Just a couple of minutes after the networks called the election for Obama, my cousin MaryMike turned to me and said, "Let’s go to DC for the Inauguration." So we did. And we took my cousin-in-law, Stu, along too. It was, maybe, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. We witnessed a unique moment in history. And had a lot of fun too.
By the way, most of the photos that follow were taken by MaryMike (although Stu and I take credit for pointing out things she should take pictures of). On most, you can click the picture to get a larger view.
AND … WE’RE OFF …
We caught a Southwest Flight from St. Louis to BWI on late Friday afternoon. The flight was packed. The first thing we noticed was that at least fifty percent of the crowd was African American and it seemed as if everyone on the flight was headed to the Inauguration. This crowd was exactly like all the crowds we encountered in DC: multi-racial, of various ages, of varying economic capacities, all linked by a serene-like joy and a remarkable amount of patience.
Fur coats of every style and color abounded in the baggage claim area at BWI, which is the only baggage claim area I’ve ever been in that had live entertainment. A trio on a platform with microphones was singing R&B. I think the entire baggage claim process would be improved if all airports provided live entertainment.
Not owning a fur coat, I brought my down parka. By the end of the trip I would have bought a fur coat from a street vendor for any price if they had been selling them. It was that cold.
SETTING THE BAR ON COLD
Saturday was FREEZING. So we chose to do the coldest thing imaginable: visit the Great Falls of the Potomac. We were staying with some friends of Stu and MaryMike who were delightful people – very knowledgeable about DC, government, and foreign lands. They volunteered to show us the Great Falls and we took them up on the offer. It was worth the trip. It also made the rest of the trip seem warmer. Whenever we felt cold we would say to each other "But this isn’t as cold as the Great Falls were." As I said, click the photos to see them larger.
Really Cold Water (and it was windy overlooking it)
We barely had time to warm up in the car before our hosts dropped us off at a Metro stop so we could head toward Union Station to meet up with the BoomanTribune group. This is what the Metro cards looked like:
MaryMike and Stu don’t blog, but they eat and drink and they had been to bloggers’ picnics that I’ve organized locally, so they felt pretty comfortable coming along. BrotherFeldspar warned us all by e-mail that Obama was expected to arrive at Union Station that night so security might be tight. He was right.
A line of police motorcycles
Obama was due to arrive at 7 o’clock and we arrived at about 5 o’clock, but Union Station and the area around it was beginning to fill up with people.
Some came with messages
There were police cars everywhere and lots of official looking SUV’s. Throughout the weekend it was often hard to tell who was providing specific security at any particular venue: there was Homeland Security, and ICE, and the Park Service Police, and the DC police, and the Capitol Hill Police, and the Secret Service, not to mention the National Guard. And all of them looked cold, standing out by their cars or military vehicles. One local television station reported that there were more security forces in DC than there were in Afghanistan. An ICE officer we talked to on Monday thought that probably wasn’t true.
We made our way through the crowd at Union Station and headed next door to the Capitol City Brewing Company. Although we arrived first, within a few minutes Man Eegee showed up. It was fabulous to finally meet Manny in person – he’s exactly like he is in blog life. A little while later BooMan and CabinGirl arrived; they drove in from PA and then took the Metro in from the Maryland suburbs. AP, who lives in DC, was (ironically) coming from Philadelphia by train which, of course, was delayed by the Inaugural Train. But Mr. AP joined us early and it was great to have someone local who could answer our questions. For instance, MaryMike knew that there was a library in DC designed by Mies van der Rohe, but she didn’t know where it was. He was able to tell us that it was the DC Public Library and give us a general idea of the location (more on that later).
While we were hanging out, the crowd outside kept getting bigger and we could see more flashing security lights. MaryMike kept running out to see what was going on but I stayed inside where it was warm. All the streets were blocked off and the crowd was well behaved. But a woman near MaryMike inadvertently stepped off of the curb and the security officer immediately barked at her to "get back on that curb!".
We could follow the happenings at Union Station on the teevee so we knew when Obama arrived. Some of us stayed inside and just saw the motorcade through the windows but others, including MaryMike, braved the cold and went outside. As he zoomed by she tried to catch a photo. Here he is:
The motorcade zooming by.
This was the closest we got to Obama the entire trip.
Eventually AP and Brother Feldspar showed up. It was great to see everyone together . And especially good to continue my "Missouri is not a ‘rural’ state" argument with Boo in person. 🙂
But we finally had to break things up because Boo and CG had to make the long drive back to PA. All I can say is … we need more meetups.
MaryMike and Stu had left earlier to join some friends of theirs at a nearby restaurant and I went over to meet them so we could take the Metro back together. The Metro was filled to almost bursting. In our car it was mostly students from American University almost all of whom were African American.
; They were in a great mood and were chanting "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!". I think this moment on the Metro was when it really hit me what an important inauguration this was and what a true change it represented.
We heard later from our hosts that the local universities were worried that the dorms were stuffed full of students’ friends from out of town. The University administrations were resigned to the situation but were asking that students register the names of their guests, in case an emergency occurred. A couple of days later when we passed the GW campus we wondered how full it was with "visitors."
A DAY AT THE MALL
Sunday was the day of the big, free outdoor concert on the Mall. Since we knew that we weren’t going to be able to get there early enough to get in, we instead decided to go to the National Museum of the American Indian and, later, head down the Mall to see if we could hear any of the artists from afar.
The NMAI is a really cool museum with a large performance area on the first floor that is overlooked by all the other floors. While we were there we saw parts of a performance of Hawaiian music and dancing. After some Don Ho tunes, they performed a dance in honor of Barack Obama that was traditionally performed for a new chief. Here is the vertigo-inducing view that I had from the third floor (taken with my iPhone-camera – don’t bother clicking, it won’t enlarge):
We also ate lunch at the museum. They serve traditional food items from all over the Americas. I highly recommend it if you are ever visiting DC.
Oh, by the way, I didn’t forget shoe-blogging among the beaded moccasins (taken with my iPhone camera – again, don’t bother clicking this one):
Eventually we decided to head down the Mall and see if we could hear anything. I’ve spent enough time in DC to know that distances on the Mall are farther than they appear. It would take too long to try to walk the whole distance, we would miss everything. We considered taking a bus down Independence Avenue, but there were none to be seen. So we hailed a cab and crawled along in the traffic. We knew we couldn’t get all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial because streets were blocked off, but the cab driver promised to get us as close as he possibly could and he was true to his word. When we reached the point where he could go no further he rolled down his window and hailed a pedicab for us.
The back of our pedicab driver
I have to admit that riding in the pedicab was my least favorite experience in DC – it was cold and windy, we were three people crammed into space for two and the pedicab driver was weaving in and out of traffic that consisted mostly of large chartered buses. My eyes were closed most of the time. But then, after crossing the Mall, he shouted to a security person and asked if pedicabs were allowed on Constitution Avenue, which was closed to all through-traffic. The security person nodded and so we headed down the blockaded Constitution Avenue. We were the only people in a vehicle except for other pedicabs (and bicyclists). For anyone who has seen the usual traffic on Constitution Avenue, it was quite an experience.
We managed to make it in time to hear Obama’s speech, hear Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger sing This Land is Your Land and hear Beyonce sing America the Beautiful with ensemble. We couldn’t see anything but we could hear, which was enough. Someone in the crowd outside the barricades told us that some people waited from 6:00 in the morning to get into that concert.
We intended to head back by Metro but the crowds were tremendous, giving us a taste of what Tuesday would be like. So we eventually walked a few extra blocks and hailed a taxi to take us to where we were meeting our hosts for dinner. They very graciously gave us a driving tour of Embassy Row after dinner.
MLK BIRTHDAY/ DAY OF SERVICE
On Monday, MaryMike wanted to go check out that Mies van der Rohe library that Mr. AP had helped us locate. This was the main DC public library and it was named after Dr. King, so it seemed an appropriate thing to see on that day. It was also the national day of service and we thought we might like to do something for that. Feeding America, a hunger relief organization that provides emergency food assistance through a network of food banks, had organized a food drive for the day and it was also having a rally at that very library. We stopped off at a local store and bought some canned goods and then headed down by Metro to check out the rally and the library building.
As we walked up to the building, a high school marching band was playing and most of the crowd was gathered around them watching. We dropped off our canned goods and watched the band for a bit. The area directly in front of the stage where the rally was to take place was fairly empty so we wandered up there and hung out waiting for the rally to start. Since there were so few people up there we assumed it was a local event that might be somewhat lame. Eventually the crowd that had been watching the band moved up behind us and the rally started.
The first surprise was when David Arquette came out on stage to be the master of ceremonies.
He had, he said, a few surprises for us, beginning with an appearance by … Ben Affleck. I don’t remember a word that Ben Affleck said, I was too busy just looking at him from my vantage point less than 30 feet away. He looks exactly like he looks in the movies, no disappointments. 🙂
After Ben left, Josh Groban was introduced and played and sang for us.
Josh singing for us
So far this was pretty exciting, but then … Herbie Hancock was introduced. Wow! He and Josh performed John Lennon’s Imagine. Then Herbie played on his own.
This whole concert was totally unexpected for us – and we were right in front of the stage! The rally ended with a speech by Martin Luther King III.
After the rally/concert we decided to walk over to the National Building Museum which we had heard was quite beautiful inside. But when we got there it was completely cordoned off and surrounded by security. The Commander in Chief Ball was to be held there on Tuesday night and Obama was making an appearance, so the Secret Service was inside with bomb sniffing dogs securing the building while other security personnel "secured" the perimeter – but they let us stand outside and look at it. I have to say that the security personnel in DC were unfailingly polite to us and pretty unobtrusive given how many there were and how many people they were trying to manage.
After lunch in Chinatown, we walked over to the Mall to check out the preparations, especially the porta-potty situation which had really concerned my mother before we left. Apparently there was a rumor that there would NO porta-potties on the Mall for security reasons. This was false. (photo taken with my iPhone camera – don’t bother clicking).
The all important Porta-Potties
MaryMike had collected a number of maps that had been printed in the Washington Post so that we could make our plan for Tuesday. This trip to the Mall on Monday was a reconnaisance mission for us, and an opportunity to mill around with other happy people. The maps showed all the entry points onto the Mall and which Metro stops would be closed on Tuesday. We felt pretty confident that we had done as much planning as was humanly possible for Tuesday.
THE NETROOTS PARTY
Monday night was the Netroots Party in Virgina where I got to see Manny again. Here we are together:
More Shoe Blogging
C’mon. You didn’t really expect more, did you?
I did pack cute little black slingback shoes to wear with my outfit but it was too cold and my feet hurt too much anyway. So I wore my walking shoes.
It was a good party. Howard Dean came. We also talked to Governor Don Seigelman for a brief moment and we had our photo taken with the cardboard cutout of Obama. I’m sure there were famous netroots people there but you couldn’t prove it by me, I didn’t run into any. Mostly we hung out with some friends who were there and celebrated the moment. It was a good party; the bartenders didn’t skimp when pouring the drinks. We briefly considered competing in the Wii Rockband competition but decided that our combined talent would overwhelm all the other contestants and so we abstained.
When we got back to our hosts’ home that night, they had more guests. Friends had asked them to put up some people from Arkansas who had tickets to the inauguration but no place to stay. We crept in so as not to wake them because we knew they needed to be up and out very early to get through security, which they had been warned could take up to two hours.
There had been rumors of snow flurries for Tuesday but it was sunny and (slightly) warmer. We had decided we were not going to get up at the crack of dawn but would leave for the Metro at 8:00. On the teevee it showed the Mall already filling up when we left.
The entire weekend we had received constant warnings from the media that the Metro would be overwhelmed on Inauguration Day and we would need to BE PATIENT. We had no troubles though. It was crowded but we were able to get on the first train that came. We made it downtown in normal time. By the time we got to our stop there was no more room in our car and it was VERY hot.
The Metro Crowd
We were dressed for the cold. I had on silk long underwear, jeans, two pairs of socks, a turtle neck wool sweater, another V-neck wool sweater, gloves, my down parka, earmuffs and a fleece hat. I was not freezing but I was not warm except when I was inside the Metro or buildings — and then I thought I would pass out, I was so hot.
We got downtown, congratulating ourselves on how well everything was going. We rode the escalator up out of the Metro stop and … things became … not quite so organized. All of our preparation turned out to be for naught. All plans had to be abandoned; there were unexpected street closings and water main breaks. We just had to go with the flow. It was impossible to get to the Mall from anywhere between the Capitol and the White House because Pennsylvania Avenue was being blocked (very early) in preparation for the motorcade up to the Capital. Plus, people who were lined up for the Parade checkpoints were co-mingled with people who thought they were in line to get to the Mall. It was, in short, chaos.
A photo of the crowds
We kept walking as security personnel announced that streets were closed. Rumor said that 15th street had access, but that wasn’t true. Go to 18th street, they said. Blocks are LONG in DC and we walked a long way. Eventually the crowd found that 19th street went through. And finally there we were – on the Mall – all the way back at the Lincoln Memorial. So then we started walking back up the mall toward the Capitol and eventually settled on the slope in front of the Washington Monument. We figured that no matter where we stood we wouldn’t really be able to see Obama live but that as long as we had a view of the Capitol Building, a clear view of a jumbo-tron and good speakers near us, things would be as good as they could get.
The crowd was amazingly patient with all of this chaos – even older people who were probably walking more than they had walked in a long time. There was a serenity to the moment that could not be pierced. Even though it was cold.
The crowd around us with people dressed for the cold
The crowd around us was diverse. Old, young, black, white. And from different parts of the country. One man was from San Diego and all he had was a trench coat: no hat, no gloves. ( He didn’t have the sense that Man Eegee had, to go buy himself a coat.) But he said he did not intend to see this moment on his hotel teevee. Eventually we shared our extra hand warmers with him.
It was a fantastic experience and we all agreed that we were happy we made the trip. We were proud to be part of the crowd that Obama looked out on – mostly we thought of ourselves as a reminder to him and to Congress that we are here and we are waiting for what we voted for to happen.
You all saw the ceremony so I’ll just share more of MaryMike’s fantastic pictures:
This is how the jumbo-trons and speakers were set up
Click it and you’ll see what the words on the screen say
Ok, here’s a bonus. The person in the bright blue parka with the black fleece hat? It’s me.
After the ceremony we walked about ten blocks to a cafe that Stu had spotted earlier that was enough out-of-the-way that we thought it wouldn’t be full. We wanted something hot to drink and we needed to thaw ourselves out. And we had no intention of going anywhere near the Metro for at least a few hours. We wanted to let the crowd disperse. Once we had warmed up, we wandered along K Street where all the street vendors were selling lots of Obama memorabilia.
an example of Obama memorabilia
We had earlier heard one of the vendors say that everyone needed to buy something because we were "stimulating ourselves".
Finally we caught the Metro back. When we came up the elevator at our stop vendors were selling a special edition Washington Post.
We didn’t go out that night. We were too tired and cold and we just wanted to cuddle up under blankets and watch the coverage of the Inaugural Balls. Our hosts made us a delicious dinner of hot pasta and bread and salad, followed by ice cream with home made fudge sauce and homemade cookies. We told them our experiences and they told us what they had seen on teevee and together we pieced together the story of the day.
We also finally met the other guests: Steve and Lori Harrelson, who were just delightful. Steve is the majority leader of the Arkansas legislature and he is also … a blogger. In fact, Lori came down to eat with us while Steve was loading pictures of the swearing in ceremony and the parade onto his blog. They were ticketed attendees so he had some pretty good photos. After the swearing-in they had attended a DLC party along the parade route and he got some good shots of Obama doing one of his walk-abouts.
They also had tickets to the Southern Ball, which Obama was expected to stop by. That was an added bonus for us. We had no interest in attending a ball but it was fun to see people get dressed up for one. We posed them in front of the fireplace in their finery and took "Prom Pictures". Lori then admitted that under her beautiful gown she was wearing her fur boots and she intended to keep them on all night – it was just too cold for dainty little dancing slippers. I could totally relate.
We didn’t get to hear their stories of the ball because they got home very late and then had to leave early to catch a 6:00 flight back to Arkansas.
Goodbye to DC
On Wednesday we slept late and then headed out. Our hostess drove us up to the Metro stop with our luggage, we took the Metro to Union Station and then took the MARC train to the BWI stop, boarding a shuttle bus to the airport and then a plane back home – a true plane, trains and automobiles experience.
I admit that on Friday as I was rushing out of the office, trying to catch my flight, I wondered why I was bothering to do this. But after the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday we all looked at each other and said it was the best decision of our lives to be there for the historic moment.