Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Inaugural Adventure

Hello all, it's good to be back. It's been nearly a week since my last post, wherein I promised inaugural stories and the like, so here goes:

I carpooled to D.C. last Monday with local musicians and campaign superheroes Doug & Telisha Williams, and we encountered an almost eerie lack of rush-hour traffic. We met up with some friends and former campaign workers and headed to the Old Dominion Brewery, which I highly recommend. After that, we parted ways and I spent the night at a friend's apartment on the campus of George Washington University--between myself and three other young Obamaphiles, it was a cozy fit.

We woke up the next morning at the harsh hour of 5:45 (though none of us really slept much) to bundle up and engage in some pre-inaugural festivities, including a champagne & orange juice toast (I believe the kids call them "mimosas"). We walked out of the apartment building around 6:30 into a street teeming with students from GWU--some of the young voters who finally showed up in 2008. From every side street, every alley and every building, the crowd grew, until finally we took over the street itself. Despite the frigid cold and the early hour, the air was alive with energy and enthusiasm. There was an incredible unity of purpose that everyone knew and felt without having to verbalize it. 

We walked the street--our street--under a quarter-moon and a few leftover stars, and there it was: the sun rising over the Washington Monument. Maybe the symbolism is just now hitting me, but it really seemed, figuratively and literally, that a new day had come. 

After walking the four blocks to the National Mall, the whole crowd began packing in like sardines. As it became clear that our spot on the Mall would soon be overwhelmed and since I had received Blue Gate tickets from Congressman Perriello, I figured I should escape the Mall while I still could. I set out for the Blue Gate and left my friends to certain immobility--I lost track of Megan first, and she disappeared as if beneath a giant human wave. 

I finally waded over to Constitution Ave and looked for my ticket area, which was wrapped around a federal building on the other side of a four-lane column that was the line for the Silver Gate. The best way to get there would have been to take Constitution until reaching 1st Street and working my way there, but the road was barricaded and blocked off at 3rd. Undeterred, I charged through to the Blue line; later my friend Ryan would comment that the crowd took on a life of its own, like a giant living organism snaking its way through the city, with everyone subject to the whims of everyone else. I had the same feeling more than once last Tuesday. 

After several hours of either standing still or moving at less than snail's pace, I finally made it through security on the other side of the gate, just in time for the swearing-in of Joe Biden. I couldn't see much because I was behind some frustratingly large trees, but I could hear everything perfectly. When Obama spoke, the crowd was completely silent--I sat and listened, wondering what would make it into the great inaugural quotes of history. All around, I saw a microcosm of the Obama coalition--I saw students and twenty-somethings and thought about my college friends who supported Obama in the pages of U.Va.'s Cavalier Daily or put up rally signs outside their Lawn rooms. I remembered the laid-off women who volunteered in between classes at the New College Institute, where they hoped to earn a more competitive degree. I remembered the African American voters who made phone calls and watched polls and probably never thought they would see this day.

All in all, it took five hours to get back to the apartment. There are many legitimate criticisms to make of how D.C. handled evacuating 2 million people, but I would much rather leave it here. Despite the chaos and confusion, it really was an excellent experience. One day I'll be glad to tell my kids and grandkids that I saw President Obama's (first) inauguration and that I was there when a new kind of politics came to Washington. I hope they look back and see the start of a truly great presidency.

1 comment:

JCWhite said...

Thanks for sharing this with us Max! I watched it all from the comfort of my living room, sharing the experience in spirit.!