Thursday, January 29, 2009

Inauguration 2009 – what an historic event! An all-encompassing, all-inclusive, buzz generating time!! The Washington DC metro area was ALL INAUGURATION ALL THE TIME for about a month prior to the actual day. The newspapers, radio, and tv stations talked non-stop about preparations, expectations, and general anticipation.

We were Obama supporters, so were of course excited by it all. But it the feelings seemed to reach across party lines – everyone was talking about it. That was cool.

My oldest sister Sherry and her son (my nephew) Jordan were debating coming to town for the event. Jordan is a huge politco and was a big Barack fan, so he really wanted to come. Sherry also wanted to be involved, but wasn’t certain if she should make the trip. Sherry, Jordan, and I all wrote our Senators the day the announcement came out about tickets being given away.

Sherry wrote to Senator Chuck Hagel (Nebraska Republican). Now, you should know that Sherry has a “special” relationship with Chuck. On March 21, 2007 David, Sherry, and I went to the Nebraska Breakfast (which we lovingly refer to as “Bagels with Hagel”). The breakfast is a long-standing tradition in which Nebraska politicians invite constituents to come and eat with them and listen to them present. Turns out, it is mostly for lobbyists. There were lobbyists from Nebraska there who lobbied for, I kid you not, DIRT. Dirt Lobbyists. We went around the table introducing ourselves and our reason for coming to the breakfast. Sherry ended up giving a very eloquent speech on the war in Iraq – she talked about the sacrifices of not only the military personnel being sent overseas, but their families left at home to carry-on without them. She explained that the majority of Americans make no sacrifice for this war, but military families sacrifice a ton and are not really appreciated for it. And she asked Senator Hagel to help bring our soldiers home.


(Chuck Hagel, Sherry, and Ben Nelson after the Nebraska Breakfast, 2007)


It was an impassioned speech! People cried. Even Sherry cried while talking, but she did not snot on her outfit (thank heavens). The Senator listened very intently and looked her right in the eyes. He spoke directly to her and thanked her for her sacrifice, the sacrifice of her husband, and their family. After the event he talked more to her, and an Omaha World Herald newspaper reporter interviewed her! (That is when she started to think that perhaps she should have kept her mouth shut and just let the dirt lobbyists speak, since her husband was a Colonel at that time and she wasn’t sure if she should be speaking out the way she did…)

Suffice it to say, Hagel remembers Sherry. Jim went to a speech Hagel gave in Omaha this fall and after it, went up to meet him. He explained that his wife had met him at a Nebraska Breakfast and that she had given a passionate speech about the war. Hagel said, “THAT IS YOUR WIFE?? I quote her all the time!!!”

The reason I give you all of this background, is because when Sherry wrote and asked Hagel for tickets, she got a reply saying that, because he did not run for office this time and would no longer BE a Senator come inauguration, he did not have any tickets to give away. All the Nebraska tickets would come from the new Senator, Johanns. Drat! There went her special “in”!!

BUT guess what? Just a couple weeks before inauguration a worker from Hagel’s office called Sherry personally and said that they had TWO TICKETS for her!!! Sherry had to book a return airline flight that night and call back the next day to confirm that she was for sure coming. When Sherry told me the news I thought she was lying! She had to hurry and get a Nebraska driver’s license, too, because to claim the tickets she needed to prove she was a resident (they just moved back there from Alaska).

So, with the promise of two inauguration tickets, Sherry and Jordan bought their airline tickets! I began hunting for inauguration week events that would be fun.

They arrived in DC January 16 – and it was go, go, go from the minute they touched down. We went straight from the airport to the Washington Monument, where we had tickets to go to the top and look around. It was a clear day and we could see a lot, including preparations at the Capital for inauguration.

We also bought our special Barack Obama metro cards that day so we would have them and not have to wait in line when the mobs arrived. Of course, we also needed them so we would look HIP while we took the metro.

Then we headed to Ikea, the store we shop at every time Sherry comes. It is a funky Swedish store that has everything from lingonberry juice (ewww) to furniture.

On January 17 we went to the Newseum to hear an author speak about transitions for past presidents and what he expected from Obama’s transition. It was interesting. We also looked around the Newseum and kept on the look-out for one of our favorite journalists (who is easy on the eyes) Anderson Cooper. CNN broadcast from the Newseum all week and he was there! We didn’t run into him – drat. I think everyone’s favorite exhibit was the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs. We didn’t have enough time to study all of them so another visit is in order. While there, we saw on the huge screen that Barack was finishing speaking in Baltimore and boarding an Amtrak train heading for UNION STATION – which we were near! We threw on our coats and rushed to the train station! No one knew when he was coming or where he would appear, but everyone was eager to see him! We staked out our place at Gate A. I was a firm believer that he would come in A… Others stuck to the theory of Gate G… Others screamed at the top of their lungs as if they had just been kissed by Oprah Winfrey, causing much excitement and stampeding to their area, for certainly Barack MUST be there, right? Wrong. In the end, he DID come to Gate A, but he never came OUT of gate A. He got in a car and left the station. Sherry and Jordan saw the motorcade!

This is me holding strong to the unfounded belief that Obama would appear.


That evening we went to see the “Capitol Steps” perform. They are a satire group that makes up new words to popular songs. They were quite funny! (For example, turning “Chatanooga Choo-Choo” into “The Chap That Thew His Two Shoes”. Hear it here (cut and paste): http://www.capsteps.com/ (scroll down and click on “streaming” by that song. It is worth the effort ‘cuz it is funny.).

Sunday, January 18 was the “We Are One” concert on the National Mall. We went early – the concert started at 2:30 PM and we left home around 10:00 AM. It was super cold out so we were dressed warm, but because of strict security couldn’t bring thermoses full of hot cocoa or coffee. The mall was PACKED by the time the show started, but we got there early enough to get pretty good seats. We grabbed a patch of grass on a little hill and had a jumbotron not too far from us (ok – full disclosure – it had a tree branch blocking part of the view – but we didn’t complain too much!). The concert was great!! There were tons of celebrities who performed – Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, and BARACK OBAMA even spoke! The crowd went wild of course. That was the biggest crowd we had ever been in. It stretched all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument! Here’s a photo of the concert (this is when Tom Hanks was speaking about Abraham Lincoln):


January 19 was Martin Luther King Day. We got up early to go to a DC pub where one of Jordan’s favorite morning shows (“Morning Joe”) was filming on location. We dropped the two of them off so we could park. When we walked back, we went right into the place, which was packed. We just told the security guy that we were looking for the people we were there to have breakfast with, which was true! However, we ended up right where they were filming the show, and Jordan was no where to be found! Turns out he and Sherry were stuck outside in a tent with people who had been there for a couple of hours and couldn’t get in! Oops! I snapped photos of people who were famous but I didn’t know so that I could show Jordan! Ha. Then we went and found them, and I finagled a way to get Jordan and I back in. It required a white lie, but was well worth it! He got the autograph of the lady he likes on the news!

That was also the day we were instructed to go pick up the official tickets!!!!! We were in a long line, but ended up getting pulled out by a kind guard who was letting military folks and police officers go in a different entrance that had NO LINE. What luck! Everything went super smooth and the tickets were BEAUTIFUL – engraved and fancy! Here is a photo of Sherry and Jordan outside Senator Johann’s office with their booty:


While in the office buildings, we saw the new Senator from Illinois who has been in the news so much, Burris. Jordan has a photo with him! (Sidenote: Blagojevich and his fancy hair got removed from office today.) And we stopped by the office of Alaska Senator Begich, who Sherry knew from Anchorage (oh yes – she has friends in high places…). It was so exciting wandering around the Senate office buidlings!

We also got to go to a great art gallery that day and see a totally awesome show of Obama inspired art called “Manifest Hope”. There was loud rockin’ music and two floors of magnificent art. Again, our timing was perfect! We didn’t have to wait in line to get in, but when we left the line was like a block long! It is hard to choose a favorite of the work showcased, but I will put the photo here of the piece that inspired us to go in the first place – it is a map of the USA and a picture of Obama made entirely out of Crayola crayons! We met the artist, too.


The evening of January 19 was EXCITING. Jordan and I were almost too wound up to sleep!!!! We got everything ready for the next morning – long underwear, multiple pairs of socks, fanny packs, hats, the all important list of everyone’s cell numbers and meeting place in case of emergency, etc. – because we were set to leave home at 4 AM on Tuesday.

And we pretty much stuck to schedule! We were out the door by 4:10 AM on January 20th. We parked the car near the metro and went down to get a train. But the first train that came was JAM PACKED. The doors opened, but we couldn’t get on! So after it left, we re-grouped and thought of another plan of attack; don’t all stand at the same door. We were set to be pushy and cram on the next one, but it turned out there was space. Whew. David and I got off on our stop and Jordan and Sherry journeyed on to theirs.

Our plan was to go to the Newseum. They were supposed to have a special “members only” line and said that doors would open at 10:00 AM. We had scouted the whole situation out a week before and knew what door we would go in, where we would rush up the steps, and the exact spot we wanted to sit in to watch the inauguration on the big screen and the parade out the floor to ceiling windows. We thought we were all set. But the security forces had other plans.

We tried to get to the Newseum but the roads were all closed off, even to foot traffic. It was still pitch black outside and freezing cold and we couldn’t get to where we knew we should be. We were only a block and a half away from the Newseum but we could not GET there. We even saw two Newseum employees stuck outside the barriers who couldn’t get to work! They would not let anyone through. We walked around and tried to find alternate access but there was not any. So we joined a huge mob of people at around 5th St and E St NW. We were in line to get through security and would wait til it opened at 8 AM.

This is us waiting in our first mob.

Then, around two hours later, a cop came and started telling people we were NOT in a security line, and no matter how long we stood there, we would NOT get access to the mall from where we were. No way!

This is when I had a wee bit of a melt-down. Not my prettiest moment.

So, we moved over to ANOTHER line. I use the word “line” very loosely, because there was no order whatsoever. It was just a big glob of people. A super big glob of people. And we weren’t going anywhere. 8 AM came. 8:15 came. 8:30 rolled around and we weren’t moving. Everyone was super frustrated and cold. The tall people in the crowd could see that down the hill, a line was moving. Word quickly spread that the security entrance down there must have opened already, while ours hadn’t. Lots of people started bailing to go join that line, which went through the 3rd Street tunnel (a very long tunnel for car traffic that goes all the way under the mall). Our line finally started moving verrrry slowly. It really seemed like the only movement was because people would bail and push their way out of OUR line to go join the other line, thus leaving a bit of space for the rest of us to move forward. (Note for those who have not followed the inauguration events in the news – many people in the 3rd Street tunnel were stuck there. They did not make it to the mall. Many of them had actual tickets, but couldn’t get out of the tunnel. There was no police presence and thousands were trapped. And no porta-potties. Color me glad we didn’t move to that line…)

After a while a cop on the PA system warned our mob to move back – she said we were crushing small children in the front of the line. The problem was “move back” is not a specific enough instruction when there is no line – there is no back! Everyone was facing different ways. It was a mess. But a generally happy mess!

We finally got near the front of the mob and a guy behind us started yelling, “Poussez, poussez!!!’ (“push, push” in French). Dude – stop with the poussez!!! Pushing while in a huge mob may work in the country where you come from, but here it tends to work best to “wait, wait” not “push, push”. Ugh.

We got through the narrow opening at the front of the mob around 9 AM. We knew the Newseum was close and wanted to be near the front of that line, so we set off running. But my feet were pretty frozen, and the slabs of ice on them did not enjoy the idea of running, so we sort of just scooted.

There was already a long line by the time we got there, but we joined it. This was a nice orderly real LINE. Now that is more my style! They started letting people in around 10:10 AM and we got in around 11. Our advanced planning was for naught, since so many people got in ahead of us there was no way our prime spot was vacant. We ended up sitting on the bridge of the second floor to watch the events on the huge screen. We were so thankful to get inside and get to sit!

The crowd was very excited and decidedly pro-Barack. There were loud cheers when we saw live video of him and there were jeers when Bush and Cheney were shown. (Note: we did not boo. In fact, I clapped politely at one point, which made the lady next to me give me quite the look. I explained, “I understand if you don’t like him, but he is still our president right now and we should respect that. Anyway, he is only going to be president a bit longer and he cant screw anything else up now.” She agreed not to boo, but said she refused to clap. Smile. Perhaps they should send me to the Middle East to negotiate some sort of truce there??)

We had a great view for the whole ceremony. I cried – how could you not? It was so moving! His speech was so inspiring. And ARETHA – did you see that hat?? Oh my! It was a phenomenal day.

This is us with our buddy, Barack Obama. This was taken during re-showings of the
inauguration – we didn’t stand up like fools during the live event.

We recorded a newscast of our take on the day at the Newseum studio. If you want to check that out, it is at:
http://www.newseum.org/batvr/batvr.aspx?item=batvr_video&style=k&guid=735f0fa0-d9ac-4b7e-92d8-7fd3d56f4bf0

If you watch the video, you will see a little fella who got to run around a lot that week. We call him “Lil’ Barack” and he is a finger puppet/magnet . He had his photo taken all around town! Here he is checking out the Capitol.

You, too, can have your own inspirational Lil Barack hanging on your fridge, and at less than I paid to get ours! Grin. He is on sale – go to: http://www.gadgetbargains.com/fm-upg-0644.html

Sherry and Jordan had been out in the cold allllllll day and hadn’t even sat down since they got off the metro around 4:30 AM. So by the time the inauguration was over they were DONE and headed to our pre-determined meeting place – Union Station. Little did we know the whole station was closed for inaugural ball or something. So they kept trying to call us but cell phones did not work well due to all the people. We finally hooked up and found them looking quite bedraggled in a small pub. We ate, watched CNN, and then headed back outside to find our way home. The city looked like a tornado had swept through because there was garbage everywhere. Around 1.8 million people had descended upon DC that day to witness history, and from the looks of things each of them left a complete newspaper on the ground.

We got to walk by the Capitol on the way to the metro and we could get super close! We were by the stage. It was neat to be so near where all the action had just taken place.

Sherry, Susan and Jordan at the Capitol – January 20, 2009
(Don’t Sherry and I have sexy hats?)

Back home in Arlington, we celebrated with fancy wine and the world's longest sparklers - waving them and hollering as cars passed by and honked. It was a sparkly end to a great day.

There you have it. President Obama has now been in office over a week. Our guests have gone home. The garbage has been picked up and the city has returned to normal.

I am so happy that we had this experience. I am glad Sherry and Jordan came – without them here I doubt we would’ve gotten in on so much excitement! We all got a lot of Obama tchotchkes. Most importantly, I am honored that we got to be a witness to history.

I would love to have you see our other photos from the week. Check out my Flickr site at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thompsongaines/

Look on the right-hand side, then click on the photo album that has a picture of the four of us outside the Capitol called “Inauguration January 2009”. It will show the photos in order.

P.S. – Sherry, you need to write YOUR experience of being on the mall! She and J even saw FAMOUS PEOPLE in seats in front of them. Like I said, Sher hob-nobs with the big wigs…

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