You may have heard, but…there’s a new sheriff in town!
By ‘sheriff’, of course, I mean President. Wee and hurrah! And as some of you know, I—yes, I—was there to see it happen. Jjjjjjealoussssss?
I had been planning to go to the inauguration since election night, but a handful of circumstances caused me to rethink my plans. But as Monday rolled around, and the TV and newspapers and blogs were chock-full of non-stop coverage of the inauguration preparations, I became sadder and sadder that I wasn’t going.
Later that day, I sat in the apartment of dear friend, Gospel reader, and occasional Gospel feature player I've mentioned in past posts with the names Adorable Southern Belle Roommate with Kicky Pixie Cut, or ASBRWKPC, and Some Horrifically Long and Convoluted Acronym that I Now Cannot Remember and Am Too Lazy to Look Up, or SHLACATINCRAATLTLU, and whose actual name is Laura, watching the television coverage. “God,” I sighed, “I cannot believe I’m not going to this.”
Laura turned to me from her computer. “Let’s go.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said sarcastically.
A few keyboard taps and mouse clicks later, Laura turned to me again. “We are renting a car for one day for $74. Get your shoes on. We’re going to LaGuardia.”
“What?!” I exclaimed. “You’re crazy! You can’t just GO to an inauguration!”
“Why not?” Laura said.
Flabberghasted at her nerve, I followed orders, and two hours later we were screaming down the New Jersey Turnpike singing Cyndi Lauper’s (no, NOT Celine Dion’s, CYNDI LAUPER’S, thank you very much) “I Drove All Night” and naming our trip The Midnight Ride of Barack Obama. (Technically not a good name, since Paul Revere actually DID his ride [well, depending on who you ask] and neither I nor Laura actually IS Barack Obama, but it has a certain kitschy Americana feel about it, doesn’t it? The name stays.)
Speaking of, a few pointers I’ll offer, in case you plan on attending a future inauguration, or any other event in which you’ll be spending a good 8 hours standing in 20-degree cold.
1: If opportunities such as this:
present themselves, do not mock and make fun. Do not titter at the trashiness of it all and take photographs at 3 in the morning. Rather, I would advise you to go inside and purchase AS MANY TAQUITOS AS YOUR WALLET WILL ALLOW. Procurement of food at the event will require standing in a three-hour line, freezing your genitals off. Don’t try to keep it classy. EAT THE TAQUITOS.
2. WEAR EVERY ITEM OF CLOTHING YOU HAVE EVER OWNED EVER. Do not be concerned, as I was, that you may become too warm and will be faced with the irritating task of removing a layer and tying it around your waist. IT IS A SCIENTIFIC IMPOSSIBILITY.
Allow me to demonstrate. This was Laura as we boarded the DC Metro at the start of our day:
See how happy she is? So excited, in two sweaters, a down vest, a down coat, two hats, an available hood, a scarf, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks, and a pair of Uggs (and DON’T JUDGE on the Uggs, because THIS sort of event is what Uggs are INTENDED FOR which thereby makes them okay. Also, Laura bought hers yonks ago before anyone even knew what they were and when you still could only import them from Australia using PayPal). In our new president’s parlance, she is FIRED UP! READY TO GO!
Now observe our Laura a few hours later, after huddling in the Mall in a pre-dawn deep-freeze, and with FOUR HOURS still to go until the shindig even starts.
No, Laura is not a Muslim. She’s just nearly frozen to death.
And finally, observe our Laura yet two hours LATER—mark you, with still TWO HOURS more to go until the world changes.
Am I making my point clear? WEAR EVERYTHING YOU OWN. EVERYTHING.
3. Do not be tempted by silly souvenirs or commemorative come-ons.
That money is better spent on buying AS MANY TAQUITOS AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY SWALLOW, or on purchasing EVEN MORE CLOTHING to add to EVERYTHING YOU OWN.
You’ve been warned. Because the fact of the matter is that Laura and I were SO cold and SO hungry that, for both of us, it’s taken until today for our basal body temperature to return to normal, and for the rest of the day Tuesday we both developed appetites akin to, say, a 7-foot-tall pubescent high school linebacker. Hence, our trip home took eight hours, as we were forced to stop roughly every 30 minutes for either coffee or food or both. A quick tally of our homeward-bound menu:
An entire box of Cheez-Its, shared.
A bag of peanut M&Ms, shared.
An entire bag of cinnamon almonds, shared.
One gigantic meal at Cracker Barrel, each.
One Chick-Fil-A value meal, each.
Serious discussions about stopping at a rest area for one Cinnabon, each (mission eventually aborted).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Laura and I arrived in Maryland at about 3:00 am, and after Laura finally convinced me that a brief cat nap in the car was a horrible idea, we got in the long, long line to board the Metro.
Finally, shortly after 4 am, we zoomed into Washington, where a mob—there’s no other word to describe it—had filled every square inch of the L’Enfant Square station. But a fired-up, ready-to-go mob.
We walked up to the Mall, the gleaming pre-dawn illumination of the Capitol lighting our way.
At about 6:00—an hour ahead of schedule—the crowd decided to break down the fence around the Mall, and we were in! And by sheer stroke of luck, we ended up as close to the Capitol as you could be without a ticket!
(Actually much closer than it looks--iPhone cameras leave much to be desired, of course.)
After a few hours of shivering, in a stunning bit of symbolism, dawn began to break over the Capitol.
And after 5 loooooooong hours of huddling in the cold, finally, at long last, the ceremony started.
I know sincerity is not what you come to this blog for, but you’re going to have to give me a minute. Because this truly was one of the defining moments of my life—and I realize that sounds very sanctimonious and melodramatic. But folks can roll their eyes all they like—this was a day of history, a day of paradigm shift, that changes everything. And to have been there—despite my half-joking attempts at rubbing it in others’ faces—was nothing if not humbling.
It was Aretha Franklin’s duet with her hat on “My Country Tis of Thee” that finally did me in. Not because she sang so beautifully, but simply because of the symbolism of her performance. Here’s a woman who lived through the Civil Rights movement, and to an extent was one of the voices of the Civil Rights movement, now onstage at the inauguration of the first black president. It was a moment of things coming full circle.
On one venture to the porta-potties (ugh), I passed a group of four generations of one family—an elderly woman who looked to be pushing 90, her daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter—huddled in the freezing cold for five hours to watch this happen. I teared up as I realized that, here amongst me in the crowd were generations African Americans, some of whom were surely standing on this same Mall 40-some years ago listening to Martin Luther King speak about his dreams, now watching those dreams come to fruition.
As Barack finished his oath of office, two women in front of us who I’m pretty sure didn’t know each other before Tuesday spontaneously embraced, rocked each other gently, and cried. And I don’t mind telling you I began to weep. I wept for the opening of a new chapter in my country. I wept with relief at the ending—finally—of a dark period of cynicism, dishonesty and recklessness, one during which I have felt like an unwelcome stranger in my own country. I wept at the dawning of a new era of inclusion. I wept at the righting—at least to some tiny extent—of a 500-year-long pockmark on our country’s history. And, as a parallel metaphor for my own life, I wept at the delicious confirmation that idealism and the possibility of realizing insurmountable goals are not dead, and that belief in both is no longer naïve.
There’s no telling today what the next eight years’ tomorrows will bring; they surely won’t be easy. But regardless, on Tuesday, I, nearly two million others at the National Mall, and untold sums of others worldwide wept joyfully for all the things that have finally arrived and the myriad possibilities still to come.
I can’t believe I almost missed it.