I thought folks who couldn't make it to the Inauguration might want to see my daughter's and my trip from Baltimore to the National Mall on Inauguration Day. Our video version is posted on YouTube at:
We had quite a day. Since my wife and I were staying in a guest apartment in at our daughter, Jessica's building, we didn’t have access to an alarm clock. So I set my cell phone alarm for 5:15AM and Jess agreed to call me at 5:30AM as well. The cell phone alarm went off. I woke up pretty groggy but psyched, and took a shower and got dressed. I was a little surprised that Jess had not called yet and took a look at my cell to see what time it was. The stupid cell said it was 12 midnight so realizing it was a dead battery or something I turned it off and on again. After rebooting, the cell phone clock read 12:01AM and so did the clock in the kitchen. Ruh, roh. Went back to bed and did it all over again at the real 5:15AM. Still stoked.
Our trip down 295 from B’more to DC began before 6:00AM and we encountered little traffic! Phew. Our plan for DC was to park the car in one of the DC Metro’s peripheral park and ride lots in Maryland. Jess had a backup plan in case some of the lots were filled. We got to the Beltway/495 around 6:30 and were greeted by large signs notifying us that the New Carelton park-n-ride was already filled. Shoot. We decided to take a look to make sure and the notice was correct, the ten story giant parking garage was filled and guarded by flashing police cars. The good news, the traffic alert system was working properly. The bad news, it really, really needed to work well. Jess had an alternative route planned to the next park-n-ride, at Landover. We drove through back roads, past warehouses and businesses and pulled up to the Landover park-n-ride entrance from the west. Stretching to the east were hundreds of car headlights waiting in line for entry. We drove right in. Sweet. We parked, went to the Metro and were able to board the first train a minute later. The car was filled with a lot of excited campers. I spoke with one multi-generational family from Atlanta. The father and I worried out loud that we might not be able to get into the mall. His brother, who was sitting close by and overheard us, said to lots of laughter, "Remember, you don’t need a fish to tell a fish story. No matter what happens when I get home my story will end with me holding the Lincoln bible for the President." Unfortunately, for the folks at subsequent Metro stations on our ride, there was no longer any room on our train. We’d pull into a station, the conductor would announce that folks had to clear the doors or she would empty the train and take it out of service. Folks on the platforms looked dejected. Given the crowd on the Mall, I guess they all made it. DC transit announced that 200,000 people had entered the Metro system by 7AM. Yikes!
The train arrived in L’Enfant Plaza at 7:10AM where, apparently, all 200,000 Metro riders had congregated at once. We needed to go to this station because the only allowable entry to the Mall for non-ticket holders was from the south at the three gates on 7th, 12th, and 14th streets and Independence Ave. The New Carelton Blue Metro line is at the bottom level of L’Enfant, so we had to march up the three levels to the street in a tightly packed, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. People were stoked. They were chanting Obama cheers pretty loudly in the station which I thought was supposed to have a noice canceling architecture...not so much. When we got to the ticket gate level, folks were having a tough time putting their tickets through the turnstiles for payment and exiting. The Metro agent came out of his ticket booth and opened up the turnstiles. Free Metro ride. I knew it would be awesome to have socialists in charge! The agent was cheered like a conquering hero: high fives and terrorist fist bumps all around. Despite the crowd, there was no pushing or shoving. Whenever we came to a bottleneck some of the young people would make sure to clear a path for the older folks (not me, Peter), It took around 25 minutes to make it to the surface at D Street and 9th. Shortly after this they closed the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and later trains would have to disgorge their passengers at stops further from the south Mall. They opened and closed high traffic stations all day as a crowd control measure.
People were everywhere on D Street. The line for ticketholders snaked past us from east to west, more than two miles long, I understand. Jess and I approached a couple of young women walking away from the Mall. They were from Texas; dressed more or less for Dallas weather and had been trying to get in for a couple of hours. They decided to head for somewhere warm to watch. Volunteers from the Presidential Inaugural Committee wore red hats and sweaters. We talked with one who said that the gates were closing quickly so we should head west for one of the outer gates. We did. We arrived at twelveth street which was packed side to side with people heading into the Mall. It seemed like we wouldn’t make it, but we did. The entrance was closed a short while after we arrived.
From 12th street and the Mall, the Capitol, a long way off, looked pretty small. It was really cold, 25 degrees with a wind chill of 10. Brrrrrrr. Nevertheless, folks continued to stream in and everyone was smiling and excited. A TV reporter and cameraman stood in front of us for a half hour and did interviews. In the video you will see a picture of Rob Jones (I think I remembered his name correctly.) He and his girlfriend were being interviewed. He looked nervous. After the introductions, Rob reached into his jacket pocket and whipped out a ring case. He took the ring out, almost dropped it, fell onto his knee and proposed to his stunned girlfriend on camera. She was really shocked. She said yes. He couldn’t get the ring on her finger because they were both shaking so much from the cold/nerves. Everyone clapped. The reporter was one happy dude since he obviously would have tape at 5 (Karin said she saw this on network news.) I talked to him later and he said that Rob had talked to him that morning and they agreed to the surprise, on-camera proposal.
About 50 percent of people on the Mall were Millenials, around 20 percent were African Americans and there were many large multigenerational families. Grandparents sucked it up for this one. From 8AM to 10AM, they played the Sunday concert on the Jumbotrons. When Garth Brooks sang "Shout" everyone joined in. Throughout the morning, there were waves of cheers that would wash from one side of the Mall to the other, O-BAM-A, Yes We Can, and Fired Up! Ready to Go!. By 9AM my toes and fingers were going numb. Despite wearing ski gloves and insulated shoes, I had feeling in three toes, four fingers and one thumb. Sheesh. Jess went to the Refreshment tent to get us some breakfast. Forty-five minutes later she returned with food and a $6 cup of steaming coffee which the folks we were standing with lusted after. I thought we would have to beat them off but they remained calm. We had also carriend in water. Fearing a one hour wait for the Port-o-John, I skipped the hot coffee. As the morning went on, folks tended to crowd in towards the Jumbotrons so it actually created some space where we were standing. I decided to stay on 12th near the gate in case the crowd got spooked and we had to exit quickly. At 9AM a message on the Jumbotrons announce that the Parade route was now filled to capacity with 300,000 and no one else would be allowed in, but folks could stay on the Mall and watch it on TV there.
There was a TV camera on a large, 100’ boom next to us on twelvth street. It would pan across the crowd and folks were constantly vamping for the camera. When the boom was fully extended it would cut a large arc over the audience. If you TVOed the CNN telecast, they took their crowd feeds from that camera and I think you can just see Jess and I if you look out into the middle of the crowd. Everytime cyclops came to life the folks near the camera would start vamping and when it went back to rest they would return to shivering.
There were many strategies for keeping warm. Many kids brought sleeping bags and they would huddle together on the ground. Folks wore all kinds of blankets. I saw several International Obama shawls draped over shoulders -- like the one with the Swahili inscription from Tanzania that Mike gave me for Christmas. There was a lot of dancing and hopping in place which folks tried to disguise as dancing to the music. One young man in front of us wore a light blue hoody and a thin wool coat and no gloves. He bagan uncontrollable shaking from early stages of hypothermia. His friends began giving him their gloves, scarves, and coats. He warmed up and seemed OK for the rest of the day.
As the morning wore on you could see folks begin to push toward the Junbotrons. This clumping is what you see on the satellite shot from Jess’ and my video.
After spending an entire day with one-million Millenials ( age <30 crowd), I’d like to complement you parents. You did a great job raising these kids. Without exception, they were well behaved, good natured, social, and respectful of their elders and the ceremony. They looked out for the elderly and children, and they, you know, elected Barack Obama.</p>
The Inaugural musical program began at ten. At eleven AM, I counted two toes and one finger left with any feeling. At 11:00 they began seating the dignitaries. The crowd cheered wildly for any Obama, heartily for Senator Kennedy, mildly for prominent Democrats, and for President Bush, they launched into yet another hearty chorus of "Nah Nah Nah Nah, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye" but were shushed by most of the crowd who was self policing for politeness. One loud reaction was to Vice President Cheney who entered in a wheel chair and was greeted with chants of "Darth Vader, Darth Vader". The audience went nuts at the first glimpse of the President-elect as he waited in the Capitol to enter the platform. It went double nuts when he walked out of the Capitol. The highlight for me was Aretha Franklin singing "My County Tis of Thee" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psp06SBFIzQ) to a hushed assemblage who took this as the people’s benediction. There weren’t many dry eyes among the folks her age (not me, Peter).
By the noon oath of office, more and more folks were moving forward toward the Jumbos to get a good view. By the time the President got to "I...", two million cameras were held up, aimed and covering history. The talk among a lot of folks was this was the culmination of what they had worked for during the past two years. I think the artist in the musical sound track of our video (from will.i.am) really captured their feeling. Not that they couldn’t believe it, but just that they wanted this confirmation. The post-oath cheers were a deafening roar heard together, but sounded just ecstatic and redemptive and relieved when you heard the individual screams. You can get a feeling for this on the video. Everyone was very quiet, focused and rapt during the Inaugural Address. Many lefty blogsters kept writing during the transition that the "Adults were coming to town.". I think that recognition was also part of the reaction to the Address. They saw it less as a soaring clarion, but more of a sobering acknowledgement that we needed to get cracking on cleaning up the mess on the floor before we were going to be able to dance again.
Jess and I left after the Address and before the closing of the ceremonies. We didn’t stay for the parade. I made a brief pit stop at the port-o-johns --- yuk (they could have used a few thousand more). Jess led us back to L’Enfant via some alternative routes and shortcuts through the buildings. When we got to the north entrance to L’Enfant folks were streaming away from the station which had been closed yet again. Jess led us against the exiting crowd flow and as we got near the street entrance and escalators, the police opened it up again. Several hundred people were crowding to get in, but there was no pushing. Folks shouted repeated warnings to ourselves of "Patience, people!" And, once again, whenever a senior citizen (not me, Peter) needed to get to the stairs, folks would open up a path.
The Metro back to Landover was crowded. Folks had lots of stories and souveniers. Some of the purple ticket holders couldn’t get seated because of the SNAFU at the Tunnel From Hell. One guy I talked to from White Plains had left home at 11:30PM Monday and driven straight through to DC. He arrived around 5AM and got a good vantage point on the Mall close to 4th street. After standing for a couple of hours, they got hungry and went out for a quick breakfast. Unfortunately, when they went back they were closed out since the Mall gate had closed. So, they went to a local hotel and watched in the bar for the morning, which sounded like a pretty good idea to me as I searched for feeling in fingers and toes. Turns out that a lot of people on the train saw the ceremony from the museums and buildings in DC that had TVs in their lobbies. While a lot of them had been unable to get into the Mall, many, it seems, just wanted to be in the District for the event. I don’t think the crowd counting included any of these attendees as they couldn’t be seen from the satellite. In any case, I’m sure they had great stories to share with their friends, because, after all, "You don’t need a fish for a fish story."