhere on the Mall, but there were no attempts to try and meet up in a crowd of nearly three million people from all over the world. Surrounding us was a sea of people of every size, shape and shade, all bundled up against the freezing temperatures. Pervasive was the atmosphere of jubilance that I had never seen in Washington before. On this day everyone was friendly, there were no altercations and despite the extreme weather, people were holding their own quite well.
Wind chills had not subsided, and the mercury surely did not rise much past 22. The crowds and subsequent ceremony generated a heat of its own; a warmth of hope, tolerance, possibilities.
Over the loudspeaker, a man announced the arrival of members of Congress, former presidents and vice presidents and their wives and eventually Joe Biden and the Obama children. Crowds cheered and jeered at each announcement, depending on who was walking down the stairs, with certain Republicans garnering boos, which I actually found a little disappointing considering the otherwise positive vibes going on around me. Michelle Obama received a particularly loud applause.
Partying on Inauguration Night with new friends
Small flags went up and waved back and forth throughout the crowd. The loudest cheers of course were reserved for the soon-to-be president himself. The Vice President was first sworn in, followed by a concert medley with such stars as Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma. When President Obama was sworn-in, though, it gave me goosebumps. His subsequent speech was empowering, inspiring and hopeful. I think even non-supporters would have been impressed and awed if they had been present. It was a proud moment for all of us. I attempted to record the speech, but my memory card filled up, not to mention my arms grew stiff trying to hold up my camera to record everything from a distant jumbotron. I realize everything will be replayed on television and YouTube, but at least I have captured the experience personally and will be able to recall this event well into my senile years.
We somehow waded through the throngs of people leaving, and made it to the Hawk & Dove, where Kristi and Dave had scored the window seat.
That pina colada was actually horrid
It was such a relief to sit down and eat, after being outside and standing for over 7 hours. With a bit of energy, we walked around Capitol Hill and on past the Library of Congress. From there we could see the back of the Capitol and noticed limousines outside waiting for the new President and First Lady to descend the stairs. Kristi caught a decent close-up with her camera of them on the steps. We also ran into a couple marching bands practicing for the parade before walking around back streets of Capitol Hill to get to Union Station. When we discovered that station was closed, we had to continue walking up to the New York Avenue Metro station, finally reaching a near-empty Metro car after several miles of walking in the blistering cold. All four of us fell asleep on the way back to Rockville. I tried to take a nap, but only succeeded in an hour and a half before waking up to watching a little of the parade on TV.
We met up with our other guests, Jake and Alex, and hung out while Alex cooked us a dinner of carne asada.
Still smiling (and standing!) after 24 hours of inauguration festivities
To take advantage of the party atmosphere and the late Metro hours, I took Kristi, Dave, Jake and Alex back downtown to celebrate the occasion. We hit a couple bars in Dupont Circle, where we saw some partygoers in their ball gowns and tuxes. We hopped the Metro again to Chinatown and had a mediocre snack and bad drinks at one of the restaurants just before the Metro closed down at 2 am. Realizing that our options were now narrowed, we headed to Fado and had a pint of Guinness before they finally closed down for the night. With limited options and minimal cab fare, we split up into two groups: Jake and Alex waited for the Metro to open and the rest of us took a taxi back to Rockville. I finally got into bed just shy of 5 am, and almost exactly 24 hours after standing in line to see the whole thing begin. I know Washington won't see this kind of excitement again, and I reiterate my pride in being one of the millions who stuck it out. In a way it was like a welcome back party for me, and sure made me feel better about coming back, and more proud to be an American.
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