Blog: Inauguration January 07, 2009

Inauguration 2009 —crisp and to the point

January 20th, 2009

By now, you will be tired of reading about long lines and throngs upon throngs of crowds.

By now, you will be tired of reading how cold it is.

By now, you will have heard that there were more than 2 million Americans on the Mall for Barack Obama’s Inauguration.*

By now, you will have heard his speech, maybe a few times, or have read it online and perhaps even printed it.

Here is what I saw, heard and experienced those two hours from about 10 a.m. to a little after noon.

First, I want to let you in on a small secret. Besides the two tickets from Rep. John Salazar’s office, I also received a press pass, thanks to the Daily Sentinel. I didn’t want to relate this before because several weeks ago I received an email from the inauguration press office that, alas, they had allocated all they had to allocate; then, just after the first of the month, I got an email that, yes, I had been selected to receive a pass. Not knowing for certain, I showed up at the Senate building office Monday and, yes, there it was. Public place: can’t do the Victory Dance.

This gave me the view that I had to this extraordinary event: about 600 feet from the Capitol balcony. (My son and his wife took the two Salazar tickets). While I certainly was not within shouting distance of the various entourages, I was certainly closer than the folks in the Orange, Blue, Silver, Green, Gold, etc., standing-only sections, and for that I am grateful. Plus, I got a chair. Note: having a press pass was NOT the same as having a pass with credentials. Those lucky folks got real close — like, just a hundred feet away or so. The press pass also got me two more levels of security screening — not complaining!

As the crowd to the west grew, then grew again, then seemed to double once more — and as the program began with the United States Marine Band — it was clear that this was not going to be a mindless celebration. Our Republic is nothing if not thoughtful, and these citizens were here to think about what was happening — indeed, what had been happening since election night these long two months before. Emotion belonged to that night; this day was about the nation’s business, crisp and to the point.

They were here not as screaming cheerleaders so much as respectful squires for their man, showing to the world that they were there. This was a witnessing, in a tangible way, not in an ephemeral or soul-saving way. This was a simple moment of bearing witness to a few things they care about. This was a more quiet and somber event than I expected.

President Obama’s speech seemed to reflect this mood. This was not Campaign Obama up there, this was President Obama. His speech was sober, and perhaps he was smart that he did not attempt to outdo some of his predecessors for “The Greatest Speech Ever” trophy. He was eloquent and focused; he did not flash his famous smile. I hope he hasn’t already lost it to the burdens of his new post.

The crowd chanted “Obama” a few times, but not in the manner, loudness or consistency of what you might expect. There were others here, in suits and nice dresses, senators and representatives, past and present. A Supreme Court justice or two. Musicians with cellos.

These folks don’t do “waves.”

I sat next to a young reporter from California. He said this was the most exciting day of his life, as an American, as a human. A woman behind me, who works as a congressional aide, said that Obama’s speech set the right tone. “It would have been wrong if he had come out saying all sorts of wonderful things — he had it down. It brings us to where we need to be, starting tomorrow.” I commented to one of the security guards that I figured he would be glad this day was almost over. “No, not at all, I’ve been dreaming of this day for months, it is GLORIOUS!”

I thought about that as I listened to Elizabeth Alexander recite her poem, followed by the Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery (his was a GREAT benediction, by the way); the temperature suddenly plummeted a good 10 degrees and the wind picked up. It was time to go.

No. 43 left the Capitol in the presidential helicopter, his last ride in that conveyance. He did not order the pilot to hover over the Mall, as some vacating presidents have, it shot as a straight arrow for the White House, where he was scheduled to leave one last time.

We left, an extraordinary exit, orderly, patient and understanding; it took more than two hours for the Mall to clear. I walked the extra half mile to a Metro station that I knew would not be too crowded, well, at least by Inauguration standards.

*Ok, for those of you who aren’t tired, we got up at 5 a.m. and reached the Metro station at 6 a.m. By then the line was about 1,000 strong, and this is for a Metro station. What would normally take about 20 minutes took almost an hour and half, the train was full and stopped regularly to wait for other trains. Veterans of the Metro proclaimed they had never seen anything like it. The temperature, once the sun came up, never got quite over 35 or 36 degrees.
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Read Grand Junction resident Vicki Felmlee’s blog about Barack Obama’s inauguration at GJSentinel.com.


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