Last night we got home from a 5 day road trip to our nation’s capital, Washington DC. It was a long journey, 12 hours and 700 miles each way from Chicago, but I’m glad I went. Obama’s inauguration itself was definitely the highlight, being on the mall with about 2 million other people to witness the change of power and the beginning of a new day. It was also great to feel the spirit and mood of Washington – the town was excited, energetic, and happy.
Due to some car trouble, we didn’t arrive till late Sunday, missing the “We Are One” concert on the mall. The Sunday show featured Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, and more. It also included a nice Obama speech and a test run of the jumbotron video screens and security, among other things. Monday night we headed out on U street near 14th, and it was crazier than a friday night. Restaurants had 2 hour waits, there were hundreds in line to get ben’s chili, and street guys were selling obama shirts, pins, posters, and really bad art. We even passed a car just blaring obama speeches. Not knowing how U street normally is, this probably does not impress you. But trust me, you could feel the energy. We ended up eating at some Italian place with a clueless bartender as our waitress, but that did not stop our energy from doing “OBAMA!” cheers (yes, that last person in the pic is the exclamation point).
Tuesday morning we woke up at 7am at our friend Becky’s apt (border of Adam’s Morgan and Columbia Heights). We walked about 3 miles down to the mall, stopping for Starbucks and snacks. When we were about a mile away it was so crowded the entire width of 18th street was packed with people streaming in. We followed the stream to the Washington Monument, where 2 of our posse of 5 decided to setup camp. Bobby, Shayna, and I ventured on towards the Capitol, mostly just to check things out. We barely crossed 14th street at the north corner of the Mall (Madison Dr). I say barely because there were lots of camo-wearing army dudes that had zero understanding of crowd control and flow, preventing us from crossing easily. Or perhaps they intentionally wanted to funnel thousands of people through small openings, creating artificial crowds irritated and confused to why people weren’t moving, you know, for security reasons. After getting through that, we ventured on as far east as 7th street, which appeared to be impassable. We retreated to the carousel on the south side of the mall near 10th st and setup camp. There were tons of people, but for the most part you could navigate as long as you didn’t try to walk in front of a jumbotron, as you can see in this google satellite picture.
It was almost 10am by this point, and the jumbotrons had been replaying Sunday’s show for the last 2 hours, but now they were switching to live action. From 10 to 11am we watched various politicians and famous people arrive, including all those Senators, ex-Presidents, Bush, Cheney (aka Dr. Strangelove in a wheelchair), Bidens, and the Obamas. Everybody got cheers but bush/cheney, surprise, surprise. I was surprised that the boy scouts and girl scouts handed out thousands of little American flags for everyone to wave – very nice move. About 10 minutes till noon Biden was inaugurated as VP, then Obama shortly after noon (altho Chief Justice Roberts redid the oath). When Obama gave his 18 minute inauguration speech (nytimes interactive video), we all listened carefully. We were surrounded by a million people excited to be part of a new era, despite the fact that it was 22 degrees outside and we had been walking and standing for over 4 hours. I was moved by the speech, I identified with it, and definitely felt the moment much more so than if I was just watching it on TV at home. I won’t go into details of the speech, but I will say that I felt hope and inspiration, I felt a reconnection to our politics and policies, and I felt sober and ready to face the future. I was not alone, and many were moved.
After the speech we started heading out, fighting confused crowds and poorly designed routes to our friends Becky and David by the Washington Monument. Then we ambled incredibly slow on the massively crowded 18th street back towards Becky’s house. We stopped to eat, rest, and warm up at a nice mexican mexican restaurant – sitting and eating never felt so good. The rest of the night was uneventful, followed by a 11 hour drive home Wednesday (9am to 8pm) with our driving buddies, John and Cat. Go Team.
YES WE CAN.