Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Yahoo - what a wonderful day! Overall, we had a wonderful experience and are very happy we were able to be here and be a part of history. Here are some of the details of our very busy day...

Starting Out

We were up at 6:00 and left the hotel by 6:45, and it was dark and chilly outside. We'd been planning our cold weather gear for some time, and had on long johns, warm socks, sweaters, and our warmest outerwear (and my daughter wore the Obama dangle earrings we purchased from a street vendor yesterday!). We stopped at the Drifting Nomad to pick up our croissants (but no tea - we're trying not to drink much of anything). Then, we headed across the street to the Takoma station. We were both really happy that we'd been able to learn our way around on the Metro yesterday so we could just focus on getting to the Mall today minus the learning curve.

It was pretty full in the Takoma station, and the train was jammed. We had some fun and funny trainmates - they called out to all the riders, "This is the Obama train; it's only going forward and it's not stopping!" Everyone was greeting everyone else, and when we got off the metro, greeters were at the exits saying "Good morning! Isn't this a good morning, and a great day in America."

Mall or Parade?

So much of our very useful planning information came from great articles on the web. One of the smart tips was that we should choose between viewing the Inauguration OR viewing the parade because of the crush of people and the difficulty of getting around between events. We chose Inauguration as it seemed so much more momentous and meaningful to us.

Getting to the Mall

Our original plan was to find a viewing spot near the Smithsonian Castle, but that was not to be. We were sure we'd be able to follow the moving mass of humanity to find our way to the mall, but, surprisingly, that is not how it worked. There WERE people everywhere that we could follow, but everyone was headed in a different direction, depending on their personal plans for the day. There were lots of volunteers helping with traffic flow, but we got conflicting directions and it took about 1 1/2 hours to finally get onto the mall.

As we walked with hundreds of others through blockaded streets - many of which were closed off by large buses - we passed several street vendors. Here are some of their funny comments called out to the crowds:

  • "Now, don't try to be brave today...just buy some handwarmers."
  • "Help stimulate the economy and buy a t-shirt."
  • "There's only one hero here today, and his name is Barack Obama. So don't try to be a hero - just buy some gloves."
Once we got onto the mall, we decided not to make the hike up to the Smithsonian. Our entrance ended up being between the Washington Monument and the WWII Memorial. (Top photo is the sun rising near the Washington Monument, which is what we saw when we first made it onto the Mall.) We were fortunate to have a good view of a jumbotron, could hear the speakers, AND had something to sit on! There were hundreds of people when we first got there; as time passed, we watched continuous streams of thousands of people move steadily onto the mall. It was fun and exhilerating. Overhead, helicopters circled the mall and the capital.

As we waited, we were also again entranced by the kindess of strangers. Everyone was friendly, chatting, pleasant - one woman said to the crowd in general, "Now remember, act like your momma raised ya." And, in fact, that's really what everyone did. And, we wore the friendly nametags we'd been given as we headed onto the mall that said, "Hello, fellow American, my name is _____ (Change starts with a conversation. Use this nametag to talk to new people.)"

A lovely moment we experienced came while the show at the Lincoln Memorial was being re-broadcast, and Pete Seeger was leading everyone in singing "This Land is Your Land." Everyone around us joined in, and it was really moving to be singing this song with all of those around us.

Watching the Inauguration.

It was COLD! We're really happy we dressed so warmly, and are new fans of hand warmers. We had them in our gloves, boots and back pockets. As we waited for the big event, we sustained ourselves with the apples, energy bars, and Red Bull we'd brought along.

During the swearing in ceremony, everyone was spellbound as we watched this historic transition of power. And, of course, there was a mighty cheer when Obama offically became the President. From our spot, the ongoing cheering was a roar, and we couldn't help but wonder how it sounded to everyone at the Capitol. Everyone in the crowd around us was so happy and people were hugging each other; as I glanced at the man next to me, tears were streaming down his face.

Obama's speech was very moving and impassioned. It really felt like he was hoping to transfer his energy and passion for change and improvement into the people listening. I felt it. As we listened, those around us made frequent comments like, "mmm hmmm," "that's right," etc, so we know lots of other people were feeling it too.

After Inauguration

The Internet had advised that we let the crowds disperse before we try to leave the mall, so that's just what we did. Crushing streams of people were moving past us...we're guessing they were trying to get a spot to view the parade. My daughter decided she'd like to get warm in one of the Smithsonian warming stations, so we headed toward the Castle. We ended up getting stuck in our first real "crowd" situation. We could only move in the direction of the stream of people, we were packed in closely, and there was a feeling of the current of a fast-moving river. We were fine, but definitely kept our wits about us.

We discovered that we wouldn't be able to get through to where we were headed because the street was temporarily shut down for some dignitary that would be coming by. To pass the time, we chatted with those around us and the military personnel who were guarding the street and managing the crowds. We want to thank the very pleasant SSG Chavez, of Bravo Troop I-158 Cav of Easton, MD - here's his advice to my daughter: "The doors of success are opened with the keys of responsibility." All of the military personnel (Temporary Police) were very pleasant.

Dinner Reservation?

The road closure lasted MUCH longer than we'd anticipated. We finally decided to walk several blocks to get around the blockade (we're pretty sore from all the walking and standing today!). We stopped in to the Free Gallery of Art building right next to the Castle and used the very clean (and WARM) restrooms. While my daughter relaxed and listened to her iPod, I had a chance to view the "Road to Freedom" exhibit on the lower levels. Moving.

We gave ourselves 45 minutes to get from the museum to our dinner restaurant. We headed to where we thought we'd be able to exit the mall, only to discover yet another blockade. I think if I were offering tips to anyone going to Inauguration in the future, I would suggest really learning what entry and exit points will be open and when, and what streets will be closed and when. This was the toughest thing we faced - we just couldn't get out of anywhere!

So, our dinner reservation wasn't kept. We ended up turning back onto the mall, and stopped at one of the many white tents offering refreshments. We had surprisingly good pulled pork sandwiches and fabulously rich cocoa. The caterer told me they were called National Restaurants and are the official food service for the capital and other government buildings. They certainly do a good job. We also took a few minutes to watch the parade on the Jumbotron, and happened to catch the point where the Obama's were outside to the vehicle and walking together, to much cheering!

Yikes - the Metro

Finally, at 5:00 (by this time, we were really cold and tired) we decided to try the Smithsonian Metro station again. When we got there, we found a very long line and learned that it wouldn't be opening until 6:30. Someone else was heading to L'Enfant Plaza station, so we tried that too. It was open, but the line was incredibly long. We finally got inside in a crush of people. Everyone was raising their digital cameras and cell phones up high to try to take photos of the unbelievable mass of people - it's something that must be experienced to be understood! My daughter's coat will probably have a permant mark on it from where I was holding onto her very tightly! We made it onto all the right trains, and finally got into the quiet Takoma station.

We stopped at the Nomad for a chamomile tea and a cookie, and then made our final hike to our hotel. We had a really great day, and are glad we went. We're very tired...and very happy for the United States.

(Photo at right is a view of the sun setting on the Washington Monument.)

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