The 2009 Presidential Inauguration

Washington Travel Blog

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5am: Volunteers staging location New York and 14th

…and now we have finally arrived at the day of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama!


Strategically we awoke in shifts.  Steve took the 3am shower slot, I was 3:15, and Chris had the 3:30.  In our zombie trance we made it out of the apartment by 4am and hit the metro.  There was much speculation that the metro in DC would not be able to transport the sheer numbers of people expected and everyone was advised to arrive early.  The metro station opened at 4am and it was mostly a ghost town.   The train itself had a fair number of people already making their way to the capitol.  We got off and made it the volunteer staging location for the bleacher volunteers on the corner of New York and 14th.  It was still dark out and COLD! 


While Emily was able to get me *in* she could not get me the same placement as Chris.  You see Chris (along with Steve and Johanna) were placed in the VIP section which required a pre-screen weeks ahead of time by the Secret Service.  They had additional photo badges.  I was unable to achieve such a high ranking station because I had not worked on the campaign.  I was still in the same general area as them and working in a ticketed section (a prestigious assignment at it was) but we were only able to spend the first hour standing around that corner together before Emily required their help and they were whisked away in a golf cart.

New volunteer friends and event staff drafted from a Phili football team


I joined my section headed by Cassandra and was given my official 2009 Presidential Inauguration beanie and my proper identification badge.  I quickly made friends with my section volunteers (all of which had been campaign volunteers).  I think I may have been the only volunteer that had NOT worked on the campaign.  It was close to 3 hours before we were able to make it through security and take our posts along the 3 blocks of 15th ave.  Our group was only supposed to man one bleacher but as many groups did not show, we ended up manning the full three blocks worth of bleachers rather than just the one we had been assigned.  We were the final section before the last turn to Pennsylvania Ave where the parade route ended in front of the White House. 


If you are keeping track of the timeline, I awoke at 3:15am.  Left the house at 4am.  Arrived at the volunteer staging location at 5am.  Waited around in the cold till 8am.  And then the real wait occurred.  I was at the very END of the parade route so we had no jumbotrons to view the actual inauguration.  We had to listen over loud speakers.  At noon the ceremony began.  At that point I had already been in the cold for 8hrs.  I cannot describe how cold I was that day nor how lonely I truly was.  There I was surrounded by millions, a part of a historical event, but I was all alone with strangers.  I knew that Chris and I would be separated but I don’t think I realized how long a day this would turn out to be.  I did what I could and made some friends!


An event as large as this demanded security be brought in from all over the country.  Stationed in front of my particular bleacher were Seattle Police Officers.

With my Seattle Police Officer friends
  I befriended three of the officers and we began bantering to hedge off the cold.  I ended up with all three of their cameras as they were ordered to face the crowds and were unable to take any photos themselves.  We all agreed we’d share our photos later because it was impossible for me to manage with four cameras.  Useful information to know: you can tase someone legally if they give you permission but you can’t shoot someone even if they give the go ahead.  There was a point in the day that I was so cold I contemplated mooning the police officers in hopes that they would arrest me and take me someplace warm.      


It was somewhere around this time that Chris texted me informing me that he was actually in the Presidential Viewing Stand for the parade.  I wouldn’t get the full story till later but he had actually connived his way through 3 different secret service agents, informing them that they (Chris, Steve, and Johanna) were *supposed* to be in there.  It helped that Chris had the curly-q secret service ear piece and wrist mic in order to communicate with Emily and they had the right credentials, having been cleared by secret service.   They were eventually permitted to enter.  If you watch the early footage on CNN you can see Chris in the background when they show random shots of the viewing stand with Martin Luther King Jr’s grandson in there.  Chris was actually able to have a conversation with him as he was an early arrival.  As the only volunteers in the stand, it was their responsibility to only allow the proper people into the box-"the proper people being the most influential political figures in this nation.  Chris actually had to turn away the Governor of Arkansas who was attempting to gain admittance.  Apparently Governors aren’t very important in national politics!   


Meanwhile back outside in the frigid cold…


The parade was set to begin at 2:30.

My view of the capitol from the bleacher section
  Delays.  I later learned that Kennedy had collapsed at the luncheon which was partly to blame for why the parade was postponed.  It was two hours later that the parade began.  It happened so fast, the motorcade making its way past my section.  I was fumbling with a million cameras trying to get at least one good shot for myself and “the guys”.  The crowd lingered long enough to see the President, VP, and their families go by before the stands began to empty.  And when I say began to empty, I mean there was a mass exodus from the parade route.  Most everyone in the crowd had been there in the cold 8 hours and were DONE!  My job was officially over!  I had now been in the cold for 12.5 hours.


I had also befriended Jason, another volunteer in my section, and we made our way to the bleacher section directly in front of the White House right next to the Presidential Stand.  At this point my cell phone and camera had died (likely from the cold) and I was FREAKING out about how I was going to reunite with Chris and Steve at the end of the day.  Jason promised he would stay with me until I could find them.  I felt horrible for everyone that was in the actual parade because the crowds had all left.  There were only a handful of us left lingering in the bleacher section alongside the President’s Viewing Stand. 


It was here that I yelled out “OMG!  THERE HE IS!”  People looked at me like a moron and were like “um you didn’t realize the President was in there?”  And I was like, “NO!  MY BOYFRIEND!”  I had spotted Chris in the viewing stand which was no small feat considering there were actually a lot of people that fit in there.  I was SO close to him and yet I felt miles from him.

Chris 20 feet behind the Prez in the bullet proof presidential reviewing stand!
  I didn’t think there was any way he would see me in the bleacher next to him.  People began asking me if my boyfriend was secret service and when I told them he wasn’t they asked who he was.  They must have thought he was someone important, someone who was *supposed* to be in there.  I laughed!  To be honest, the fact that he manipulated and connived his way into that booth made me love him more than if he had actually earned his way in for legitimate reasons! 


Somehow through all this Chris actually spotted me.  He was able to come outside but it was too loud for us to talk.  Jason lent me his cell phone and we were able to talk.  He was stuck there till the President left which meant I was stuck in the cold for as long as it took for the entire parade to go by.  I was so relieved to have made contact with Chris-" it had already been 13.5 hours in the freezing cold, what was another 2 hours?


I was miserable.  I’m not gonna lie.  Being in the cold for that long without respite and virtually alone was a miserable experience-" a miserable experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life.  I think the experience would have been better had I been able to share it with Chris, a moment we would never forget together, but honestly who am I to complain?


The parade felt like it went on forever.  Finally the Obamas made their exit and I was reunited with my Honey!  I thanked Jason about a million times for being my hero and sticking with me and then we made our goodbyes.  I made my way down Pennsylvania Ave. with Chris, Steve, and Johanna back to volunteer headquarters (the White House visitor’s center) so Chris could return his ear piece and wrist mic but it was locked up.  I was mentally and physically wiped so we all made our way to the Metro station.

Chris's view from inside the box
  Johanna and Steve were going to balls and Chris and I were heading home.  It was 8pm.  That’s a total of 16 hours in the frigid cold for those counting!


While Chris claims that it was a “wind tunnel” in the stand and that he was actually *colder* than I was, I am unwilling to listen.  Chris was able to shake the hand of President Obama when he first entered the Viewing Stand (also viewable on the CNN footage) and I argued that he should be basking in the warm glow of touching greatness and has no right to complain of coldness.   I hold firm on this point.          


We made it back to the metro station across the street from Steve’s apartment.   It was accessed through a subterranean mall.  This was fortunate because Chris and I were able to find a restaurant to haul our exhausted, frozen, miserable bodies into for dinner.  We ordered a feast and a bottle of wine.  I was a mess.  I went to the lady’s room and was horrified by my reflection.  My hair had formed a rat’s nest underneath the two beanies I had worn all day and was impossible to make presentable.  I was tired, hungry, and grumpy but at least I wasn’t cold anymore!   We dragged our exhausted selves back to Steve’s, took hot showers, and collapsed early.  The end of one of the longest days of my life!




Eric says:
Great to hear a first-hand account of this historic day!
Posted on: Mar 19, 2009
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5am: Volunteers staging location N…
5am: Volunteers staging location …
Chris and Emily discussing importa…
Chris and Emily discussing import…
New volunteer friends and event st…
New volunteer friends and event s…
With my Seattle Police Officer fri…
With my Seattle Police Officer fr…
My view of the capitol from the bl…
My view of the capitol from the b…
Chris 20 feet behind the Prez in t…
Chris 20 feet behind the Prez in …
Chriss view from inside the box
Chris's view from inside the box
View of the White House from the b…
View of the White House from the …
623 km (387 miles) traveled
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