Sunday, January 25, 2009
The Inauguration is finally over and the 1.8 million strangers who spent four days here stepping on my toes have all gone home! The city is settling back into its normal levels of insanity and I have a new boss. Granted there are several hundred people on the org chart between me and the Secretary of State but I'm definitely down there at the bottom somewhere. From her first meeting with State Department employees, SecState Hillary Clinton, apparently, believes that diplomacy should be conducted by the country's diplomats and not by its Armed Forces. She's even talking about giving us the resources to do our jobs. What can the woman possibly be thinking? Insanity indeed!
It all began on Sunday with a concert (by assorted celebrities) and speech (by Obama) at the Lincoln Memorial. The closest I could get to the event was the WWII Memorial and I never did find the friends I was supposed to meet. Although my cell phone wouldn't work, everyone else's seemed to and I was surrounded by people shouting into phones, "I'm by the fountain!", "I'm wearing a black coat!", I'm right next to the woman waving her hat!" This proved to be only marginally useful because there were several hundred thousand people by the fountain, two thirds of them wearing black coats and every woman in DC was waving her hat! The cell phone shouters, bless their souls, continued to bellow and gesture wildly in the hopes that their black coat and hat waving woman were somehow distinguishable from all the others. A mating orgy of a million geese would have shown more decorum.
The 500,000 people in my immediate area and I were watching everything on a Jumbotron and it occurred to me that a) I would see and hear everything much better by sitting on my couch watching my tv and b) all these people were going to leave the Mall at the same time as soon as the concert ended. So I bolted and caught the speech on tv while enjoying a cigar and a cold drink. But I was there, at least for the start of the concert.
Half a Million or so of my new best friends!
On Monday night I put on my tux, snapped the red silk suspenders into place and went to the Illinois Inaugural Ball with some friends from Islamabad. The Ball was held at the Renaissance Hotel and to get in we stood in line to get into a line to get to the line going into the hotel. At one point we made it into a tent where, six across, we shuffled back and forth in a snaking line to the door. Once we actually got into the hotel, we were shunted into a line for the mandatory coat check and then into a line to the escalators going down to the first of three floors hosting the Ball. Obama and Oprah were both there, but we couldn't get to the floor they were on. So my fear of having to stand around making small talk with Obama was for nothing. Still, we had a lot of fun just being there. There were open bars everywhere and plates of finger food appeared here and there. Although we could get to the bars, the food trays disappeared like grain under a cloud of locusts. The tickets to the Ball were $300 and, once in, the drinks were free so my friend Aidan Liddle and I made it our goal to drink that sum in brandy. I finally admitted defeat and went home but I'm pretty sure Aidan accomplished his mission. I got home about 2:00am, caught a few hours sleep and then headed back to the Mall for the Inauguration.
I got to the Metro station across the street from my apartment at about 7:00am to give myself plenty of time to get downtown. At the station, I discovered that the only way to get onto a train to DC was to board one heading west (away from DC), go to the end of the line and get on an eastbound train there. Even then, I was standing and jammed up against everyone else. At one point we were so packed in that I thought I was going to have to "do the right thing" by the unfortunate woman standing right in front of me. Fortunately for her, the doors opened just as I was about to offer to marry her and 250,000 people got out of our car which gave us room to separate slightly. I needed to get to the Federal Center station but we were informed that they had shut down that station and the two before it because there were so many people on the street that people in the stations couldn't exit and there was no more room on the platforms for any additional arrivals. I hopped off about a mile from the spot where I was to meet a friend and began to work my way towards that area on foot.
I had two tickets in the reserved section and even though they were for the farthest back reserved section they got us into this tiny exclusive area. Enough people to populate a small midwestern state also had tickets for this 'exclusive' area so, once again, we made many many new friends. My friend and I connected outside the gate, against all odds, and we shuffled forward inches at a time until we found places to stand that had a fairly decent view of the Jumbotron. The hard part was over and all we had to do was stand perfectly still in our six square inches of turf for about three hours in the freezing cold until the ceremony began. My friend had hand and foot warmers while I resorted to shivering uncontrollably to keep warm.
Hand and foot warmers functioning perfectly!
There's Obama! See, he's in a black coat standing right beside a woman waving her hat!!
Being there was worth all the hassle and discomfort. It was quite an amazing experience to be in the crowd watching this Inauguration. There were 1.76 million people on the Mall (I arrived at this figure by counting their feet and dividing by two) and people were for the most part courteous and pleasant to each other. The crowd cheered Obama into office and then began the six inch shuffle towards the exits. At one point we were standing in the middle of an intersection unable to move in any direction for about fifteen minutes. People were amazingly civil through all this crush and frustration. I skipped the Metro and walked home. The roads and bridges had all been closed to traffic so the walk home was actually very pleasant once I got out of the main press of humanity. I made it home in time to catch the parade on tv and it was a somewhat strange experience to have my couch all to myself.
The Jumbotron Inaugural Speech.
The Inauguration was pure magic. I'm really happy that I was able to be here to see it live (by that I mean, of course, on the Jumbotron)! Expectations are incredibly high for Obama but I'll be content if he can manage to get us back onto a positive track in the next four years. I'm not asking for miracles. Of course, if we begin to use diplomacy instead of guns we run a very real risk of having peace break out.