Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama

All weekend I wrestled with how early I wanted to get in line for the Inauguration. I wanted to strike the perfect balance between finding a great location and not freezing my tushie off.

The United States is a place where people camp in front of movie theaters in order to be the first person to see a new Star Wars movie or to be the first person to get an iPhone. I was worried that by midnight the night before the inauguration, hundreds, if not thousands, of people would be lined up for their chance to witness history.

My apprehension increased during the nightly news. Well past 11 PM the live broadcasts from the National Mall showed hundreds of people braving the sub-zero temperatures.

I knew the most important thing was to beat the first metro trains coming into the city. Those would start arriving around 4:30 AM and every few minutes after that several thousand people could be expected to pour out from an endless stream of filled-to-the-capacity trains.

I wanted to get there well before that first train.  I decided to leave the apartment at 2 AM.

The temperature outside when I left was 21 degrees Fahrenheit, but with the wind chill it was barely over zero. Without a wink of sleep I bundled up and found a cab out on the street.

I asked the driver to get me as close to Union Station as he could. That is where the yellow ticket holders were supposed to line up.

I was convinced that the area would be too busy for the driver to take me all the way, and although there was still a bit of traffic so late at night, he surprised me and took me right to where I needed to be. 

I went straight for the yellow ticket holder entrance. I followed the signs that led me to the grassy area just north of the Capitol and the start of the yellow ticket line.

Hardcore Inauguration Fan: This lady was the first person in line at the yellow ticket gate for the Inauguration. She arrived at 9 PM Monday.
Three people were standing at the ticket gate. I was the fourth person (technically the seventh person, since they were holding spaces for a few of their friends). It was 2:30 AM and the temperature was still in the low 20's.

For the next five hours my toes got progressively number and the line got increasingly longer, wider and rowdier. There was no more than 30 of us up until 4 AM, but as soon as the metro trains started arriving people were simply everywhere.

Many people did not have tickets.

Now I’d planned this day for months. From getting to DC, to getting tickets, to where I was going to stay, what I was going to wear and who I was going to see, I was well prepared. Most other people weren’t.

I can appreciate their optimism, walking right up to the entrance to the hottest event of the decade and expecting to be just let in, but it was pathetic watching the Capital Police turn away would be attendees every three minutes. The most pathetic were the people who had purchased commemorative tickets out on the streets and expected to be let into the front row. Commemorative tickets? Seriously? Do they not teach students the difference between “commemorative” tickets and “admission” tickets in schools these days?

In those 5 hours I got to know my neighbors really well. The lady who was first in line had been there since 9 PM the night before. Like me, she had been turned away from the reflecting pool area during the We Are One concert and was determined to not have that happen again. She went to Wal-Mart the day before and bought herself an Iron Man facemask with matching mittens (the other option was Spider Man) and a sleeping bag and got in line early in the afternoon. Nobody else was there in the afternoon, so she went to a restaurant to eat, but was back by 9 PM.

Despite the cold and the crowds, everyone was in a good mood, unless of course somebody tried to cut in line, which turned otherwise friendly people into line cutting vigilantes of justice. Line cutters were treated like Yankees fans at Fenway Park cheering A-Rod for trying to slap the ball out of Jason Varitek’s glove.

And we’re back.

Like I said, everyone was in a good mood. In between sharing stories of life on the campaign trail (everyone at the front of the line was a die-hard politico) we sang gospel songs and told jokes. 

There were people from all over the country in line with me.

I didn’t find anyone else from the Northern Mariana Islands, but it was fun watching everyone else discover people from their home states. Utah? I live in Salt Lake City! California? My son lives in San Diego! Virginia? Why the hell is it so damn cold today!

empty seatsAt about 7:40 the police started letting people in. I was the fourth person through the gate. After maybe 7 people had gone through, a yell came from the direction of the officers manning the metal detectors in the security check point, “We’re not ready yet!”

empty chairsThey closed the gate, but allowed those of us who already had access to continue. As a result, for about 10 minutes I was one of just a handful of people inside the secure area. I was able to pick the perfect spot in my section.

I was in the standing only section to the north of the seated area. The area was angled such that I could either get a close up view of Barack and miss out on all of the people behind him, or I could get a less close view of Barack, with a full view of all the dignitaries and officials behind him. I chose to be closer to Barack.

From where I stood, Barack was right in front of me, about 100 meters away. To my right was a seated section for Medal of Honor winners and the surviving Tuskegee Airmen. To my left was a giant video screen. Behind me was the mall, where over a million people could be heard chanting and singing.

I didn’t move from that spot until the inauguration ceremony was over about five hours late.

For the next few hours over a quarter of a million people poured into the secure area on the Capitol lawn. I didn't move from my spot once.

Don KingThere were a number of celebrities. Don King and Dustin Hoffman were two of the celebs to walk right by my section.

Almost every person who holds a title in Washington, DC was announced. Their names were read as they appeared walking onto the platform set up in front of the Capitol.

Ted Kennedy was cheered.

Lieberman was booed.

Colin Powell was cheered.

The entrance of George W. Bush resulted in a few minutes of “na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!” Nobody threw a shoe.

Sasha and Malia got the loudest applause when they entered. 

aretha franklinThere was entertainment from a children's choir, Yo-Yo Ma, and Aretha Franklin.  Some lady read a poem and two pastors read prayers.  I didn't realize Aretha was so short.  It was a lot easier to watch her on the video screen.

joe biden vice presidentBiden was sworn in as Vice President first. My initial thought after he finished taking the oath of office was, “that’s it?” It happened so fast.

president barack obama swearing inThen Barack took the oath of office.

It is a moment I will never forget. When I'm 110 I'll tell my great-great grand children that I was there (assuming I ever have kids, of course).

barack obama addresses the crowdWhen it all ended at 1 PM, I had been standing in the cold for almost 11 hours. I was cold, hungry, dehydrated, cold, and tired.

After a stop for some nourishment and de-thawing at a Thai restaurant, I walked the 36 blocks to get back to Claudio's apartment. Every minute of that day was worth it.

When I got back I took a nap and then got ready for the Western States Inaugural Ball.

6 comments:

Saipan Writer said...

These are great photos, Angelo.

bradinthesand said...

you're living your life, brother!

bigsoxfan said...

Five hours on the pavement. You walked the walk.

Winter Park Fords said...

What a good story. Love you!

CNMI Blogger said...

Great! We want more!

DATALIG said...

Great post.....I admire your enthusiasm to taking part of history. Thanks for sharing.