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: