At 4 in the morning I am just tired from a night out. I have skipped dinner, since we never made a stop besides at the three different bars. So on our way home I am pissed because we still cannot make a stop; I am agitated—I get that way when I am hungry. My boyfriend offers me some Doritos. Chips? Hey, I know we are broke, but we had money for the bar, and we have an important day ahead of us.
I'm just railing at myself, fantasizing about a slice of pizza, while he is just thinking of how to pull everything together. “We are just gonna grab my camera, and then we are out,” says he into the car. No one answers, but I am thinking to myself: “Yeah right, I am going to bed for about an hour or two—why would we be out in the freezing cold, when inauguration does not happen until 11 or so…” Later on, I understand why…
Once we get home, I stomp upstairs, pull off my clothes, put on my sleeping clothes and jump under the covers. My feet are ice blocks. I am not looking forward to a day out in the cold. Maybe we should not have partied all night, but it was like a reunion for us. Seeing those friends in DC we haven’t seen in a while.
Minutes later, my boyfriend storms into the room.
“Hey, get up, we have to leave, stop sleeping!”
“I am not sleeping, I just wanna warm up.”
“Ok, I'll give you ten minutes, and then you're getting up”, says he and slams the door.
By that point I know I have to get up, but I am just pissed, without really knowing about what. It must have been a combination of hunger, cold, and alcohol.
About 15 minutes later, my boyfriend storms into the room again, he yells something, but I do not remember what it is, something like I am gonna leave you here if you're not getting up. The next thing I remember is that he brings in the friend, who came all the way from the west coast for this historic event, to get me out of bed. I am embarrassed and just want them to leave the room. I know I am getting up, it just takes me a minute. They finally leave the room, and I am playing out what I am about to do next in my head. I know I am about to move the covers away, put one foot down next to the bed, then the other… shit it’s gonna be cold… then I will take off the sweats and put on the leggings, that should make it a little warmer under the jeans… I should double sock it…
The door opens again. It’s my boyfriend's mom.
“Babe, it’s time to get up”, says a sweet voice. I jump up and tell her, "I know", sounding more annoyed than I intended.
“I am just cold,” I burst out.
She says: “Oh, I am sorry,” like it is her fault.
“It’s not your fault,” I say, “but I have been cold all night”.
My boyfriend who steps into the room right at that moment hands me one of his long sleeve shirts.
“Here, you can wear this.”
A nice gesture I think…
His mom gives me a peck and tells me that she loves me. I am hoping she did not taste the alcohol breath of mine…
By time I get downstairs I feel all right with the six layers I am wearing. I am hoping that I will still feel that way outside. Fortunately by that point my spirits are lifted, and I am excited to become a witness of the day. After we scrape up our other friend from the floor, and put him in the car, we are ready to go.
Stocked up with some cookies and a bottle of water (which I did not want to carry at some points anymore, but which, as it turned out, was good thinking because it did provide throughout the day) we are getting on the train. By that time I am feeling kind of dizzy. Fortunately, the stop we got on turned out to be great, because for all the following stops the door opens on the opposite side from the one we got on. So after a couple of stops, and the radius of space around oneself decreasing with every single one of them, I feel crankier. I knee down and against the door—I am so lucky it does not open. At some point I feel like I have to throw up, but I am trying to focus on bigger and better things. I cannot believe how many people are out-and-about at 6 in the morning. I cannot believe it’s already so packed. I am successfully distracting myself enough and manage not to throw up.
Glad to be outside, we start walking. The sidewalks are packed with people, it feels like we are on our way to a protest. Young and old, parents, children, friends, families, everyone is out it seems. Have I ever seen the streets of downtown DC so packed? I do not think so. We are walking toward 5th Street, hoping to get to the National Mall. But more and more streets are being shut down, preventing us from making it to The Mall. Once we get to one block, we are told to walk up another two. After approximately one and a half hours of wandering around we are not sure if we will even get to The Mall at all.
Two of our friends suggest to just stay where we are and look for a good spot to watch the parade. I am asking myself what a presidential parade looks like. It’s when the president passes the people in his car after inauguration,” explains one of them. Oh, okay, that makes sense, and I wonder why I have pictured marching bands and candy.
Some of us, including me, want to see his speech, so we decide to keep walking. We finally get to a road that is not blocked off, which enables us to walk directly towards the Monument. By then we realize again how many people we are. It's almost like we are walking in line, and in front of us is the Monument. A real DC backdrop, seeming like a coulisse, except it is real. I snap some pictures, hoping to grasp what I am seeing. Once we are on the mall it turns into a sunny morning. Now, I feel like Woodstock for some reason. Not that I have been there, but I feel love. I feel like we have all come together, not only for a political event, but also to demonstrate “we are one people”. We find a good spot, close to a jumbotron.
We just sit down in the dry grass, and observe our surroundings. I notice a young couple that brought blankets, and food. They are about to picnic -— smart, I think. Sometimes it is good to be prepared. Anyway, I take a sip of my water. I am feeling comfortable. The sun is shining, I have some water, I have a good view of the screen, and Obama is about to be president. The comfort level is about to fall again, when it becomes more and more crowded. People now stand right in front of us, blocking our view. People behind us are getting closer. We have to get up. It is only 10 am. We just watch the ceremony. It’s kind of boring, but one can feel anticipation in the air. I try to take pictures of the crowd, but I realize everyone is taller than me, so I can’t really aim the camera to pick my shots. I give up on taking pictures and try to watch the screen, which is kind of hard because people in front of me do not stand still, so every time they slightly move I have to move too, to find another gap. It’s cold. I ask my boyfriend to get close to me, but he says he can’t because there are people behind me that he does not want to block their view. I can’t believe it. Why does he always have to be the considerate one?
By the time the musical performances are on, I decide to jump with the music. Not only does it help with the cold, but it also lifts up my spirits again. I am ready for Obama to do the swearing in, and so are thousands of people with me. When he finally comes on, everything happens so quickly. The crowd becomes really quiet, in between important actions, people cheer.
Then his speech.
Wow, I actually feel proud for this country. I feel proud for a black president. I feel proud for everyone who voted. I am wondering if he will deliver an emotional speech, and if so, will people be crying? It turns out he did not, and I am glad he didn’t. I did not want people to be emotional, but happy. Retrospectively, I also think he is the president, a person of respect, who has to preserve neutrality. However, I am sucked into the moment. Looking around myself, trying to make out what others are thinking right then. I take pictures of peoples’ faces, almost feeling I am invading their privacy. My attention alternates between looking into peoples’ faces, and the screen, which broadcasts the speech. Before I get sucked into the moment, I decide to step outside the bulk of people to get an outside view. I am glad I did miss the end of the speech, because what I am about to see from outside is very significant to me.
First, I am able to see on ocean of people, I take the camera and hope to grasp the ocean. I think I did. After the speech, I capture people cheering. It is an overwhelmingly happy moment. I focus on this middle aged black woman wearing a white overcoat. She is cheering, waving her arms, just like everyone around her. For some reason she stands out, her white coat floats with her movements. I realize there is a reporter next to her, smiling at the scenery, taking notes while observing the very same woman.
This moment of happiness is one of the most powerful I have ever witnessed. It felt like I had just unwrapped a gift that I always wanted to have.
After moments of highs, the tiredness sets in, I feel hung over again. We have just been out in the cold for about six hours. Now, we just want to get home. But that is when we realize how many people we are again. For the next two hours, we only move inches per minute. One cannot make out how many people one is surrounded by. I am amazed that no one has panicked. Definitely not the place to be with claustrophobic tendencies. I have never wanted to get out of a crowd so badly. Still, people remain in good spirits, and I get that Woodstock feeling again.
My first inauguration will probably be my last, unless they move it to the summer. I feel like I have been there, but I have not actually gotten an idea of what really went on that day. I still do not know how many people came out.
I am glad I was able to share this moment in history with so many people. But it’s just like with gifts. The anticipation before opening it is often better than the gift itself. Not knowing what’s inside, then getting to unwrap, and although it creates a moment of joy if it was something that was desired, the anticipation and joy fades fairly quick (not that Obama being the president is joy that faded, but the anticipation of the day more so, made it fly by, and before one can actually take it all in, it is over…)
Next time, I might stay at home, watch it on TV, with blankets and lots of food, knowing that there will probably never be a more significant inauguration that this one. In case I decide to go again though, I will be prepared, and not party through the night before…