Inauguration Vacation

What a fine day! Most importantly, of course, America has a new President, a man of dignity and intellect, who selects his appointments on the merit of the candidate. And if that weren’t enough, Megan and I were there to bear witness (along with two million of our closest friends) to this historic event.

We were active during the campaign, canvassing and donating, and obsessively reading Electoral-Vote and FiveThirtyEight. So, since we live relatively close to DC, we thought we would come up to see whatever we could of it. We didn’t plan anything at all, but we got pretty lucky, I have to say!

First,  an old college roommate, Dave, got back in touch with me via Facebook a few months ago; we said we’d try to get together soon.  We missed each other I was in town last month, but we talked on the phone, and he offered us a place to stay if we were in town for the Inauguration, which we were considering then.  We decided at the last minute to take a day off and take him up on his offer, and he’s been an incredibly gracious host, waking up early to drive us to the metro station, and picking us back up.

Next, we decided to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl last night.  We stumbled on this place a few years ago when I was doing some consulting up in DC (for a special-needs school and the Navy Criminal Investigative Services, two great tastes that taste great together).  I love vegetarian chili, and this place does it up right (as you might surmise from the name)… and it has that great diner feel.  I had seen on the news that Obama had eaten here a week or two ago, and apparently Bill Cosby did as well.  But I was not prepared for the lines… we waited in line for two hours to get in, the line stretching back into the alley and cops directing nearby traffic!  But we had nothing else to do that night, and we stuck with it on a whim.  And it paid off in a really unexpected way.  A guy came in (I don’t know exactly who) who was handing out free tickets to the Inauguration.  We hadn’t event tried to get tickets before, since we knew how in demand they were.  But I approached him and asked him for a pair… he was surprised we came up from North Carolina without them, but handed them over with a smile.  As it turned out, they were not just to the general admission area, but to the Blue Gate into a section of the White House lawn.

Our luck took a slight tumble, when we first took a wrong turn out of the subway station, then after we found our way back to the right gate, we got shunted into what turned out not to be the “blue” line, but just a “blue” line.  We stood in that line for a frigid hour and a half, barely moving, until we finally ended up in what was actually the line for the gate… about 50 people wide and several hundred deep… and which we could have entered directly, rather than wading through a mere tributary.  By the time we go up to the security gates (and it was a real crush at points), and then on to the viewing area, the garden wall was already lined with people sitting along it, and the stairs up were packed.  Megan is less assertive than I am, and wanted to stay were we could catch an occasional glimpse of the jumbotron.  But I could glimpse large gaps in the crowd on the other side, so I took us to a “breach” in the wall… a knot of people climbing over a narrow section where nobody was sitting.  Once we were over the wall, there was actually quite a lot of space open… the stairs were just a bottleneck nobody was willing to move away from.

In the spot we ended up, we couldn’t really see the screens, but we could see, in the distance, the rostrum itself, with the tiny but visible figures of the people.  A little surprisingly, the crowd booed when Bush came out, and serenaded him with “Na, na, na, na… hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”  We listened the Aretha Franklin with respect and joy, and to Perlman and Ma with quiet reflection.  And we saw Obama take his oath of office, and give his grave but hopeful and poetic speech… saw it with our own eyes.

After most of the crowd had left, we were able to actually go up near the lectern, and take photos.  Colin Powell was giving an interview about fifteen feet away (and 20 feet up).  We saw Bush board his helicopter on the screen, and watched it rise over the White House and disappear into the distance.  Megan said she felt a surge of emotion as it flew away; I just waved goodbye.

Leaving the grounds, we wandered though chaotic streets to the Air & Space Museum, which we’d heard was open.  It was… and it held hundreds of people getting out of the cold, sitting and lying and sleeping and eating.  It was a strange sight.  We looked around a bit, rested, used the toilets, and then took off to find our way to a Metro station.  L’Enfant was packed, so we went down to a further one and got on with little wait.  We enjoyed an Indian dinner, gushing with other patrons, and then hit the trains again.

Back at Dave’s place, we watched the news coverage, and found out just how fortunate we’d been to get in at all, much more as close as we were.  We watched the oaths and speeches again, this time with close ups.  It was a remarkable trip!  We came up here with very little idea of exactly what we would do, and stumbled into a great Inaugural experience.