It Was A Moment

Forgive me for the delay of this post on my trip to Washington for the Inauguration of President Obama. But how do you write down the feeling of sheer joy? How do you express soul inspiring pride and admiration in mere words? Dear reader I lack those skills. The best I can do is humbly attempt to share a moment in time that will be with me until the last days of my life.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

As I flew into D.C. the plane made its final approach, it banked to the left giving me a view of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the Capital. I quickly pulled out my camera phone and took a snap shot. I could feel the anticipation growing within me. This was one of the reasons I decided to take this trip alone because I wanted the freedom to move at my own pace and soak in what was about to happen.

On my arrival it was as if I landed in Obamalandia. Everywhere I looked I saw pictures of Obama. There were posters, and shirts and buttons. All covered with the smiling face of our next president. There was something else present, it was euphoria. Everyone, I mean everyone was giddy. The last eight years had taken its toll on America – 9/11, two wars, and now an economic meltdown. Obama had truly tapped in on exactly what the American people needed to hear, HOPE and CHANGE.

I had booked a room at the Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport. A friend had recommended this hotel and I was not disappointed. The hotel was five minutes from the airport and there was an underground entry from the hotel right to the Metro train. I should point out that I made my reservations back in March '08. That is how confident I was about Obama's chances. I checked in and decided since most of the people coming to Washington will arrive on Sunday or Monday that it would be a good time to route all my destinations and get familiar with the Metro system. My first stop was the Capital. It was decked out with U.S. Flags and the stage where Obama would take the oath was completed. People were mingling around, taking pictures, and just having a great time. Several times a friendly face would volunteer to take my picture in front of the Capital. It was clear everyone understood the importance of this moment and wanted to help as many people as possible capture it. I eventually said yes and posed for a picture. This actually made the young lady taking my picture happy.

It was contagious, a few minutes later I was offering to take pictures for others.

After walking down to the Washington Monument and then the White House it was time to call it a day and return to my hotel.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I awoke at 5 a.m., got dressed and headed out to the Lincoln Memorial. Obama was holding a pre-inauguration celebration. It was 5:30 a.m. by the time I arrived and there were already thousands of people waiting in line. This was my first glimpse into what was to come on the day of the inauguration. Some compared it to the Woodstock Festival of 1969 if you take away the drugs, sex and mud.

The music was wonderful. There were several high points: Beyonce's soulful, "America the Beautiful; Mary J. Blige sang "Lean on Me," and Bruce Springsteen performed "The Rising." When Obama rose to speak the crowd went wild. With hundreds of thousands in attendance there were no major problems.

I had been standing for over ten hours and was not tired in the least. After the concert it seemed like a good time to fulfill my obligation to several people back in Memphis who asked me to purchase for them Obama memorabilia. The key to dealing with street vendors is to know how to haggle. Vendors would tell some tourist that Obama buttons were three dollars each. The tourist would pay it and walk away happy. I would walk up to the same vendor and argue him down to a buck-fifty. Heck that’s half the fun!

Bartering can be tiring so I called it a day and returned to my hotel.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I made my first real mistake. I was one of the fortunate ones who were randomly picked to receive an inauguration ticket from Congressman Steve Cohen, but the tickets had to be picked up at his Washington’s office by 3 p.m. Monday. Thinking that there would only be people from Memphis going to Cohen’s office I took my time. When I arrived at the Congressman’s building there were thousands in line waiting to get into the building to see their congressman. As I was walking to the back of the line I could hear people saying that they had been waiting for hours. So there I was in the cold, standing in a never ending line when all of a sudden I heard Cohen’s voice, “Is there anyone from Memphis? Is there anyone from Memphis?” He had come out of his office to save us! I started waving my hands like someone floating helplessly in the ocean seeing a rescue ship. Cohen grabs me and a few other Memphians, whisked us by security and down to his office. These are the moments when you know you voted correctly. In a matter of minutes we had our tickets and were out the door. Thank you Congressman Cohen.

I did a little more shopping for gifts then returned to my hotel to get dressed for dinner. I had made reservations at the Occidental Restaurant weeks ago while still in Memphis. Thank goodness because they were booked. This restaurant is near the White House and is dubbed “Where Statesmen Dine.” I had the duck salad and was very pleased.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My alarm went off at 3 a.m. The Metro would start running at 4 a.m. I quickly got dressed. My strategy was to get there early, before the crowds. When I arrived at the train station I saw my idea was not that original. People were everywhere. It was so congested that the station just told people to go through the turnstile gates without using a ticket. As much as Washington had prepared for this, they were not prepared for this. By the time I got down to the train tracks it had taken me over 30 minutes. But there was something pleasant that I noticed and it was how polite everyone was; they took their time and were just enjoying the moment.

I finally arrived at my exit. When I walked out of the station onto the Capital area it was pitch black and the few thousands that I was with quickly turned into tens of thousands. Many people had camped overnight at the entry gates. I mumbled under my breath, “Fanatics! And why didn’t I think of that!” The whole thing looked like a Hollywood set. Here we were with the Capital as the backdrop, with thousands and thousands of people in the middle of the night. There were choppers with spot lights flying over head, police everywhere with bullhorns telling people to go here and go there, and emergency vehicles going by with their sirens wailing. The only thing that made you know that this was not an evacuation or something like that was the laughter and dancing that was going on. People where having a great time and so was I.

After three hours in line we were allowed into our section. I and the population of Rhode Island were in the Silver section. The viewing arrangement was divided by color codes. Yellow, Green and Orange sections were the closes to the Presidential stage, then the Purple and Blue sections and finally was the standing Silver section which was the furthest back section which required a ticket to get in. From that point on was the Mall which led all the way back to the Washington Monument. In truth anyone outside of the Blue or Purple sections would need the Hubble Telescope to see anything. Instead we were provided huge television screens.

We were standing shoulder to shoulder with not even an inch of moving space. Regrettable we were in a spot with no nearby viewing screen and even at six feet tall, unless I stood on my toes I could not see the Capital. I had resolved that I would have to just listen over the mega speakers to the President taking the Oath of Office. Then something up front happened. The crowd started to move forward. Security had taken down the barriers so we could move up and let more people come in behind. This was a mistake. The crowd surged forward and didn’t stop. Because we were so close together when the crowd moved you moved. Silver section kept going forward taking down two more barriers until we were in the Blue standing section. I found myself in a perfect spot. I had a stone pillar to sit on and there was plenty of room. I was close enough to see the activity occurring on the Presidential stage and there was even a mega screen just off to my left. I gave a big sigh of relief and set back to enjoy history being made.

People were dancing, waving their hands, laughing and I even saw some people weeping. You could feel the electricity in the air. We were not only witnessing history, we were part of history. We watched as the dignitaries came onto the stage. When Al Gore and Ted Kennedy appeared there were thunderous applauses. When Joe Lieberman appeared you could hear boos and hisses. Then President Bush appeared. Now neither did I condone nor participate in what happened next. As Bush walked to his seat people in the crowd started singing “Na-Na-Naaa-Na-Hey-Hey-Hey-Goodbye.” This song was ironically written in 1961 the same year President Obama was born. The real title is Na Na Hey Kiss Him Goodbye by the artist Steam. While this was going on the United States Military Band started playing “Hail to the Chief” very loudly seemingly to drown out the crowd. Honestly, there is no excuse for this type of behavior. Even if you don’t respect the person holding the office, you should respect the office.

Then the moment we all were waiting for. Senator Barack Hussein Obama took the stage. There is no way possible to describe the sound of millions of people erupting in joy. I can only say it is something to be remembered. After some moving music and words, Obama stood and took the Oath of Office and became the 44th President of the United States of America. His speech which I will touch on in a later post was the words of a Community Organizer. It was a call to arms that I hope we will be able to step up to.

Right after the inauguration Congressman Cohen saved the day again by opening his office to his constituents. With nearly 2 million people leaving the inauguration at the same time it would have been impossible to have gotten out. I and more than a dozen other grateful refugees stayed warn and ate donuts as guests of the Congressman until the crowd died down. Once again Congressman Cohen and staff, thank you!

In my 46 years of life on this planet I have witnessed many things and have had and shared many different experiences, but not until that day, that moment did I ever feel so alive. I am so grateful to be here at this time in history. It is so easy for us to become consumed by the petty problems of our lives that we forget to be grateful for our good fortune. This experience has given me a wider view on life. I pledge to continue my work in serving others as a community organizer and to find time to appreciate life more than I have in the past. I’m looking forward to the next four years. This post isn’t a master piece, but it is one person trying to share an amazing event with the people he cares about. In that I hope I was successful.

There is an amazing new photographic technology that was used at the inauguration that you just have to see to believe. It is called a gigapan. To witness this breakthrough in picture taking go to:

http://www.gigapan.org/viewGigapan.php?id=15374

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

It looks wonderful, but with the cold and crowds staying home was best for me. No way could i stand for ten hours. That would have killed me.

Anonymous said...

YOU MAKE IT ALL SOUND GREAT. SHOULD HAVE WENT. NOW I'M TICKED.

Anonymous said...

Bush deserved to get heckled! This man runed this country. They should have run him and that vice president out of the country!

All those people was happy because Bush and his thieves was gone.

Anonymous said...

Yea Cohan is a good guy. He was a far better choice than Nikki Tinker. You see she has disappeared. She and the Fords are nothing but opportunist.

Anonymous said...

Good pictures.

Ted said...

"This post isn’t a master piece, but it is one person trying to share an amazing event with the people he cares about. In that I hope I was successful."

You were very successful Reginald, thanks Ted.

natasha said...

Reginald,

What a wonderful story and so real. You must read my account from my Mom's perspective as an activist on my website phhealthed.com

Since I know you as a no nonsense kind of guy, this was truly your emotional masterpiece. That dry wit of yours came through quite humorously. It reminded me of the good laughs we had when I worked for you in South Memphis.

Keep up the good work. It's not going unnoticed. Kudos to the Community Organizers...Making a difference and now making it big!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Milton we're so happy you had a good time. You work much too hard. You needed this break.

We went to that page. That gigapan is really unbelievable. At first we didn't know what to do but all you have to do is double click on the picture and it zoom closer and closer.

Thanks you for all you do. You are such a good man. God be with you.

James and Maggie

Anonymous said...

Looks like you fared much better than many of the purple ticket holders. See Jackson's article in the "Flyer".

Reginald Milton said...

To 7:59
I forgot to mention the Purple section on the Mall. Yes I heard about them not being able to get in. What leaves me with a little guilt is that I was in the Silver section but moved up into the Blue section. I later heard that when people with Blue tickets showed up some could not get in because the section was already filled.

Now in my defense there was no way I could not move up. When the crowd behind moved forward you had two choices move with them or be trampled.

The barriers were nothing but small bike racks. This could not hold back the crowd. Now I understand why security used these gates instead of something stronger. They didn't want to trap people and cause a rock concert like crushing accident where the people up front are pinned between the unmovable stage and those pushing forward from the back.

I don’t want to leave anyone with the image that this was a wild, out of control mob. It was nothing like that, but when you have that many people so close together you create what they call an energy wave that propels the crowd forward.

For those who had tickets and were not able to get in I can understand their disappointment.

Reginald Milton said...

To: 9:44 A.M.
Listen don't think that "Ten-hour stand" didn't have an impact. When I got back to the hotel I fell right to sleep. Around 11 P.M. I was jolted out of my rest with leg cramps. Believe me I understand your concerns.


To: 10:13 AM and Ted
Thanks for the comment. I must have written twelve different posts and discarded each of them. This experince was beyond description. I am so glad I went. For those of you who did not go you might want to consider going to Obama's second term inauguration. Optimistic ain't I?

To: 10:57 A.M.
I can understand your frustration but I still must disagree. The booing and cat-calls were not acceptable.

To: Natasha
So glad to hear from you. I'm glad things are going well. I've never had any doubt that you would be successful.

Thanks for the comment and please keep coming back.

To: James and Maggie
Is that not the coolest thing you have ever seen. This machine is the prototype they believe they can improve the image quality and the time it takes to take the picture.

I wish they would have taken more than one. A little further to the right and you would have seen me.

Anonymous said...

The picture of the inauguration is awesome. You can focus in on the individuals in the crowd. Did you see Justice Clarence Thomas? He looked like he was asleep.

Lurene Kelley said...

What a wonderful account, Reginald!! You made me feel like I was there:)

And go - Steve Cohen!! I always knew I liked him.. now I have more reason.

Chris Kelley said...

Reginald....WOW. What an incredible experience. You definitely deserved to take part in such a historical event. The detailed descriptions make me feel like I was there.

Anonymous said...

Poor George, nobody likes him.

Anonymous said...

We were leaving the Washington Monument area... I saw the helicopter flying over us and wondered if it was Bush. Found out later it was. They flew down the length of the mall/Lincol memorial area and then doubled around.

Anonymous said...

Awesome description!!! What a trip!! If i had to stand out there that long I would have needed a catheter! Congratulations USA!!!

Anonymous said...

My sister just showed me her pictures from the inauguration and now this will be one of my biggest regrets not going. She said the same thing you said Mr. Milton. She said everybody was having a good time. It was like the world was invited to a party. Thank you for sharing and thank you for all you do.

Tarrin said...

Reg, thanks for this.

Reginald Milton said...

I'm so glad that I was able to share this special moment. For those of you who were unable to attend, don't worry you'll have a chance to go when Obama's is elected for his second term!

Terrin, good hearing from you.