Wednesday, January 21, 2009
A Day We Will Remember Forever
Wow! It is impossible to describe the immensity of the experience of being here for the inauguration. The atmosphere was both celebratory and reflective, jubilant and purposeful. We truly felt the experience of being Americans, part of a multicultural society committed to the timeless ideas of justice for all people. Today more than ever, the phrase "liberty and justice for all" seems to mean more than it used to mean. There seemed to be a sense that our course as a nation has been righted, and that we will again stand where we ought to stand and behave in a spirit and form that is commensurate with the ideals espoused in our Constitution. There is hope that we will again be brought into a greater sense of collective national balance.
We left my brother's house at about 8:30 am and took a bus which dropped us off eight blocks from the National Mall. There were tens of thousands of people streaming toward the same place in a very orderly, peaceful fashion. It was as if we were all going to work, with great intent and purpose. Vendors were hawking their inauguration souvenirs on the street.
We approached the mall from close to the Washington Monument, and although we could not see the capitol building, which was nearly two miles up the mall from where we eventually stood, we could see and hear everything clearly on the billboard-sized jumbotrons that were spaced throughout the area.
There was a group of college students who had set up posters and markers off to the edge of the crowd, who encouraged us to make signs asking President Obama what we wanted for our country. We stopped to make some posters and then moved on.
We were approached by a radio reporter from RTE Irish Radio from Ireland who interviewed Mary Beth and Tom. We could tell this was real by the journalist's Irish brogue and his green microphone. I videotaped part of Tom's interview.
By the time we pulled into a comfortable spot, with thousands of people continuing to roll in behind us, it was 10:15am. The temperature was about 29 degrees, with the wind chill making it feel like it was 15. We encountered no security gates or checkpoints on our way, and could have effectively brought more than the small totebag which contained trail mix, granola bars and bottles of water.
Zachary and I set off to find some hot chocolate at one of the Park Service concession stands set up at the edge of the Mall. By the time we reached the front of the line and grabbed our drinks, we were hard-pressed to rejoin Mary Beth, Tom, and Nick amidst the throngs of thousands who continued to pour in behind us. We pushed our way through the crowd to where we thought they were and stopped. After repeated failed cell phone calls, we heard my brother's voice. Spotting one of our posters that Tom waved above the crowd, we saw they were standing about 60 yards away through the sea of people. Zachary and I pushed ahead and parted the crowd, finally rejoining our family just as the invocation was starting. I hoisted Nick onto my shoulders, and Mary Beth lifted Zack as we watched on the big screens surrounded by this immense crowd of people.
People were extremely well-behaved and reserved, expect when images of George Bush flashed on the screen. At those points, we heard boos, hisses and the occasional shout of "war criminal." Rick Warren's invocation brought tears to my eyes, not so much for the words that he spoke as the unity that I hoped they represented.
After Barack's speech, people turned and began to file out the way they came. I wished the poet laureate had recited her poem before Obama's speech, because few people seemed interested in listening to her. It took us much longer to get off the mall than get on, as the human traffic flow was slow-moving, and initially blocked by the sheer volume of people moving back to Metro stations and surrounding streets. People climbed on top of porta-johns to try and scout the easiest way out, but it was jammed in every direction. The five of us, after walking several hundred yards, found a small island of space close to the edge and stood waiting, enjoying a snack and taking in the spectacle. People climbed small trees in order to look around, and many just sat on the branches, waiting.
We eventually made our way about a mile away to the office of my brother Tom's architectural firm where he escorted us inside to the otherwise closed building. We had some snacks and toured the mostly deserted office. It was great to see his workspace and have a break after walking.
We then left and walked another mile or so to my cousin Paul's apartment in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood. By this time, it was about 4:00. We were approached on the street by a man and a woman from ABC news who interviewed us about our experience. They asked us why we decided to come today and what this meant to us as parents. They said our story may air on Wednesday.
We were met by his wife Melissa and one year-old son Nathan. Zack and Nick had a blast hanging out with their cousin. Paul's mom and dad - my cousin Bob and his wife Sarah - were there as well. All of us sat and talked and played, reflecting on our experiences and watching the inaugural parade on TV.
Around 6:30, Paul drove us to the closest Metro station and we rode back to Bethesda where Tom's wife Linda picked us up. We returned home tired and content, basking in the glow of our inaugural adventure.