Shivering through the inauguration

Buckeye Farm Beat

I was there – a full report on Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Published on: January 22, 2009

I’m just back from the inauguration and I must say, it was very much what I expected. Cold, long lines, too many people and inspiring in spite of itself.


Tim White in Washington for inauguration.My best college friend Jim Baer, a real estate developer in Palo Alto, Cal., called me a week before the big event and asked if I wanted to go. He had been given two tickets by his local Congress woman in appreciation of the work he is doing to turn her office into the most energy efficient complex in the state. Jim’s wife wisely foresaw the potential problems and opted not to go. While my first inclination was, “Why in the world would I …,” a second thought made me realize this would be an historic opportunity. Besides, in the name of collegiate camaraderie, I had to attend. He promised we would be treated like VIPs with select seating followed by a big reception.


A hotel room was out of the question by this time so Jim arranged for us to “crash” in the Georgetown dormitory room of the sons of another college friend. When we met the boys Sunday night, they apologized that they had had a small problem with mice in the apartment, but promised us clean sheets and our own beds. They assured us it would be an easy hour and half walk to the Capitol


Monday morning we traipsed down to the Cannon Building to pick up our tickets at Jim’s representative’s office. There are four doors to the building and each is protected with a metal detector. The lines for each of these doors wrapped around the building. Three long, cold hours later we were in the Congressional office and had our tickets in hand. We were told to enter through the blue gate at the southwest corner of the Capitol. From the looks of the tickets we would not be sitting, but we could be just below the podium.


Tuesday we departed Georgetown at 6:30 am. The temperature was about 20 and I had on four layers. We took the G2 bus as far as we could and then started walking. The closer we go to the mall the denser the sidewalk became with people and venders selling everything from souvenir lighters to hand warmers and blankets along with tee shirts and hats. The Interstate 395 tunnel was open only to walkers so we crossed under the Pennsylvania parade route and the mall with a major army of joyous, photo-snapping, history-making humans.


Once through the tunnel, we hopped the median fence and swung back around to the north headed for the blue gate. There were people going in every direction. -- politely bumping into each other, asking directions to the orange gate or the silver gate. Lots of bumps later we heard someone say, “This is the line for the blue gate.” We began working our way towards the end of this line, but soon realized that most everyone was just attaching themselves to the side of it. At that point it was hard to tell if we were near the middle or the end. I knew we weren’t at the front because I could see the botanical gardens off the in the distance a half mile away next to the point where we would go through the TSA metal detectors and enter the inauguration area.


It was 7:30 then and 4 hours later we were in pretty much the same spot -- surrounded by people from every state. People who had driven hours and waited the day before like us to get the special tickets from their representatives. People who had worked for their candidates and were being rewarded for their effort with a prime spot for his inauguration.. People who were starting to realize they weren’t gonna get there. Further up the line we could hear groups chanting “Get in line, get in line…” or “1, 2,3,4 we don’t wanna wait no more. 5,6,7,8 let us in the blue gate.”


As the choirs and bands began to make faint music in the distance, a brave young man worked his way along the crowd giving the following speech, “Please don’t be mad at me. I don’t work here. And please don’t get violent because my girlfriend is in this line somewhere. They say they are sending police to stop the people from cutting into the line ahead of you and they promise to keep this gate open until 12:30 so more people can enter.”


Jim and I looked at each other knowing that no one around us was going to get anywhere near the inauguration. We laughed as if we could actually feel our toes. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. And we did. “That’s the way it goes,” we rationalized as we walked to the L’Enfant Metro station and sat down at the McDonalds. It was packed with dozens of other frozen refugees including a black man wearing a bowtie and bowler hat. His wife wore a fur coat and carried a small child in her arms. Three other children occupied the seats. It was about 12:30 and I suspect the new president was wrapping up his speech.


“When you children are grown,” I heard him tell the burger munching kids, “you can tell your grand kids just what this day was like. You can tell them you were there.”


Well then, so was I-- sort of.

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