Our Inaugural Trip
Four years ago, I was on maternity leave with Amos, and watched the 2009 Inaugural from my mom’s couch. Sure, it was warm and we had good snacks, but I was sad to be there. It’s not that I feel driven to be at other Inaugurals, it’s just that we had spent a significant portion of 2007 and 2008 campaigning for Obama and then Amos had been born on the day he was elected and, you know, we had a connection. Plus, we are Luos. You have to believe me when I tell you that I actually do reject some of the crazy ideas I have. Not all of them, but some of them. So although I would have loved to have been at that Inaugural, I had rejected the notion of bundling everyone in snow gear and heading to the Mall (a 7 hour drive from our house). It wasn’t even the notion of having a newborn out in the cold for a couple of hours that I couldn’t do. No, it was the vision of being alone with a baby strapped to me and in charge of a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old in a huge crowd. THAT is what didn’t compute. What if someone had to go to the bathroom? And let’s not kid ourselves, someone would have had to. But on that couch 4 years ago, I said to myself “we’ll be there next time.”
You can imagine my chagrin at the first debate when Obama was not responding to his opponent–I thought he was going to ruin this for me. Good thing he didn’t.
I put out my feelers to my DC connections about tickets and entered all the lotteries I could through my senators to try to secure some tickets. Believe me when I tell you that I do not have high-placed connections, but in my experience, people in DC sometimes have access to stuff, so I put it out there. My sister, Anne, came through pretty quickly with a pair of tickets and offered to take the boys to the un-ticketed area. That was very kind, and I’d like to think that, had it come down to it, I would have insisted that we ALL go to the un-ticketed area. But it didn’t, she came up with 5 tickets and did some research about the logistics. It was so nice to be going with a local!
We decided up front NOT to try to be there when the gates opened to secure the “best” spot–I was plenty happy just to be there. We decided on a time to leave and were actually ready a few minutes early. The metro was not jam-packed, but neither was it empty. It was clear that most people were headed down to the Inauguration and people were even offering each other advice on routes–it was a very fraternal feeling. We did have to wait on the train for quite a while as the trains ahead of us were delayed. Once we got out of our station, we walked through those afore mentioned blocked streets–pretty wild to be walking on the roads in DC, especially with nearly everyone headed to exactly the same spot: we were all yellow ticket holders. At the first checkpoint, there were loads of abandoned drinks and things, but we weren’t actually checked there, just held back. When the flood of people in front of the gates had reduced, our wave was sent forward. The wait wasn’t very pleasant, since we were under an overpass and it was dark and no one really knew what was happening, but again, people were very friendly and generally excited to be there, and there was no very obnoxious behavior. At some point, the gatekeepers were ready to check our tickets and our crowd was funneled down to a stream–the scrutiny was not nearly as thorough as the teenage ticket taker at the movies, but there was a much bigger crowd with which to contend. Past these guys, we joined lines for security checks: metal detectors and bag searches. They made us turn all our electronics on and drink our bottled water in front of them, but it wasn’t bad. On the other side of those tents was another crowd. We were held back, it eventually became clear, for the Presidential motorcade to pass, but we didn’t really know why until it did. Then and only then did we enter the official “Yellow Gate.” Except since there was such a mass of people, we didn’t really know where we were going, and we followed one trickle of people into what turned out to be a more forward section than we had tickets for. Oh well.
We had plenty of space to sit on the grass and lounge and play gameboys. With binoculars, we could see the jumbotrons and the Capital Steps. And we could hear absolutely everything. Within about 10 minutes of our arrival, the action was on, and that seems like pretty perfect timing for a four-year-old. We really had a great spot, although I am sure it seemed removed to the kids and a bit unreal–I hope the time will come when my kids will be glad to have been there. For today, all I can say is that they were good sports for braving the crowd with us, and they liked the trains much more than the swearing in. President Obama’s “We, the People” speech really grabbed the crowd–not sure how it sounds in more static recordings, but in a crowd, it worked. It wasn’t as cold as I had feared and it wasn’t as arduous to slog through as we thought it might be. Again, much of the success of the experience is due to my sister, Anne. It was a much more pleasant and less difficult day than I had anticipated.
P.J. noted on the way home that Washington D.C. has lots of “brown” people. I have never corrected his accurate description of people as “brown” which is also the word he uses to describe himself; only last week with Martin Luther King Jr. lessons at school (my kids’ first lessons on racial discrimination, incidentally, which have hit both Lily and P.J. hard) did he hear the term “African-American”–a new group he fits into, in a rather different way than many. I agreed with him that D.C. does have a large “brown” population, and that there were probably even more today for the Inauguration. He is pretty sure that only Kenya has more brown people than Washington, D.C. But then, he isn’t even really sure that D.C. is part of America.
On the way from the metro to Anne’s house that afternoon, she mentioned that an original cornerstone of the District of Columbia was somewhere in this neighborhood and obliged me in hunting it down. This Virginia suburb is part of the land that the District gave back to Virginia (editorially, as a pre-Civil War appeasement, I think). Ingrates. Once upon a time, this had been a part of the vision of our capital city. I hope P.J. can remember that once upon a time, he and his brown skin fit right in to our capital and our country, too.