Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Wow. It really was just as amazing as I thought it would be. We kinda last minute decided to drive up for the week. My wife's family lives near D.C. and her sister and brother were both visiting from far off lands, so we decided to make it a "two birds with one stone" trip. Once we decided we were going to go, I really started to get excited about the whole thing. The media coverage was unprecedented. The crowd estimates, if they held, were to be larger than anything else that had ever taken place in D.C. And that's quite a history of events. I couldn't wait to be a part of history.
We showed up the weekend before and the weather had been brutal. Wind chills were below zero. Snow was falling. It was cold. VERY cold. I hoped that it would warm up, and it did. It got into the thirties for the first time all week on Inauguration Day. Boy, didn't I feel lucky. We had to wake up at about 2:30 that morning. The plan was to be at the Metro station by 3:30. We would hopefully unload near the Mall around 5:00 a.m. and be in place before 6:00. Everything went pretty smooth. The crowds at the Metro station were brutal and so were the masses moving from the Metro to the Capitol. Luckily, once we actually got out onto the Mall (after security detoured us all the way around the Capitol) things weren't as bad as I expected. We moved to a decent spot with a nice view of the Capitol. Considering it was still well before 6 in the morning, some might have hoped for a closer seat, but it was better than I expected.
Here we were, at 5 something in the morning and the wind chills were in the single digits. There was nothing to do to warm up, yet people from all over the world were moving in tight for, at best, a lousy view of the event. Already I was struck with amazement. Everything to this point had given all these people every reason in the world to be ticked. No sleep. Terrible weather. Huge crowds. A crappy view. But everyone I saw had a smile on there face, and wouldn't have rather been anywhere in the world.
So there we were perched comfortably (relatively) between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. The Capitol was glowing in the night. It was kinda surreal (a theme for this whole experience). The monument stood behind us, and already the crowds stretched past it, on to the reflecting pool.
Finally, after 2+ hours of standing in the dark cold with nothing to do but take in the surroundings, the jumbo-trons came to life. They started playing clips from the concert that was held in front of the Lincoln Memorial two days before. The music was, to me, the greatest part of the day. I wished so bad we had came down for it. There were some of the biggest names in music, traveling across the country and singing (usually just one song) for little to nothing, except for the chance to say that they were there. Garth Brooks absolutely brought the house down. He sang Don McLean's "American Pie". Nearly the whole crowd was singing and dancing along. Then he went to exit the stage, because up to this point all the artists only sang one song. He paused right at the edge of stage and belted, "waaaaiaaaiaaat a miiiiinute...you know you make me wanna SHOUT!" The crowd absolutely came unglued. People everywhere were jumping and singing along. There I was, a guy you will never catch dead dancing in public, throwing my hands in the air singing and hopping around like a high school cheerleader. He had almost everyone there singing and dancing together. It, again, was surreal. The song ended and everyone clapped and laughed with each other, even people they obviously didn't know. From then on the cold weather was only an afterthought. I was witnessing history.
You can imagine what the rest of the event was like. The crowd was on edge waiting for Obama to show up. Every time the live cameras shot him moving through the building the crowd would go crazy, even though were introducing some Congressman no one had ever heard of. When he got his final introduction, the screams went to a higher, louder level. Then finally, for what was a lifetime of waiting for some of the wheelchair-bound people near me, Obama was officially sworn in. When they finally said "Congratulations, Mr. President," I think every foot on the Mall left the ground. He then gave a speech that had 2 million people begging for more. After the fact, I was looking through my pictures and realized that I had snapped a photo of everything that happened that day, but during the swearing in and Obama's speech, I was so caught up in everything I didn't get a single picture of him. I mean really, it was that surreal. I'll remember it for the rest of my life.
*for an interesting international perspective on the event, you can click the title of this blog and it will take you to a website by the BBC with some interesting comments.