I was at the Inauguration, and man was it cold.
Unlike my Washington area friends, who chose to stay warm at home and watch the festivities in 72-inch high definition, or my fellow out-of-towners, who had various levels of official tickets, I trudged my way through the pre-dawn chill on to the National Mall and prepared to wait for some six hours among the gathering crowd.
Armed with a half-dozen Powerbars and a peanut and apple butter sandwich (thanks Cindi!), I was ready to celebrate.
In spite of my four layers of shirts and pants, it was still a frigid day. Standing still in sub-20 degree weather will certainly have an effect on you — even with a few Boston winters under your belt. I had read that standing on plastic or cardboard would prevent the cold ground from turning your feet into Popsicles. I had three socks on, I scoffed. A plastic bag, I would later learn, is actually a sufficiently good insulator.
Excitement, however, floated through the air. Everyone was friendly, having traveled far and wide just to get to this point. To stay warm, people danced to the music of the replayed inauguration concert, even if it meant hip-bumping everyone around. When views were blocked, polite words were exchanged and people moved. Fights at concerts have broken out for less.
I met a pair of kindly Filipino ladies from California with whom I chatted about their native Manila. Jammed in front of me were a surprising number of New Jerseyans who, like me, drove in the middle of the night to be there for the occasion. And all around were Obama T-shirts, posters and hats with “Barack” as colorfully and lovingly embroidered as a Redskins cap.
We bowed our heads in prayer when the invocation was read. Any time Obama appeared, flags would wave so fiercely they were about to fly off their sticks. And people booed whenever a Republican showed up on the Jumbotrons, something that I heard afterwards was not evident to the millions watching on TV.
Silence descended on the nearly two million people on the Mall as Obama gave his speech. There were scattered shouts of approval and “Amen” at points, like when he remarked of critics of big government plans: “Their memories are short.” Even the various military members keeping the peace were endlessly taking pictures as they kept an eye on the crowd.
From the ground, the day’s events dripped with a Hollywood-level of slickness and production. From the chipper greeters leading cheers and shouting “Good Morning!” to the perfect creases in Obama’s red tie, the event proceeded quite smoothly.
There were cracks in the veneer, as we all later learned. The musical performance we were serenaded to was, in fact, not live and was a pre-recorded segment. Some ticket holders got stuck in the “Purple Tunnel of Doom” and never made it to their seats. The bungled oath of office administered by Chief Justice Roberts may not have been legally binding and thus not the exact moment Obama was sent into office.
Is this an omen of the Obama Presidency? Hopefully not. As a true cynic, I already have visions of the day when the honeymoon wears off. You know, the part of the movie where the screen says “One Year Later …” and a harried White House spokesperson is defending the administration against corruption charges/botched political moves/war/you-name-it.
For one grand day, though, we were able to shrug off our mundane concerns and all of us celebrated a most historical moment.
And I will never forget the day I was there.