Presidential Inauguration Trip: Day 5
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We woke up REALLY early to go to train station to take the Virginia Railway Express into DC. The temperature was 19 degrees, according to Mrs. Ward's car. It sure felt like it, as we stood on the steps to the platform, outside in the cold. We talked to people from So Cal and Georgia about the cold, but everyone was in really good spirits because we knew why we were braving it all. One lady advised us to keep our arms down in order to keep them warm, so we all immediately did so. It did work a little bit, perhaps so that the circulation could work? I don't know. The train tickets had sold out, and the line extended down the stairs and around the building. We sat on the second level and relaxed in the warmth of the VRE.
BananaMan and special VRE ticket
When we arrived at Union Station, we had already placed our toe warmers in our shoes, and our hand warmers in our gloves, and headed outside. The city was bustling with activity, and Liz and I just made sure that we could see Marg at all times so that she could lead us in the right direction. We picked up breakfast at McD's, where it would take 30 minutes to get coffee, so Liz ordered tea, which was about to take a girl 15 minutes just to put lemon in it. My goodness, that was dumb. Then we made our way out to find an entrance to National Mall. Marg asked one of the DC policemen where we should go, and he said that there were only 2 entrances to get to the parade route. The entrances to National Mall were not even our goal by this time, because we were told that we would be unable to even get to National Mall for the inauguration. On one of the corners, we were waiting to cross the intersection as we heard a siren, and saw the Clown Fire Truck approaching. As it got closer, we finally realized that it was honking at US, and a lady pulled Marg's coat as Liz and I jumped out of the way. Yikes! Those crazy clown firefighters!
We ended up at 7th and E, which was extremely crowded. People were still in relatively good moods, since we knew that we were actually keeping each other warm. We pointed out to each other that there was a woman in one of the windows above us, just staring at the crowd while talking on her phone. I kept wanting her to just do tricks because we needed the entertainment. She never did that, though. As more people packed in, it became quite uncomfortable, and I was at the point of standing on the balls of my feet instead of actually planted on the ground. At one moment, the big guy in front of Liz turned his body around to have a conversation with people behind her, so her face was right at his chest. At that same moment, a guy next to me had his big stomach right next to me, and I had just about had it. Our tickets to enter were at a different intersection, and it had come to the time that they were going to open those gates. I asked Liz how long she wanted to stay and wait to see if Margaret could get in, and Marg said that she'd be OK, so after establishing our meeting point, we decided to leave. Easier said than done. I tried to get by politely, but then I got to a point where the people wouldn't budge. One guy told me to just push hard, so I did so, and hit a poor lady in the bladder or something, because now she needed to go to the bathroom. Well, then I was stuck with people who were just angry that I pushed them, and still wouldn't move. Eventually, a skinny lady came pushing through the crowd, and we followed her out. We realized after passing about 20 people deep that there was plenty of open space. All the people had to do was back up at least one step, and the people in the front could have breathed. What gave these people the idea that they needed to crush up against the ones in front of them, almost toppling people over the barricade? There was absolutely no need for that, and it pissed me off. I refrained from yelling at everybody since I was just thankful to be alive, and Liz and I hoofed it over to 15th and F.
At 14th street, there was a long line to enter the non-ticketed portion of the parade route, but it was at least organized. It was taking a long time because of security, but the line moved. We marveled at the incompetence of whomever was in charge of (or had abandoned) the entrance at 7th and E, now deemed by me to be the Intersection from Hell. The entrance for the ticketed people was very relaxed, but the line was slow-moving even though there weren't more than 100 people in line. The security was very high, as the Secret Service was not letting in anyone with large bags. So the volunteers kept telling a woman in back of us that they wouldn't let her bag in, and that she'd need to leave it at the gate, with no guarantee that she'd find it when she returned. She ended up checking it in to the hotel desk nearby. Then the volunteers said that even Liz's bag, which was already small, would be iffy, because the acceptable dimensions were 8" x 6" x 4". Um, her bag was NOT that big. Another volunteer said that the bags could only be the size that you would use for passports and such, but they let us through just fine. The second volunteer was just dimensionally challenged or something, I guess. Our bags were searched, we passed through a metal detector, and we also got wanded. I just smiled, as I did at the museum yesterday, that the guard had to take Bananaman out of my bag in order to see what else was in there.
The volunteers told us that, based on our Blue C section ticket, we could sit in one of the two sections on either side of the crosswalk bleachers. I suggested to Liz that we get into the seats where the sunlight was headed, and she agreed since we were both cold. We sat in the front row of the bleachers. We didn't have shade for most of the day, and the sunlight that we did have didn't last for more than an hour. We didn't have a jumbotron, either, so that was a bummer, because we really wanted to see the Swearing-In live. We did have big speakers near us, which piped in the ceremony through National Public Radio. We saw the National Guard march in and take their places along the street. We really had no idea where on the parade route we were sitting, much less which direction the units would be marching, but whatever. We just couldn't stop thinking about how cold we were. If our brains had been less frozen, I'm sure that we would have walked around and looked at what was going on, but unfortunately we were just too cold to think at that point. Pop music played through the speakers, and the DC police tried to get us to get up and dance and move around, but I was too amused by their singing and dancing to do so. No, the Guard did not dance. We looked overhead to see Marine One flying around.
Sherry and Frozen BananaMan
The Inauguration ceremony finally started, and I cried through most of the Benediction (especially as I recited along with the Lord's Prayer), and didn't stop until after Aretha's rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" was done. Then the swearing-in of our First Black President happened, and I was in tears again. No, not because the Chief Justice had flubbed, but because it meant so very much to all of the people that were in attendance that day, with the spirits of ancestors in their hearts. My goodness, our country has come a LONG way in its short history, and I'm proud to be a part of it. When President Obama spoke, I was really happy to hear his voice speak so eloquently. He talked about the state of our nation, and that Americans would fight to get back to its posterity and great status in the world. He challenged us to rise up to be the change, inspired us, and cautioned our nation's enemies. My favorite part of his speech, though, made me grin widely through the tears. There he was, talking about George Washington along the icy Potomac, and the words of Washington were thus: “Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].“ That was us, people. Those frozen ones on 15th street and outside on the streets of DC and Capitol Mall. Full of hope, indeed. I tried to dry my tears for fear that they would turn to icicles on my already-cold cheeks, but there were just too many to deal with. Thankfully, no ice formed.
We had at least an hour before the parade would start, so we listened to more of the same music from those speakers, and wanted to kill the person that didn't know how to do more than a 30-minute loop of recorded music. The lady seated next to us with her son decided to get some coffee at Borders and asked Liz to watch her kid in the meantime. She was nice enough to pay for Liz's coffee, too, and later on promptly lost her own child when he went to the porta potties by himself. I also went to Borders for a little bit and thawed out a little bit before going back to the stands.
We waited, and waited. The time had come and gone for when the parade was supposed to start. Liz's hubby Joe gave us updates whenever he could, and we found out that the parade was delayed because Ted Kennedy had fainted at lunch. Liz and I made a game plan as to how long we'd stay, because we needed to get to our meeting place with marg and on to Union Station or the train would leave us stranded in DC. By the time that Liz had talked to the policemen about possible breaks in the parade, it was already on our part of the street. We were worried because Liz was told that we'd have to sit for the entire 2.5 hours, but somehow the people in the crowd convinced the SS and DCP that it was entirely too cold after already waiting for 7-8 hours, and people had trains to catch. So they said that they'd try to find a break for us. We were excited because we heard from Joe that President Obama and Michelle Obama had gotten out of their limo and walked on Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, they got back in the car by the time they got to our portion, most likely for security reasons. Our seating was right across from the Hotel Washington, which was closed for construction, and probably way too dangerous for the President to be just walking around. When he passed by, we only got a glimpse of the back of his head, because he had turned to wave at the 3 National Guardsmen on the other side of the street. We did get to wave to Malia and Sasha, though, as they excitedly waved from their window. Too cute. I don't actually have good video from our vantage point. I was excited and waving and yelling at the President to turn around. SORRY, sir.
We did get to see Joe and Jill Biden walking as we lined up to cross the street. That was exciting, too, and I'm glad that we at least got to see SOMEONE from the Executive Office walking around. Here's the video from our vantage point at the crosswalk.
Of course, as soon as the President reached the corner, he got out of his limo again. Dangit! We just missed all of that! But then I had to keep consoling Liz and myself that had we been sitting over there, we would have missed our train, because there seemed to be no way out of those seats. Honestly, though, I would have rather seen him walk and then we ccould somehow get into Marg's office and sleep on the floor over there. The Secret Service finally let us out in groups of 2, and we hurried over to meet up with Marg at Teaism to hoof it the long way over to Union Station. As we approached Teaism, I was able to see the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps marching on Pennsylvania Avenue, so at least I did get to see one of the DCI groups today! The police, of course, had more roads blocked off, which made us walk a lot of extra blocks to get there. Then at the station, the cops didn't have signs to guide everyone to the right place to catch the trains, and they yelled out different directions through their bullhorns. It was crowded and people were a little cranky, but we finally made our way into Union Station where, BTW, people were much more relaxed and non-crowded. So what was all that craziness outside? A bunch of nothing.
We stood in line for the VRE and got onto the train, happy that we were on our way home. Marg told us that she had to stand at 7th and E for 3 hours, and never even got to hear the swearing-in, much less see it on any jumbotron. She did, though, get to see the President walking on Pennsylvania Avenue, so we all experienced a little bit of something that day. Marg called their mom to tell her that we had made it onto the train, and Mrs. Ward said that she could take us over to "Five Brothers or Sisters or whatever it's called." Marg told us and had a perplexed look on her face. I had to tell Marg that I think she meant "Five Guys." We all laughed hysterically before falling asleep for a short nap on the rest of the ride home. Mrs. Ward was right there waiting when we arrived, and we told her our stories as she drove us to Five GUYS for more burgers and fries. I decided to have different toppings from yesterday's burger, and was again satisfied with my meal.
When we got home, we witnessed the aftermath of Grandpa giving James Oreo cookies while Grandma was gone. James kept saying "Knock Knock," but when we asked "Who's There?" we didn't ever get an answer. So we ate our dinners as we watched extensive coverage of the Inaugural Balls and snippets of the ceremonies that we missed before going to sleep.
It's a new day, Nation. Let's party! OK, let me sleep, then we'll party.