Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration: Day 2

The day dawned bright and early (or should I say dark and early?), alarms ringing at 4:45. And we thought that that might actually be a bit late to start out, but we couldn't bring ourselves to get up earlier. A long day ahead! We got to the last stop on the metro around 6:30a and there was a mass of people milling about outside, like a tidal wave flooding into the station. The metro definitely made a boatload of money off the day, as everyone had to buy passes (unlike Boston where they generally make events like First Night on 12/31 a free subway day). The passes created a bottleneck in the station, because everyone had to feed their pass into the turnstile and go through individually. At first, we didn't understand why they couldn't find a way to make it go more smoothly (whether by opening the gates or what have you), but it turns out that they really thought it through. When we got on the subway car, there were only a few of us on it. But by the time we got off, it was packed solid. If we'd all packed the car at the end of the line, then nobody at the following stops would've been able to get on and it would've been a nightmare.

When we arrived at L'Enfant Plaza (which is one of the big central stops right near the Mall), the people on the platform were packed right up against the outside of the car already, before we got out. The train had to sit for a few minutes before we could even think of disembarking. Once we got off and the train pulled away, there were a few very nervous moments, as we were balanced precariously at the edge of the platform and the next train was pulling in. There was one escalator going upstairs (and they had thankfully stopped them all so we wouldn't crush into each other, everyone just walked up). I took this photo at the top of the stairs (top - you can't see it well, but that whole bottom level is covered in people), and this one at the escalators going outside (bottom):

Once outside, we headed to the mall. This was about 7:00 by this point, and man was it crowded! Romny left me a message saying that the line for the metro at some point during the morning was seven blocks long. We got there, found a spot, and then I headed off to find a port-a-potty, and N's two bothers headed to find them as well, but we were quickly separated. And when I got back, I couldn't find N or P to save my life. We brought walkie talkies, but we didn't get much on them except static or other people talking. Cell phones worked but were spotty. So wandered around a bit, and was able to reach C on her cell phone, so I tried to find her up a the next jumbotron (which was about a block away). Our conversations went something like this:

me: I'm opposite the carousel on the left side of the Mall
C: which left? facing the Capitol or facing the monument?
me: left facing the Capitol. Do you see the red pom pom waved overhead?
C: yes! I see the red pom pom! I'm closer to the Capitol.
me: how much closer? how many trees up from the pom pom are you?
C: oh, wait, maybe I don't see a pom pom, I think that was a hat...
me: how about the video camera being waved overhead with a stick?
C: hmmm, I'm not...(call lost)
I finally reached P and we met up at the Carousel (yay! Everyone was very friendly, but I didn't want to spend the next four hours with strangers only...). So, when I left N and P, and N's brothers hadn't come back, she went looking for them. Then none of us came back, so P was left alone. Right before she found me, N came back with her brothers (she had stood on top of a trash can to find them and was yelled at by security). So P and I were set to meet her ten people back from Leaf Man (pictured above). Next time I go to anything crazy like this, I'm definitely bringing something I can wave overhead!

We found ourselves a nice little area in the midst of the crowd craziness - there were three or four mega-tall people in a row, creating a large open space behind them, so it wasn't as tightly packed as elsewhere. That's where we stayed until the inauguration feed began. While we were waiting, they played clips from the Sunday afternoon concert, and I recorded Pride (In the Name of Love) because I love U2 and it was just an energizing song, but can't get it to upload this time.

They started showing the people walking onto the Capitol steps around, I dunno, 11. They had the inauguration committee, the Supreme Court, the senators (I saw both of mine there -Kennedy and Kerry), the governors (didn't see Patrick), the appointed cabinet, the past presidents and their wives, the past VPs and their wives, and pretty much anyone else of importance in politics. And they actually started on time with the ceremony (this whole thing was planned wonderfully). First was Biden's swearing in, and there were tons of cheers and flag waving and hoopla in the crowd. Then came Obama's time. You can't see it well, but the photo on the left is of Obama taking the oath. A man in front of me in the crowd lit up a cigar as the rest of the crowd cheered and screamed and waved. One woman was able to record the whole speech on her cell phone. As he talked, the chorus of "Amen" and "Mm hm" around me was resounding, and the woman standing next to me was nearly in tears.

After his speech, the crowd started to move fairly quickly (as we were leaving, the Poet Laureate was reading her poem, and I was fascinated especially by her calling words both "spiny" and "smooth"). We headed to 12th street to try to get up to the parade. No dice. So we headed up to 14th street. Still nothing. Down to 7th. We were starting to feel like rats in a maze, coming to dead ends. The jumbotron recommended heading to 14th to catch the metro, but we knew it would be insane right about then. We tried our hardest to get to the parade but couldn't, so we headed over to the other side of the Mall and just started walking where there were the fewest people. At this point, we were tired and freezing and were looking for a cafe of some kind to warm up. But it was all Federal Buildings. We ended up behind the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is a five star hotel (they hosted one of the galas last night), but the doors were locked to the outside. As we were walking away, someone exited, so we raced in to hear an employee call security down to the doors (because there were many of us coming in). We walked through the hotel and found a Starbucks on the other side. This was the perfect Starbucks to go to. We waited in line for about an hour, I got my London Fog tea latte and some chocolate, and we went out the other door, which led to a little closed hallway where we set our stuff down, peeled off layers, and basically began the slow process of feeling human once again with the warm drinks, the warm air and the rest. We heard a rumor that they closed l'Enfant Plaza because someone fell on the tracks, but I'm not sure about the veracity of that.

After about an hour or an hour and a half, we decided to head back to the Mall. And there they had the parade playing on the jumbotron. So P and I decided to go over and see if we could get to it now that the crowds were less. We managed to get up 12th to the street before the parade, the staging ground where all the marchers line up before they head now Pennsylvania Ave. We saw women in tiny costumes (I hope they had skin-color insulation, because man was it cold out there!) and marching bands then we headed back to watch more of the parade on the jumbotron.

We ended up in Chinatown, which is where all the vendors ended up. The atmosphere was wonderful down there. Lots of people walking around, looking through the vendor's tables, shopping the sales in the stores. And there were also tons of people running around in tuxes and dresses and heels, heading to various galas, from the military ball to the regional balls to the official one (I hear that Obama went to something like 7 or 10 balls on Tuesday night).

By the time we headed back to the metro around 8:30, there were many fewer people there and it was practically normal traffic levels.

The inauguration was a wonderful experience. I saw one lady with a bunch of the free pins Pepsi was handing out (the ones we were chasing yesterday that were so elusive) and asked her where she'd gotten them. She was wonderfully sweet and gave me one of her pins that she had two of (Yes You Can) and her friend gave P her only pin (Hope). That's the kind of spirit that was out on the Mall yesterday. When I was lost, I was talking to people in the crowd, and one couple told us that if I couldn't find my friends, then I could stand with them. Everyone seemed supercool with all the crowded craziness going on (except for the few people sitting who got made when people tripped on them). One lady took our pictures because she wanted pictures of people from all over the place. There was a lady wrapped up in yellow and red fleece, a lady where heart-shaped sunglasses with Obama written on them, and a plethora of Obama hats and pins and random gear. It was a very positive atmosphere, and given the hard economic times we're facing, that's exactly what everyone needed. A few moments to stand back from their troubles, to feel like there's someone up there who's working for them, to feel hope again.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

Wow - what an experience!!! I wish I could have been there. It sounds once-in-a-lifetime. I'm so glad you survived all the craziness;)