On January 19, Mr. MacGergor and ST navigated to the parking spot in Northern Virginia that we had found on Craigslist. The owner of the home attached to the parking spot let us sleep on her couch, gratuis. Anything for an Obama volunteer, she said.
There were only a few hours for sleep before the cellphone alarm woke us at 3:00 AM. We dressed, swallowed some coffee, and walked to the Vienna Metro station that was across the street. There was already an impressive line of cars waiting to park there. We made our way to the Metro and at 4:00 AM it lumbered towards DC as the inhabitants stuffed inside cheered.
After a few stops the train was packed like a tin of spam and many people were left on the platform, unable to negotiate the tangle of bodies inside. We exited with much of the throng at the Federal Triangle and began to step towards the Capitol building. The Washington Monument and the Capitol itself glowed in their electrical light in the pitch darkness of that cold morning like great ivory Totems.
We stopped six rows back from a steel barrier. This was about as close as you could get without a ticket. Before we had time to even think if we were in the optimal spot, countless hominids were standing behind us.
The immediate crowd around us appeared to be over 90% African-American and largely college age. Two older women stood out. One said that she had marched on Washington with MLK in 1963. The other had no story, but was wearing fine clothes and was glowing and beaming from the very core of her being. As the morning darkness gave way to sunrise people coming and going jostled the crowd. You had no choice but to grab your companion and let the multitude take you where it would. Somehow, this joyous woman aglow always managed to migrate closer to the front with each tectonic shift. She’s the one wearing the fuzzy purple and black hat in front of the leather jacketed arm in the photo below.
Every community has its demon. At Mr. MacGregor and ST’s corner of the Inauguration, our demon presented himself as two paramedics hurried an elderly gentleman that had collapsed out of the crowd. The demon followed the tunnel that the paramedics made through the multitude, and planted himself in the front of the throng. Despite substantial hate from all those around him and the glacial movements of the masses he did not budge from his perch directly in the way of most of my pictures. He was tall and, ironically, hooded. He will be reincarnated as a batch of herpes atop a hemorrhoid.
The early chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” and other songs dimmed as exhaustion set in. The sun did little to warm the day. Space only got tighter. ST and Mr. MacGergor were wise to eat their sandwich at about 9 AM, because shortly thereafter it became almost impossible to lift your arms up from your side. We chose not to drink any water, because we knew that a bathroom break would mean the surrender of our spot.
It was arctic freezing cold. Some gave up and bounced. “We’re from Florida,” one guy said on behalf of his girl, “we don’t do this.”
Early portions of the program at least provided entertainment in the numbing cold. The appearance of Generalissimo Bush on the Jumbotron ignited a bellow of boos and hisses that morphed into arena-like renditions of “Hit the Road Jack” and “Hey Hey Goodbye.”
Finally, the show began. While the crowd never quite quieted down, the waiting finally became worth it as the benediction echoed, Joe was sworn in, Aretha sang, and Yo Yo et al “played.”
The Moment finally came. I will admit that I always feel a slight itching at the bottom of my heart whenever I see Obama. There is a tiny part of me that is waiting and fearing a fatal gun shot. This tension was a touch higher than usual just then, and I was trying really hard to get a photo of history around the obstructive hood of the demon. In that moment, Justice Roberts’ oath snafu was but a weird hiccup that could not dent the speed of those seconds. This is what I got:
Obama’s speech lacked a singular line. It was a series of topic sentences that severed the ties from these awful eight years. The snuffles I heard were a combination of tears and running noses from the cold. A few tears, in my case, at hearing something aspirational and sensical from a real President at long last. The crowd clapped and cheered, and then began to disperse. We wanted to stay for the poem and convocation, but after being compressed like a ball of krill for so long, it was counterintuitive not to get out of there immediately.
Before we got swallowed in the wayward exiting of the crowd, we watched as Marine One, the Pesidential helicopter, flew over the Mall like a giant grasshopper, spiriting Generalissimo Bush away, at last. The balloon animal in my intestines suddenly unwound, my chest relaxed, and my shoulders felt lighter. It was truly over. Generalissimo Bush was gone!
Getting out of DC was a dress rehearsal for being a refuge. All in all, we did not actually sit down for 12 consecutive hours. Somehow, the Turnpike was closed, which added another hour to the journey back to Central New Jersey. A warm cheesesteak and a good nights sleep later, and it was all definitely worth it.
A few days later Mr. MacGregor and ST were headed towards Ellis Island. We were surprised to see Ken Salazar, the new Secretary of the Interior, as our ferry stopped at Liberty Island. The ferry followed his special Secretary of Interior boat to Ellis Island and we got a good view of him meeting some functionaries there. Turns out he was in NY/NJ harbor at the behest of local Congressmen that wanted the upper reaches of the Statue of Liberty reopened. In means iconic and minute change had finally come to America.
Somehow, seeing Secretary Salazar clarified the whole purpose our trip to President Obama’s Inauguration. The eight terrible years are over. America is America again!