When President Barack Obama was sworn in to office Monday, roughly one million Americans packed the National Mall for a glimpse of the President’s second inauguration ceremony.
And right there, in the midst of the sea of humanity, were several Turlockers on hand to witness the historic event.
Attending a presidential inauguration for the second time was Rob Santos, a local veterinarian and Turlock Irrigation District board member. Santos also attended Obama's 2009 inauguration, bringing along his entire family for a week-long trip both times.
It isn't who gets elected that makes an inauguration worth attending, Santos said, as he made hotel reservations well before November's election. It's about the atmosphere that descends upon the capitol.
“We go during the inauguration because it's a fun, festive time,” Santos said.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) gave the Santos family some behind-the-scenes looks at the nation's capitol. One tour led the Santos family to the top of the Capitol's dome; another took them on an underground tour of the National Archives, seeing documents signed by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and even Davy Crockett.
“It was really quite special,” Santos said.
The inauguration itself was much calmer than in 2009, when nearly twice as many people attended Obama's first inauguration, Santos said.
This year, Santos and his family were able to arrive at the National Mall just an hour before Obama's speech. Last time, they were advised to be present 7 hours ahead of time.
And riding the Metro – the D.C. Subway system – was significantly easier.
“It seemed to flow a lot smoother,” Santos said. “Last time it seemed like a madhouse.”
For first-time inauguration attendee Iner Pahal, a current Masters in Business Administration student at California State University, Stanislaus, and former Associated Students Inc., president, even the decreased turnout was mind-blowing.
“It was packed,” Pahal said. “It was just insane how many people were there.”
Like Santos, Pahal obtained tickets through a request to Denham.
Pahal said he and a group of friends, most from Turlock, were close enough to see Obama moving his hands during the speech. The visuals reminded Pahal of an old photograph of Lincoln's inauguration, a mass of humanity all turned to a tiny figure on stage.
The parallels to that old picture, as well as Obama's own historical relevancy as the first African American U.S. President, led Pahal to step back and take in the moment.
“What I'm looking at, and what I'm hearing, is history,” Pahal said.
Pahal said he was taken by the pride for Obama across D.C., with custom-made posters and artwork found across the city. He likened it to San Francisco's obsession with the Giants last fall, or with the 49ers currently.
The inauguration was the highlight of a whirlwind tour for Pahal, which saw him visit New York and Washington D.C., in three days.
Around every corner was a memorable moment, from walking Times Square to visiting the World Trade Center Memorial, to seeing the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and Korean War Memorial. Even while exiting a bar – following a brief break in sightseeing to catch the San Francisco 49ers game – Pahal found himself caught up in history, stuck in the middle of a presidential motorcade.
But of all the sights, the Washington Monument was Pahal's favorite.
“It almost looked like it was glowing from within,” Pahal said. “You don't realize how big it is in the pictures.”
The trip was one for the ages, Pahal said. And though he'd like to go again, it probably won't be the same as the first time, fueled by adrenaline and a desire to see it all in such a short time.
“My whole trip, I slept maybe a total of seven hours in three days,” Pahal said.
“But when you're seeing something new in front of you, that you've wanted to see your whole life, it keeps your juices going. Everything is new all around you.”