My Beloved Husband decided it was the chance of a lifetime to come to a Presidential Inauguration to help use my two tickets, so he joined me for the weekend. The weather on Sunday was particularly lovely, so we enjoyed a stroll at a leisurely pace across the front of the Capitol to observe the preparations for Monday’s main event. It may have been President Obama’s second Inauguration, but there was still a buzz of excitement in the air, and people were very generous about taking pictures for each other at the low spots in the fence in front of the Capitol.
Inauguration day dawned chilly and partly cloudy. With a 6:45 AM departure from my apartment, we arrived at our designated Judiciary Square Metro orange ticket starting point at about 7:25 AM. Numerous signs and security police directed us to the end of the security line, which was already wrapped around the block. Having seen the President twice at pre-election rallies in Wisconsin this past fall, my BH is a veteran of Presidential security lines and the patience required. The line moved reasonably well, and we were entertained by the enterprising individuals hawking inauguration T-shirts, buttons, and flags, as well as more practical items such as chemical handwarmers and knit caps with “Obama” spelled out in rhinestones.
When we arrived at the security screening tents, my BH observed that the English feel that Americans simply do not understand the concept of forming a queue. As I looked at the mobs of people surrounding each entrance to the tents, I had to agree. I was rather proud that by going to the end entrance, we were able to establish a somewhat more orderly line at least briefly. No, it was not because I started organizing people either! I think it was my BH’s Englishness that made the difference.
For some reason, although we were admitted to the Mall before 9 AM, we were some of the first people diverted into overflow space adjacent to the reflecting pool rather than into the standing space designated by our tickets. Although we were further away from the action, that location turned out to be a significant advantage, because we found a tree on a small rise that gave us a reasonable view of a Jumbotron and allowed me to see over people’s heads. Even when more space was opened up in front of us, we stuck with our original spot. Another huge advantage of that spot was that because we were not in among the jostling crowd, we were able to sit down on the ground for at least an hour, which took the strain off our feet.
One of the most exciting parts of being present at the Inauguration for me was the arrival of the various dignitaries who sat on the platform. The Joint Chiefs of Staff arrived and were followed by the Members of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court justices, the Cabinet Secretaries, and then the past Presidents of the United States. Attending this year were President and Mrs. Carter, who were warmly greeted by the crowd, followed by President and Mrs. Clinton, who were welcomed even more enthusiastically. When the Obama and Biden families arrived, I was reminded of an article I had read mentioning that Mrs. Obama obviously pays attention to what her family wears so that photographs look good. They are never cookie cutters of each other, but they all dress in a harmonious color palette. The girls’ lilac and purple coats blended well with the First Lady’s blue and gray as well as with their father’s blue tie.
The reality of being at the Inauguration is that there are quite a few trees on that side of the Capitol which restricts the views in spite of being leafless in January. Thus we couldn’t see the platform at all, and our view of the Jumbotron was a bit fuzzy. What I did learn is the magic of being physically present and sharing a momentous occasion with a crowd of other people. I don’t think I have ever before been one in a million, the approximate number of people who attended in person. When President Obama mentioned climate change in his speech, there was a short pause as the comment registered and then a swell of approval from the crowd. When he later mentioned equal opportunities for “our mothers, our wives, and our daughters,” followed by his endorsement of gay marriage, there was an even more enthusiastic roar. That energy can’t be captured effectively by remote viewing. Likewise it was a thrill to cheer along with everyone else after each oath of office was administered.
Trying to get home after the ceremony was a bit of an adventure. I had no doubt that the Metro stations would be complete chaos, but it was about a four mile walk home, so I proposed that we instigate an Inauguration Pub Crawl. We quick-walked about two miles to Dupont Circle and found a pub in which to find refreshment and to warm up a bit. On TV, we were able to watch the lunch in Statuary Hall in the Capitol and then watch the start of the parade. I had signed up for the text and email alerts from the Metro, so I kept track of the stations that were closed temporarily because they were overwhelmed by people. I was glad we had decided to walk, and that we had found a way to break up the trek.
We next proceeded to walk up Connecticut Avenue until my BH announced, “It’s a pub crawl. We need to go into more than one place.” So we found another refreshment and another television to watch President and Mrs. Obama and Vice Present and Dr. Jill Biden walk up Pennsylvania Ave greeting the crowds. (As a side note, there have been numerous approving comments from my female fellow Fellows that Dr. Jill Biden was introduced with her proper title!) I was especially happy to finally understand the purpose of the odd structure that had been under construction behind the White house for the past several months. It served quite nicely as a parade viewing spot for the Obamas and the Bidens.
That was the end of the adventure. Except that it wasn’t. I kissed my BH good-bye the next morning and went off to work. Shortly after I arrived at the office, Maggie forwarded an email to me that staff were welcome to take family and friends out to the Inauguration platform to take pictures any time that day. I organized a group of the Fellows, who met outside just before lunch and just before everything got busy, and we got some wonderful photos. I also emailed my BH, whose train out of Union Station wasn’t departing until 3 PM, and asked if he wanted to come in and get his picture taken with me on the platform. He said it was a chance of a lifetime, so he came in, I whisked him through credentialing and security, and Maggie met up with us to take pictures. We have pictures standing where the podium was where the oaths of office were taken, and we have pictures of us with the decorated dome of the Capitol in the background. Those pictures and that opportunity was probably the most amazing part of the whole Inauguration weekend.