Inauguration Of President Barack Obama

Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
Trip End Jan 25, 2009

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today is inauguration day and we're all excited to be alive and able to witness this incredible event together. What makes this day so special? The answer is different for each of us. Some are thinking of those who came before us, who thought this day might never come ... or at least that they wouldn't live to see it. Many have not lived to witness this day. Others are thinking of those who will come after us. The sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews who will grow into adulthood not knowing the day when it seemed nearly impossible for an African American to become President of the United States of America. For them, this will be just one more fact in history class. For us, it means so much more.

"Is everyone awake?" Tiffany yells from the upstairs landing, just as my cell phone buzzes its 5:30 wake-up call. I'm not sure I really slept. My eyeballs feel as though they're covered with tiny grains of sand, and I immediately know that I'll be wearing my glasses today. Crawl out of bed, freshen up, get dressed and make my way downstairs to find a lovely breakfast spread that Tiffany has prepared -- bagels, bananas, grapes, juice and chicken (we need our protein). Everyone grabs a little something to keep the hunger away, but we're all a bit cautious about drinking too much. The thought of waiting in long lines on the National Mall to use a smelly port-a-pottie is enough to make me skip the morning beverages altogether.

Nikki, Tiffany's friend, arrives right on time and we all load into the cars and drive away from the house towards the Metro station in quiet expectation of what the day will bring. I imagine a sea of people clad in winter gear trudging through the streets of the District like a line of ants marching away with little bits of crumbs at a 4th of July picnic. Scampering here and there in orderly fashion, clumping every now and then to surround a particular point of interest, and then gathering at the main spot; the place where the big event will occur; the event that we've all come here to witness in person.

We could have watched the inauguration from the warmth of our living rooms while munching on microwave popcorn and guzzling Gatorade. But we're the brave ones, or the crazy ones depending on who you ask. We actually want to stand outside in the 15-degree weather (windchill notwithstanding), surrounded by 1.5 million other excited souls to witness the making of history -- the transfer of power from one American President to the next; the pomp and circumstance of the current and former dignitaries regally filing onto the inaugural platform; the swearing in of the first U.S. President who identifies himself as African American.

So here we are, boarding a metro train at 6:30 a.m. with a few hundred strangers. People are friendly this early in the morning, probably because none of them are headed to work. We're all here to be a part of history. A woman beside me accidentally steps on the foot of the guy behind her. She apologizes, and the fella tells her it's no problem, really. Would this happen on a "normal" day, I wonder. For the entire 30-minute ride that includes about a dozen stops, the metro riders make room for more happy people to join the "love train" and we jiggle, bounce and bump along the tracks engrossed in our own private conversations, slightly overhearing the chatter among the others.

Exiting the train is like being in a scene from "The Blob," when all of the people rush out of the movie theatre as the giant glob of goo fills the building and bursts out in search of people to gobble. Okay, maybe it wasn't that dramatic. Actually, people were quite orderly, making their way in a joyous swarm to the escalators, at which time a quiet chant of "O-Ba-Ma!, O-Ba-Ma!, O-Ba-Ma!" suddenly swelled to a loud cheer for the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States. This is so great!

As we file into the streets (I have no idea what street we're on), we're met by a gentleman yelling for ticketholders to go one way, and non-ticketholders to go another. Our small group walks a short distance together and then with hugs, we depart to our separate areas. "Take lots of pictures," is the last thing I yell to Don, then Michael and I are on our way to find our spot. Honestly, I feel like a robot following the crowd that doesn't really seem to know where it's going. Down this street, turn the corner, under an overpass, around another corner, go this way, go that way. I hate being a follower, but I have no choice right now. At least Michael seems to know where he's going. We pass a white guy and two black women hugging and I overhear the man tell the women that he only has two passes to the blue section; his family is some place else and he wants to be with them so he's giving the passes to the ladies. They are clearly overjoyed. That scene warms my heart. That's what this is all about.

After passing street vendors galore, we finally reach the National Mall. I'm hoping to get my bearings, but I'm really not that familiar with the place. How close can we get to the front? Not nearly close enough to see the inaugural platform. Find a spot near a jumbotron and speakers and settle in. It's about 8:00 and we have a long wait. They're replaying the concert from Sunday, which is good entertainment for the crowd. Everyone is singing, dancing and jumping around to stay warm, or perhaps just out of the sheer joy of being there. We greet our neighbors standing near us and query them about where they're from and their reasons for being here. One young lady is from Germany, one from Colorado, a guy is from Virginia Beach, a man from Alabama with his children and grandchildren are all here. But why? It's all the same -- we're here to see Obama. We're here to be a part of history.

Hours pass like minutes and suddenly a children's choir sings, followed by the Marine Corps Band, then we see footage of the Presidential motorcade arriving, several dignitaries walking onto the platform and then the Obama girls, Sasha and Malia, with their grandma, then the lovely Michelle Obama with Jill Biden, several others and then the man of the day, Barack. He looks cool, or maybe nervous; I can't tell. People are screaming, smiling, some are crying -- including me. I can't feel my nose or my toes, but I know I'm here right now and that's all that matters. After all of the formalities, he takes the oath. A slip-up causes me to catch my breath, but the ceremony goes on and finally Barack Hussein Obama is officially pronounced the 44th President of the Unites States of America. Cheers, screams, shouts, cries. Strangers are hugging strangers. Everyone, I mean everyone is happy.

Almost immediately, many people -- including Michael and me -- begin to file out of the warm protection of the crowd and head for what we think is an exit. The program is still going on, but we've seen what we came to see and now I'm hoping to make our way over to the headquarters of the Credit Union National Association to view the parade. The streets were closed off hours ago for those hoping to view the parade from the ground. But Cindy, back at the office in Atlanta, was able to get me two passes (the very day we left town) to enter the secure area around the building so we could view the parade from the 6th floor in the warmth of their office. Unfortunately, that would not happen.

With the strategic crowd control in place and the multitude of street closings, there was no way we could make it to the office building in time to see the parade. So, instead, we opted to walk along with the crowd to the Foggy Bottom Metro station. My feet were sore from being so cold and standing for so long, so every step required more effort that it should have. Michael was complaining of a sore lower back, but we kept on walking like the Children of Israel heading towards the Promised Land (this was Michael's observation).

Before entering the metro station, I was tempted to buy a few souvenirs from the street vendors, but everything looked so cheap that I just couldn't bring myself to waste the money. I wondered if I would regret it once I got home. Probably not. I'm really not a collector of stuff, but I knew my niece Kristin would want something and I wanted to bring my mom a commemorative item. They would have to settle for the keychains and lapel pins I had bought on Sunday.

We arrived back at Jeff and Tiff's house just in time to see the parade begin. To our surprise, we discovered that it had been delayed due to the unfortunate collapse of Sen. Ted Kennedy during the Inaugural Luncheon. Hope he's okay.

Speaking of lunch, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, watched the Obama's stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue like royalty, and then bade farewell to the family so we could head back to Raleigh for the night.

This was undoubtedly one of the most memorable birthday trips I've experienced. I will never forget it.
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