By Molly Cameron
This historic Tuesday I was lucky enough to be in Washington, D.C. with my parents and cousin to witness President Barack Obama’s inauguration firsthand. Although the “witnessing” was by way of Jumbotron screens and through a sea of nearly two million people, it was an amazing experience. Here’s how the nearly 12 hours of cold history-making moments broke down:
5:15am: We left the house half asleep, wearing multiple layers of clothing, and carrying bags stuffed full of snacks and instant hand warmers. On the Metro I slowly started waking up and remembering what I was there for. Even at such an early hour people were smiling and saying “what a great day!” This would never happen on a New York subway.
6:35am: While on a Starbucks detour in Union Station we catch Garrison Keillor trying to print out his train ticket. Garrison, don’t get on a train! Don’t you know what’s happening right now??
7:40am: In order to get to the Mall we had to walk through the 3rd St. tunnel. The traffic-free streets made everything look like a bizarre, happy version of an apocalypse: masses of people filled the entire tunnel – some having trouble walking, some wrapped in blankets – but everyone smiling.
8:35am: We made it to the Mall but realized that we still had at least 90 minutes to kill until anything happened. I took the opportunity to see how many hand warmers I could stick inside my clothing. Answer: eleven!
10:35am: Finally some music and ceremony began and as the names began to file into place, the Jumbotrons cut between the inside of the Capitol and the politicos being announced outside. Highlights included Bush Senior’s giant hat and people on the stands not realizing the mics were on. I pondered aloud why Dick Cheney was in a wheelchair and a guy next to us answered “crippled by eight years of bad service.” Zing!
12:05pm: Barack Hussein Obama finally took the oath of office, to become our 44th President (although it technically became official at 12:01pm). To the 1.8 million of us on the Mall it didn’t even matter that we were watching it on a picture-delayed Jumbotron or listening to it on giant crackling speakers. Just being able to see the Capitol building and know that history was being made at that very moment was the most thrilling feeling. My cousin and I hugged complete strangers, which was not only heartwarming, but body-warming too. Amazing!
12:30pm: After Obama’s serious-but-solid speech ended, we began to make our way off the lawn. Even with ceremony over, the sense of camaraderie and pride was still in the air. It was freezing cold, most of the Metro stations were closed, and it was nearly impossible to get a cab, but hey, there was a new president! A president who won’t say, “misunderestimate!” A president who understands the real meaning of “disappointment!”
3:15pm: Finally back home, we recounted the day’s events again and again with the help of CNN. Today’s world of never-ending news cycles make an event like this so easily accessible and networks spit out instant analysis and statistics. Anyone with an internet connection on Tuesday was just one click away from a transcript of Barack’s speech or video snippets of the crowd. Still, making the trip to be there in person was totally worth it and was an experience that CNN could never replace. Plus, I now appreciate the awesome power of instant hand warmers. Oh, and voting.
Bonus: The following day, while killing time in a Starbucks before my bus, I ran into (most likely) new Minnesota Senator Al Franken in a Starbucks! He was in the middle of an interview, but I loitered just long enough to hear his thoughts on education (needs more funding) and the recent recount of his election results (it’s legit and everyone needs to calm down about it). I offered him my congratulations on my way out – stifling the urge to say “you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and – gosh darn it – people like you.” Next time.