Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My O-naugural Adventure

Let me start out by saying that D.C. is a lovely, historical town. The culture is a weird combination of Southern Hospitality and New England Practicality that I really appreciated.

I don't think I would appreciate the Obama inauguration quite as much if I hadn't been there. It was as close as my non-believers heart will come to going on a pilgrimage that I suppose I'm going to get. But I met a lot of people there during my long cold march to the National Mall that had been there at MLK's original March on Washington and it was very touching, to use a trite turn of phrase, to see them there again.

Also, the reality of slavery as an integral part of the history of this country is physically real in a place like D.C. in a way that it isn't in New Mexico. If you go into Virginia there are houses with courtyards where slaves were auctioned, tunnels still visible where slaves were led from the docks into town, and various other physical manifestations of slavery that I'd never really seen up close that made it all so real and haunting and creepy for me. I got a little teary-eyed on a few occasions, to be honest.

Here are some key moments from my trip. One of the first days we were there we went down to Union Station to watch the crowds arrive and ran into Code Pink.

Yes We Can block a stairway!

That same night we wound up in Georgetown, where I got a glimpse of the famous "Exorcist Steps" and also some baklava at the King of Falafel and Cheesesteaks, which I think is the randomest two things to be king of.

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Then, the Inaugural Day!

So, I'm sure you saw on the news, but it was cold. Really, really, really cold. I really can't emphasize how cold I was that morning. Anyway, I set out from the place we were staying to a friend's office very close to the mall, one street over from the place where cars were no longer allowed to drive. This was only like two blocks from the National Mall, so I was expecting a really short walk.

However, what no one told me was that it was blocked off for a good long way so what started out as a short jaunt turned into a two-hour long march in the freezing weather which redirected 2 million people down towards the Washington Monument. Once I got *there* there were so many people packed into the place you literally couldn't move forward any more. This was "crush capacity" defined. Also, I got separated from the people I was with and was mildly lost. Somehow I found myself almost down to the Jefferson Memorial (which is far, and cold) before I was able to escape the crowd and move around freely again. I turned around and started walking back, totally bummed that I would apparently be missing the big event.

Parked in front of the Holocaust Museum, however, was a big black SUV outfitted with TV screens facing into the street. The guy inside turned on the screens at like 11:45, just in time for me to walk by and catch the ceremony! A crowd formed around the car that had to be, like 200 people eventually. And this is how I experienced this totally historic moment.

Not what I was expecting, but I wouldn't change it for the world. I felt totally connected with the strangers all around me. I laughed, I cried, I froze. I heard a few other similar stories, one where I guy realized he wasn't going to make it though the crowds in time, called his friend back home, had him hold his phone up to the tv, cranked the volume on his speakerphone and let strangers crowd around him to hear. It's funny the ways people express charity in situations like that.

Anyway, after the big moment, I found myself back to the place where I was supposed to be and went to a nice party at a friend's posh apartment on the waterfront where I had some seriously delicious barley and mushroom soup while watching the various balls on tv.

Later that week I did the monument twilight tours. Did you know that on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King said "I have a dream," it's carved 'I have a dream?' Well, it is.

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I had no idea, and literally stumbled across it. That was pretty awesome.

Anyway, I did a bunch more stuff, but not everything I'd hoped to squeeze into the trip. There's so much stuff to see you'd need a month to get it all in. I'd love to bring Abbie back to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which I got to duck in to for about 45 minutes and was totally entranced by. I also had a half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl, which was worth the hour long wait outside in the cold.

So that's my Obama Adventure. I'm glad I went. It made it so much more meaningful than I think it would have been otherwise, to be in town for a historical moment where so many other historical moments have already happened.

School's started now, so blogging may be scarce. But I wanted to get this out.


belledame222 said...

Awesome report, thanks for bringing it. I'm glad even crowding around a limo TV (!) was still a bonding experience. I guess you're really mostly going for that, the crowd/bonding experience, not so much that one's going to get a better view/hearing of the live speaker than one would on the teevee.

Kristin said...

Yep, this is exactly why I wanted to go--to be around the crowds. Because I *love* DC at times like that. I was there (because I lived in the area) to protest the last inauguration, and I've gotta say... Even then, it was cool to see the community come together about how much we all hated Bush. People were crying on the metro the next day, and my roommate was comforted by some person she'd never met. I really, really, really wanted to be there for Obama. *sigh* But I wasn't sure I could handle quite that much walking...

I think you're right about Southern Hospitality/New England Practicality--that's probably why I didn't find it too much of a culture shock to live there. Although it can be a stifling place when one goes to school with all the "working on the Hill" crowd, I definitely miss that city. And *really* wanted to be there for this. Hopefully, I'll make it back down for a visit soon. Thanks for this post!

Kristin said...

By the way, did you make it to that concert with Springsteen and U2 and Mary J. Blige and everyone as well? I thought *that* sounded cool.

Vanessa said...

Alas I did not make it to that, but did hear it was cool.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Wonderful account, glad you had fun... I caught my death of cold at Reagan's inaugural, and it was nowhere that size. But yes, I remember freezing and walking, walking and freezing and walking and freezing some more...endless, endless... since all demonstrations were carefully cordoned off into particular "security areas"... and one of our group was detained for wearing chainmaille, of all things. Speaking of which, the whole motif was very old and regal--a conscious and deliberate "return to class" and old bourgeois manners. It was more like a coronation than an inauguration, so the Yippies always referred to it that way. I sometimes still refer to "Reagan's coronation" and have to catch myself. :)