For the first time in my life I was able to see a Presidential inauguration, and what a day it was.
It began at 4 a.m., which is when we woke up in order to be out the door by 4:30 a.m. I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that we are staying in Georgetown, and while normally it is long but doable walk to the Capitol from Georgetown, the arrival of almost two million people (that is the most recent I heard) made it more complicated. All roads going in were closed except to buses and taxis. Our challenge was that we needed to get to opposite side of the Capitol Mall, and this required a ride on the D.C. Metro (its subway system). Again, I imagine that normally this is a fairly easy process, just not this day.
When we caught our Metro train it was already packed at 4:55 a.m. We literally squeezed in like sardines (I sent some photos that hopefully you are able to see). Our exit was the Federal Center station, but we mistakenly exited at the Event Center station instead. After a few tense moments (I was sure we would never get on another train) we were able to catch the next train and it actually had breathing room. This was the only break from crowds for the rest of the day.
The Federal Center station was absolutely insane. It took us approximately 40 minutes just to make it out of the station to the street. Over the loudspeaker, one of the guards kept up a repetition of “Move it, move it, move, people are behind you, do not hesitate, have your ticket out, move it, move it, move it.” I think the Metro station was probably the most tense part of the day.
Once on the street we headed to the ‘silver gate,’ which was the designated entrance for those with tickets to the inauguration. Now if you watched the inauguration you probably saw a large area with chairs for those who had tickets. There was also a large standing area behind that seated area, and this is what we had tickets for. Behind this area, basically from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial was the “free” area, and we heard that by 6:30 they closed that area down because it was already full.
We got into line at about 6 a.m., and our line was about 25 people deep and probably a mile long. While standing there trying to stay warm, I got to know some of my neighbors, a Howard University student from New York, a couple from Italy (I’m not quite sure how they got their tickets), a grandmother from Chicago, and a Democrat from Montana (a rare breed). The gate was supposed to open at 9 a.m., but a little before 8 a.m. the gates suddenly opened, and it was a madhouse. The line dissipated and there was a rush for the gates. Eventually a side area was opened and that is where we entered. Not once was our ticked checked.
We got to the security checkpoint where each individual was physically searched. We hadn’t brought along any bags, but of course those would have been searched too. We had checked out the area the day before and knew we wanted to be next to a tree or light post (I’ll explain why in a bit), and with a clear view of the large screen, called the Megatron. We were too far from the Capitol steps to see much detail, but the Megatron provided a great view.
By the time the program started, a little before 10 a.m. the area was packed and we were standing shoulder to shoulder with those around us. I imagine many of you watched the inauguration, and probably have a better idea than I about what all occurred. But I was impressed seeing all of our leaders, past and present, on one stage. I was impressed by the excitement of those in the crowd. I thought the prayer of Rick Warren was interesting but moving, and the music of Aretha Franklin inspiring. I was struck by Obama’s consideration of history as he took the oath of office on the Lincoln Bible. I won’t comment on Obama’s speech other than to say he got a thunderous reception from the crowd as well as Kris and I. As soon as President Obama finished his speech, many in the crowd attempted to leave, perhaps to beat the rush or perhaps to find seats along the parade route. We wanted to see the end of the inauguration and Kris literally held on to the lamp post and I held on to her to ensure that we didn’t get swept by the crowd toward the exit.
As you can imagine, two million people leaving the site all at the same time was amazing to see. We knew there was no way we could make it to the parade (some bleacher seats were going for $1,000 and we were warned that it would be impossible to get through from our exit to the parade route in time), so our goal was to get back to Georgetown and watch the parade on television. Because Pennsylvania Avenue was closed due to the parade, thousands of people used the highways as walkways, us included. It took us three hours of walking to get back to our hotel. We are fairly wiped out right now, but have no complaints as we feel so lucky to have witnessed this historic inauguration.