The Inauguration Part 2; Being There

The moment Barack Obama finished taking the oath of office, I turned to say something to C, my wife, but nothing came out. For one thing, I was too choked up to speak. But more important, I didn’t know what to say. There wasn’t a whole lot I could have added to the moment.


The people around us must have felt the same way. For the previous 30 minutes, there had been plenty of conversation, but at that moment, everyone was silent. Many people applauded (I would have, but I was holding up J, who at age nine, somehow manages to weigh 400 pounds), but that was about it. Everyone seemed to be simply savoring the moment.

C, J and I were standing beside the Washington Monument, about a mile away from the Capitol Building (which we could not see), and 300 yards from the nearest Jumbotron, which was like trying to watch a 12-inch TV on the other side of a crowded room. But we were there.


To the left of the flag is the Jumbotron upon which we witnessed history.

To the left of the flag is the Jumbotron upon which we witnessed history.

We watched the Jumbotron as the various officials made their way out of a hallway and onto the Capitol steps. There were various cheers and jeers for congressional leaders and former presidents as they were announced to the crowd. Around us, the Carters got a nice ovation, but the loudest was for the Clintons. There was silence when Laura Bush and Lynn Cheney were introduced. No cheers, no boos. They got a pass.


The people around us (about 75% African-American) booed Dick Cheney, when we was announced, but more than anything, there was curiosity as to why he was in a wheelchair. I speculated he forgot to charge his batteries the night before. When President Bush was announced, a massive shower of boos poured from the crowd. A lot of people yelled at the giant screen. “Good riddance!” “Thanks for nothing!” “Go back to Texas!” “And stay there!”


Someone near us yelled, “Go to hell!”


The man behind me said, “No, don’t say that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”


“Why not,” I said. “He’s done that to us for eight years.”


“Yes,” said the man behind me, “and someday he’ll have to answer for that. I’m a big believer in karma.”


There was silent appreciation during the musical performance. It didn’t sound recorded, but then we had the sound bouncing off the Washington Monument, which created an echo effect that was fine for the spoken work (sorta like Lou Gehrig’s speech), but kinda strange for the musical performances. I made sure to point out Yo Yo Ma to J, who is a burgeoning cellist.


To our left, the crowd surrounding the Washington Monument.

To our left, the crowd surrounding the Washington Monument.

After Joe Biden took his oath, there was applause and cheering. After Joe Biden gave his speech, there was a palpable sense of relief. He had not gone rogue.


Rick Warren’s benediction got more of a response than I would have expected, including applause at several points. Standing directly behind me were two elderly women who had traveled from Michigan by bus. They couldn’t even see the Jumbotron most of the time, and asked the tall man standing next to them (also behind me) to take a picture when Obama came on the screen. At several points during Warren’s benediction, one of the women muttered, “Thank you, Jesus.” It wasn’t something said in irony, nor shouted out evangelically for the benefit of the crowd, but a quiet statement of sincere and personal gratitude. This was a person whom, I suspect, was witnessing her prayers being answered.


Like Obama himself, everyone standing around me was a bit flummoxed when Chief Justice Roberts botched the oath of office, but immediately got past that for a muffled celebration when the new president finished taking the oath.


About every other person held a cell phone or a camera high above his/her head to document the moment. I was holding up J, and caught a glimpse of the Jumbotron around the mass of his coat. (Everyone in our immediate area had maneuvered so that the two elderly women, both of whom were barely over five feet tall, could see the screen.)


Obama held the attention of the crowd throughout his address. There were cheers at certain points–now louder than after the swearing in–but for the most part, everyone was intently taking in the new president’s message. On a couple of occasions, people near me were shushed for commenting during the speech.


When it was all over, there were smiles all around. While the day was cold, and the Mall was crowded, no one complained. I sensed a feeling of disbelief. Did this really just happen? Some people began making their way off the Mall, but many, stayed put, soaking up the atmosphere.


C, J and I turned to our right, and began making our way off of the Mall. We reconnected with H, and moved toward the Metro. The next phase of our inaugural adventure had begun.





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