Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I went alone.

That wasn’t the plan. Val and I were supposed to go together, as Ed was working. But at about 8pm last night, she called with the news that she had a scored a ticket through Ed.

On to plan B! I called Nick and Shelley. We made arrangements to meet up at 8:15am. I was ready to roll. Clothes were laid out. Necessities—cash, Chapstick, keys, Metro card, granola bars, camera, cell phone—were neatly tucked in coat pockets, to avoid having to carry a purse.

At 11:15, I had just turned out the light when my cellphone rang. “Um, Hannah?” It was Shelley. “We sort of…just got tickets.”

So I was on my own, or at least I’d have to wait until tomorrow to see who else would be headed downtown, and where they’d be.

I got on the Metro at 7:40am. It was full, but not the sardine tin that I’d anticipated.
A few minutes after 9am, after 30 minutes on the Metro and nearly an hour of trekking—the long way, since 7th and 14th Streets were not, as previously announced, open to cross the Pennsylvania Avenue parade route—around the parade route and down to the Mall, I found a spot on the Washington Monument grounds, facing the Capitol, with an easy view of a jumbotron, which was replaying the We Are One concert from Sunday afternoon. My attempt to walk down the Mall to get closer to the Capitol was foiled by the ubiquitous security forces, who had closed off the Mall because it was already full.
DAR Constitution Hall, where Marian Anderson was banned from singing
in 1939, leading to her famous concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
I texted a bunch of people to see who was down on the Mall. And! CZ! Guess where she was? At the Washington Monument! For about ten seconds, I thought about trying to find her, before I realized that the odds of spotting someone in the hundreds of thousands already surrounding the monument was slim to none. So I stayed put. Over the next hour, the Washington Monument grounds also filled to capacity, and by around 10, I was so wedged in that I had to say “excuse me” to the guy next to me whenever I raised my arm to take a photo or attempt a text message.
I couldn't raise my arms, so the guy next to me
took this (very close up) photo.
Was it weird being alone? No, and it was kind of great. The mood was buoyant, with people conversing with their neighbors and waiting patiently for the festivities to begin. I was temporarily adopted by two huge black men who stood next to me, one a pastor (Pastor Willie from a church in NE Washington) and his friend, visiting from Brooklyn for the occasion. They provided their own commentary for most of the day and, as the crowd jostled around, made sure I could see. A group of 30-something scientists—all of them quite tall, except for one girl who perched on a crate—stood in front of me (until Pastor Willie and his friend shifted around so I could see). Another gentleman stood to my left and did not open his mouth the entire time.

The view behind me. Note that the crowd
stretches up around the Washington Monument.
The crowd cheered as various dignitaries and VIPs took their seats on the platform. The biggest cheers were received by Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and—twice the volume of anyone else—Bill Clinton. I helped my neighbors identify people as they were introduced.

“Who’s that?” “That’s Joe Biden’s mother.”
“Who’s that? He looks familiar?” “Howard Dean.” “Oh, right.”
“Who are those girls?” “The Bush twins.” “But who’s the guy with them?” “That’s Jenna’s husband, Henry Hager.”
“HEY, Beyonce! And there’s Diddy!” (They didn’t need my help for those.)

But then the crowd spotted Malia and Sasha Obama, and they went BERSERK.
And then Michelle. More hollering.
And then the President-Elect himself. Flags waved wildly. The noise was deafening. “O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!”
So. Many. People.
Aretha took the stage, prompting more cheers from the crowd, plus comments on her festive topper. “That,” said Pastor Willie, “is a Sunday-go-to-meetin’ hat.”

As soon as the oath was complete, the crowd went nuts again. Everybody was hugging everybody else. People pulled out their cameras and photographed or videotaped the scene. Tears were plentiful. It was a joyous moment.
Obama takes the oath.
Getting home was an adventure in itself. The crowd oozed slowly toward the exit points, with no one able to tell where the exit points actually were and just hoping that the crowd was going in the right direction. (It was a well-behaved ooze, though. “This is the ruliest crowd I’ve ever seen,” said one guy during the exodus. “Ruliest?” “Yeah, opposite of unruliest.” And he was right. All day, massive crowds were inescapable, and things were confusing, and people had to walk A LOT. And stand in a tiny amount of space for A LONG TIME. And people were calm and pleasant and go-with-the-flow about everything. It was remarkable.) We slowly oozed off the monument grounds, then up Constitution to Virginia Ave to 23rd Street. And from there I walked north to Dupont, where I bought a newspaper, hopped on the Metro (amazingly, with no trouble or delay), and got home around 2:15.
The crowd oozes, at a glacial pace, past idling tour buses.
It was tiring. I am sore. My toes are still a little numb. But I would not have missed it for the world, and I will not soon forget it.

1 comment:

  1. We wondered if you were there. I pointed at the packed mall at one point and said "your cousin Hannah may be out there somewhere". The kids were duly impressed.