Jake and I estimate that we've walked 20 miles over the past week. We'll add another four miles, or so, today. For an old guy like me, that's just way too much exercise! Even still, we drag ourselves out of bed, get dressed in 23 layers of clothing and insert hand warmers in several strategic locations.
We head out toward the Capitol - less than a mile away. Like everything else this past week, we know this little activity will involve a bit of waiting in line. We walk straight to the Capitol where there are different staging areas for different ticket groups. We need to pass by all of them on the way to our own. We know where to go, but how to get there is a mystery. No signs to guide us. No people to point you in the right direction. To confound things further, there are plenty of vehicles blocking the streets - especially emergency vehicles and buses - even though these streets are designated for pedestrians only.
We pass Vanessa Williams, who seems to be just as clueless as the rest of us. The look on her face tells me that this would not be a good time to ask her for an autograph or to consider being my former, future ex-wife. (Not that I am looking for a former, future ex-wife, by the way. I'm just sayin'.)
We wind our way through streets and highways, over barriers and fences, and finally make it to the "Silver" staging area. The gates were supposed to have opened at 8:00 AM. That obviously has not happened as the street is packed with people - and vehicles, of course - and none of them are moving.
We hear a police whistle and a cop yelling, "Coming through!" Everyone moves aside, only to find out that the cop was leading Samuel L. Jackson through the mass of humanity to the staging area for his ticket group. Membership has it's priveleges, I guess. The look on his face tells me that this would not be a good time to ask him for an autograph or to consider being my former, future ex-wife. (Not that I am looking for a former, future ex-wife, by the way. I'm just sayin'.)
Still waiting. No one who knows why we're not moving. We're just standing.
Here's a tip: If you want to piss off your kids, wander off in a crowd of a couple million people. Okay, I didn't actually wander off, I told Jake I was going to see if I could figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, it was tougher to reconnect than I expected. Even though cell service and text messaging were both pretty spotty, Jake is able to get a call through to me. And it helps that he's so dang tall. I brace myself for the lecture. He does not disappoint.
Still waiting but we've moved further up towards the front. Then we realize why we've not been allowed to cross over Independence Avenue to the Silver Gate. Apparently this is the appointed hour that every horse in the Inaugural Parade has to be taken from, what I can only guess is Dick Cheney's "undisclosed location," to the staging area of the parade. 15 minutes of horses in trailers. Almost like seeing the parade in person!
Finally we are allowed to cross the street. We're almost at the gate, except, there's no sign of a gate so we're stopped in our tracks once again! We can see other people on the other side of the Mall who are getting in but on our side, no such luck. When we ask security folks along the barrier when we'll be able to get in they answer with helpful responses like, "Just be patient" or "I don't know" or my favorite, "This is as close as you'll be able to get."
Just minutes before the ceremony begins we, almost accidentally, find the small spot where one person at a time can show their ticket and get through to the security area and onto the mall. No signs. No people to direct you. No cops who have a clue and so they give you helpful information like, "Just be patient" or "I don't know" or my favorite, "This is as close as you'll be able to get."
We stake a claim somewhat close to a Jumbotron where we can see and hear fairly well. We can see the Capitol, but even with tickets, we're still far enough away that making out the President-Elect from our vantage point is impossible.
Malia and Sasha appear on screen as they enter the viewing stand. The crowd cheers, apparently mistaking them for the Olson twins.
Joe and Jill Biden are introduced. Just one question: How did he get such a hot wife? (Not that I care, by the way. I'm just sayin'.)
Michelle Obama is introduced. The crowd goes wild.
Laura Bush is introduced. Polite applause and lots of nice comments about how great she is.
Dick Cheney is wheeled out! Yes, wheeled! Apparently, he has transformed from Darth Vader into Emperor Palpatine! The real story is that he hurt his back on Monday while helping the movers. (Something about the Death Star being a lot heavier than he remembered.) Jake, the middle child who never stirs up trouble, starts singing the Imperial March Theme! (Duh, duh, duh, duh duh duh, duh duh duh!) And wouldn't you know it, the crowd joins in. Loudly. I was so proud.
President Bush appears on camera! I can hear some booing but it's not too over the top. Until a guy behind mef (not Jake this time) starts singing, "Nah, nah, nah, nah! Nah, nah, nah, nah! Hey, hey! Good-bye!" And everyone joins in, just like before. Longer and louder this time. It all starts again once he is introduced.
President-Elect Obama appears on camera. The crowd goes nuts. "O-Ba-ma! O-Ba-ma!" Over and over. And, as before, it all starts up again once he is introduced.
As the camera pans the viewing stand, I notice Craig Robinson, brother of Michelle Obama and, more importantly, coach of the Oregon State Beavers! (Cue fight song here.) He is wearing an orange and black striped scarf! What a great way to give a shout out to your team when you ain't gonna get the opportunity to give a real shout out!
Our emcee for the event, Diane Feinstein, comes to the podium. She needs some lessons in being a good host cuz she is duh-ull, baby! Makes me dream of the day Al Franken might get her job as head of the "Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Stuff" (or J-Kiss, for short.)
Rick Warren prays. The Purpose Driven Prayer, no doubt.
Aretha Franklin sings. Frankly I was disappointed she didn't sing Respect. I mean that was what we all came to hear, right? Sheesh. And, uh, what was up with that hat? As Steven Colbert said, it looks like "a bow off a Lexus." Even still that lady can sing!
Some other stuff happens.
Joe Biden takes the oath of office.
Just when you think Obama is gonna get sworn in, Yo Yo Ma (obviously not his real name) and some other musicians play something soooo soothing I decide to take a nap.
President Bush gets two extra minutes to be President. He decides to invade Pakistan. (Just kidding!)
Barack Hussein Obama takes the oath of office with the help of Chief Justice John Roberts. "Help" may not be quite the right word in that it seems like the Chief Justice kinda forgot his lines. In any event, between the two of them they got through it. Mostly. My guess is that it would hold up in court, if needed. I hope . . .
President Obama begins his inaugural address. He talks about the path that brought us to this moment. He talks about the challenge ahead and how difficult it will be. No flowery promises. Just a promise that he will work hard to fix what's wrong and, oh yeah, we have to work hard too. A dang good - if not great - speech and, in my humble opinion, just what we needed to hear. (Your mileage may vary.)
Elizabeth Alexander, a really good poet (with what appears to be, limited rhyming skills) begins to recite a poem that she had written especially for the inauguration. Everybody leaves. In droves. Damn poetry haters.
Reverend Joseph Lowery, one of the leaders of the civil rights movement and, at 87 years old, still a pretty clever guy, begins his benediction. He concludes with this:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around -- (laughter) -- when yellow will be mellow -- (laughter) -- when the red man can get ahead, man -- (laughter) -- and when white will embrace what is right.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
REV. LOWERY: Say amen --
REV. LOWERY: -- and amen.
As a reverse racist, I loved it. On the other hand, I'm certain that some of my white bretheren didn't appreciate it all that much. As Jerm pointed out to me, "It's not what MLK would have said." (I think he's probably right.)
And then it's over. We stick around to soak it all in. It was all pretty dang cool but I can't help but wonder how I will feel about it ten years from now.
Will it be: "It was cool to have attended a Presidential inauguration?"
Or will it be: "I was a witness to one of the most significant historical events of my life time?"
Or maybe, "I'm still pissed at how disorganized the whole thing was!"
And I wonder how the other 1.8 million people who were there will feel about it as well . . .