The Inauguration Part 1; Half The Fun

I have been on trips where getting there was, indeed, half the fun. Going to the inauguration of Barack Obama was not one of them.

 

We had a plan for attending the inauguration, and though it did not include tickets to the event, it appeared infallible. We would drive to my mother and stepfather’s home just outside of Annapolis, Maryland the Sunday morning before the inauguration. We would stay with them, wake up on Inauguration Day, drive to the New Carrolton station (about 25 minutes away) and take the Metro in and out of DC. What could be easier?

Our inauguration travel crew consisted of myself, wife C., our nine-year-old son J. and my friend and co-worker H. As planned, we left my mother’s house at 7:00 am on the morning of January 20. We’d heard warnings on the news that Metro station parking lots would fill up quickly, so my brother-in-law, K, graciously agreed to drive us to the New Carrolton station.

 

Two days earlier, we had something of a trial run when J, H, K, brother R and I took the train into DC to attend the big pre-inauguration concert on the Mall. That day the New Carrolton station had plenty of available parking, and the only crowd we encountered was the one buying fare cards, where the line to each machine was 8 to 10 people deep.

 

Dozens of newly arrived port-a-potties lined the entrance to the station, awaiting the huddled masses yearning to breathe…well, you get the point. We bought our commemorative fare cards (with Obama’s face printed on them), including the ones we would need for Tuesday (a brilliant move, we were convinced) and boarded the orange line Metro train to DC without incident. We were on the Mall in less than an hour. The concert was good fun, though I kinda wish Garth Brooks had sung “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places.”

 

Getting home after the concert was relatively painless, as well. There was a bit of a crowd at the Metro station near the Mall, but nothing worse than the standard New York City rush hour. Piece of cake.

 

The team at Sunday's concert. We thought this would serve as a dry run for Inauguration Day. We were mistaken.

The team at Sunday's concert. We thought this would serve as a dry run for Inauguration Day. We were mistaken.

The morning of Tuesday, January 20, however, was a different story. For openers, I was not right physically. My stomach was extracting revenge on me for abusing it during a hearty chili, chicken wing and beer celebration the night before. I could barely touch my morning coffee. I feared the port-a-potties at the New Carrolton station might just come into play.

 

As we approached the station, highway signs advised us to bypass New Carrolton, and go to the next station down the line, Landover. STAY AWAY! KEEP GOING! SURRENDER DOROTHY!

 

We chose not to heed these dire warnings, figuring that the trains would fill up at New Carrolton, and we wouldn’t be able to get on at any of the later stops. This was the first in a series of bad decisions we would make throughout the day.

 

The police were not allowing cars to drive up to the station, so we had to walk from the main road. As we approached, my jaw dropped. There were hundreds, if not thousands of people crowded around outside the station, waiting to get in. Where were these people on Sunday?! I realized I would not be able to get even close to one the port-a-potties. I was at the mercy of my digestive system. Fortunately, my stomach embraced the sense of occasion, and did not give me any trouble the rest of the day. 

 

The crowd outside the New Carrolton station. A harbinger of things to come.

The crowd outside the New Carrolton station. A harbinger of things to come.

 

 

 

To make a long (and painful, tedious, frustrating) story short, it took us over an hour and a half to get on a train after arriving at the station. We were diverted from the station entrance, and sent up a (non-working) escalator into the rear parking lot, where a line that must have been a quarter-mile long extended into the far reaches of the parking lot.

 

Thankfully, that line moved pretty quickly, and as a result, spirits were high. A high-energy radio reporter from an Atlanta gospel station moved through the line, holding a tape recorder asking people where they were from.

 

“Ohio!”

 

“Virginia!”

 

“New York!” (that was us).

 

“Dallas!”

 

“Pennsylvania!”

 

“South Carolina!”

 

“Delaware!”

 

“Baltimore!” (big deal)

 

“California!” (big deal!)

 

The line to get back into the New Carrolton station was about 1/4 mile long.

The line to get back into the New Carrolton station was about 1/4 mile long.

Once we got inside the station itself, we moved quickly up the escalators and onto the train platform. The tremendous foresight we exercised in buying our fare cards two days earlier probably saved us all of five minutes.

 

We got on the next train to DC, and all four of us easily got seats. It felt good to sit down. We’d been on our feet for 90 minutes, and I figured we would most likely remain that way for the rest of the day.

 

The train was hardly packed, and when it pulled into Landover, five people calmly walked on board. We came to the awful realization that had we heeded the highway signs, we’d probably be on the Mall already. But no problem, it was now almost 10:00 am., we should still be okay.

 

H, C and J on the train heading into DC.

H, C and J on the train heading into DC.

The train lurched between stations as we crawled into Washington. The conductor announced we were being delayed because of heavy traffic in front of us. Far off in the distance, we could see the dome of the Capitol building. I pointed it out to J.

 

“That’s where Obama will be standing, right there,” I said.

 

“Really?,” he said in awe.

 

The conductor announced Federal Plaza station, where we planned to get off, was closed due to crowds. We wrestled with the decision of whether to get off the stop before, or the stop after. We decided the stop after, but it ended  up being a moot point, since the train stopped at Federal Plaza anyway, and we got off. Our second bad decision.

 

Rising up the long escalators to the bright light of day, we were greeted by a small army of Obama volunteers, identified by their bright red knit caps. “Ticket holders to your right, non-ticket holders to your left,” they shouted. Finally, some organization.

 

Being non-ticket holders, we proceeded to the left. There was a large throng of humans heading toward the Mall. The crowd was moving slowly, and we decided to venture off for a parallel route.

 

The streets were jammed with people heading toward the Mall.

The streets were jammed with people heading toward the Mall.

We zigged and zagged our way west (away from the Capitol Building). We tried to find the road less traveled, but, alas, there was no such thing. No matter which way we turned, we found ourselves in the thick of a slow-moving mob. This was especially tough for J, who only saw peoples’ backs for the better part of an hour (but didn’t complain). I held his hand tightly.

 

Throughout our tortuous journey, we encountered scores of souvenir vendors offering a massive spectrum of Obama-branded merchandise: T-shirts, hats, posters, calendars, coins, magnets, cups, mugs, pens, statuettes, bobble-head dolls, air fresheners (seriously), hand warmers (not Obama-branded, but a big seller) and more. The free market system was alive and well in Washington that day.

 

Only in America.

Only in America.

As we made our way along the southern edge of the Mall, the crowd got denser and slower. We found ourselves walking through a shadowy canyon of buildings. It was dark and cold. There were points where the crowd in front of us simply stopped moving. We were standing still. It was cold, dark and miserable. The Mall was to our right. To our left, there were small bunches of people who had already given up. They had perched themselves on trees, doorsteps, fire hydrants, window sills–anything with a slight elevation. I couldn’t tell what they were able to see, but supposed it to be one of the Jumbotrons that would broadcast the proceedings.

.

 

It was now 11:15 am. The ceremony was scheduled to begin at 11:30, with Obama taking the oath of office slightly before noon. I had serious doubts as to if we’d make it. The idea of having gone through all of this, and then not seeing the inauguration made me want to stick knitting needles in my eyes.

.

 

Then, just as the outlook was bleakest, we literally emerged into the light. Suddenly, we burst into a wide open, sun-drenched intersection. The crowd dissipated like a sneeze. We could see. We could breathe. The Washington Monument was to our immediate right. I felt like Joshua (as in the Generation) as we stepped onto the Mall. We were there.

 

I felt a warm rush of jubilation as C, J and I walked onto the Mall (H had to visit a port-a-pottie). The sky was a brilliant blue, and wide open above us. We felt liberated. It had been over four hours since we’d left the house that morning. I sent a text to my son, B, who was not with us, “We made it!” Of course, there was no way he could truly comprehend the sense of joy and relief behind those simple words.

 

 

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