It didn’t take much to convince me to return to D.C. for yesterday’s inauguration. Sure, the city was predicting crushing crowds and nightmarish travel, but this was an historic event. More than just wanting to say that I’d “been there,” returning to the nation’s capital was about rallying around the country’s new president, and in doing so, renewing my hope for our future.
My flight out of RDU was just after 8 a.m. on Saturday. After a mad scramble at the usually stress-free airport — in which a TSA employee refused to let me through security with what she claimed were three carry-on bags — our flight left close to on schedule, touching down in DCA about 45 minutes later. The plane then sat on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for a gate to free up, the first indicator of just how many people were coming for the weekend’s festivities.
Charlotte picked me up and we headed to REI for outdoor gear research for my trip next month to Patagonia. Afterward, we drove to Georgetown, had a delicious brunch of prosciutto-parmigiano pizzas and salads at Café Milano and then shopped around at some Recession Sales. The afternoon’s highlight was spotting Kevin Nealon, who plays Doug on Weeds. We were so star struck that we couldn’t even think of anything witty to call out!
After a late night catching up with friends, we slept in on Sunday before meeting up with my brother at the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One inaugural celebration concert. It was packed and security check-points quickly became overwhelmed so we watched from in front of the Washington Monument, while Stevie Wonder, Usher and Shakira sang “Higher Ground” and Garth Brooks covered “American Pie.”
The crowds were huge, estimated at about 750,000, with some onlookers scaling trees for a view (which in and of itself created a spectacle).
We kicked off Sunday evening with an open-bar at Town Tavern, yet another new drinking hole on 18th Street in Adams Morgan. Charlotte was psyched because the cast of the Hills was supposed to be there, but unsurprisingly they didn’t show, and a bunch of super-heroes took their place.
Moby was hosting an all-night dance party at the 9:30 Club getting underway at around midnight. We had scored some tickets on Craigslist so hopped in a cab, waited in line, checked our coats, pushed to the front and got ready to rock out until 4 a.m.
About a half hour into his set, the power goes out, Moby improvises by banging on some empty barrels and then heads back to his dressing room. We wait around for an hour, still no lights at the club, which is a minor problem when your performer is a D.J. We’re told that the event is being rescheduled and dejectedly go to hail a cab. We learned the next day that the power had come back on shortly thereafter, Moby returned and no refunds would be given to those who left. Awesome.
Monday was spent recovering and resting for the big inauguration ceremonies the next day. At around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, we started the mass exodus down to the Mall. Downtown was entirely shut down to traffic, with military police and humvees at intersections, city buses used as barricades and hundreds of vendors hawking Obama gear and handwarmers. When we arrived about a half hour later, the Mall had already started to fill. There was a nice spot back by the Washington Monument, up on a hill, so we plopped down, bundled up against the freezing cold and started the wait.
A nice lady next to us offered some handwarmers, which we graciously accepted, as crowds of spectators continued to flood through the gates. Around us, there were lots of flags. And buttons, shirts, hats, visors — it was Obama-mania!
Someone next to us screamed out “four more minutes!” Shortly thereafter, Biden was sworn in, followed by Obama and the flubbing Chief Justice Roberts. There was an eerie silence as everyone held their breath before thunderous applause and hollering erupted.
The chopper carrying Bush roared overhead and we all waved goodbye. It wasn’t until our way off the Mall, which took over an hour, did we realize just how many people were in attendance. Huge masses of people, more than I’ve ever seen in my life, stretched for as far as you could see. It was surreal and also a little scary. Once back on 18th Street, crowds — from sidewalk to sidewalk — made their way all the way to Connecticut Avenue. Unreal.
Back at Charlotte’s, we warmed up, quickly packed my bag and headed for the Metro, trying to beat the parade crowds. The cars were stuffed, but getting on and transferring at Metro Center wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. My flight out of National was delayed a half-hour, but Five Guys came through in the clutch with a little cheeseburger and cajun fries.
Landing back in Carolina, my seatmate remarked at the snow covering the ground. “Haven’t seen something like that in 5 years,” he said. I looked out at the glistening runway and thought about the last couple of days. How I’d joined millions of people from around the country, and around the globe, in witnessing first-hand history in the making. How change, very real change, might finally be in the making. How far, in electing an African American president, our country had come. And how tomorrow would be the dawn of a new day.