Saturday, February 7, 2009

New Beginnings

Alas, I've gotten terribly behind on posting updates of my fabulous journey. So now, without further ado, I shall dramatically launch myself back into the present with my more current online outlet:

Mostly about local issues but occasionally jumping up to national-level issues too. Enjoy!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Boston T Party

On Saturday, we happily left the backwards back woods of rural Mass, heading for another set of relatives we had closer to Boston. We headed east on route 2, an unusual highway with exceptional glare. So much glare that there are road signs warning you of it, as if you would need a warning sign about glare, or even be able to see the signs if there was any.

We spent the morning catching up with our family. Unlike their rural counterparts, they were enthusiastic about our trip to the inauguration and reveled in hearing our story. We ate lunch at their house, and then left for Boston.

Our relative, a civil engineer, delighted in telling us the history of each bridge we crossed. Most of the bridges were relatively modern, but some were replacements of bridges from the 1800s, or even 1700s. We eventually merged onto the Mass Pike, and as we got closer to Boston he pointed out a giant billboard calling for greater regulation at gun shows; apparently, this was a contested issue in Massachusetts.

We needed gas, and somehow we ended up refueling in South Boston. Our relative affectionately referred to the area as "Southie", and the Victorian houses and nearby bridges and bays reminded me of San Francisco. He told us about the troubled history of the area. "Lots of Irish people live here", he told us, "but they were racist and fought against integration in the 70s". I was reminded of a photograph I had seen in an American history class, of a white Bostonian trying to stab a black man with an American flag.

However, it seems Boston may have emerged from that darker period of its history. By all accounts, Bostonians were as happy as anyone after Obama's inauguration. We stopped for coffee at a starbucks closer to Downtown Boston, and a mixed-race crowd contentedly sipped their coffees without stabbing each other with flags.

We parked near our relative's office, and waited to catch the "Silver Line" - a bus that ran on its own underground road - into the center of town. Boston is home to the famous "Big Dig", which moved miles of urban interstate below ground and as a consequence required a number of ventilation towers throughout the city. The towers are a bit annoying, but not nearly as annoying as an eight-lane highway running through the center of town.

Eventually the bus arrived, and we rode it to the Red Line subway. Boston's subway is referred to as the "T", and is the oldest subway in the US. As a result, some of the stations are kind of funky. We got off near the Boston Common (basically a big park) and walked west to Back Bay, a classy neighborhood. We passed by the Hancock Center, Boston's Main Library, and eventually ended up at the world Christian Science Center. It was a nice walk, but unfortunately we had to turn around since my associate's flight was leaving in a couple of hours.

We headed back to the car. Fortunately, Boston's Logan Airport is relatively close to the center of town and we were there in 15 minutes. My associate checked in without difficulty and found time to scarf a burrito before heading to the gate. Before he headed out, we took time to marvel at the large number of propeller planes at Logan, ready to shuttle affluent Bostonians to Martha's Vineyard or other luxurious island retreats nearby.

So my associate left, leaving me without anyone to associate with. We had some fun, made history, and got in a few arguments too. But I was happy to have him around, and I wished him a safe flight. The sun was setting as my relative and I drove back to his house, and the skyline of Boston was silhouetted against the orange sky. I thought back to our first day on the road, all those months ago. It was the end of a great excursion.


Massachusetts is generally viewed as a blue state among blue states. Taxes are high, gay marriage is legal, and wool-knit sweaters abound. However, my associate and I were in for an odd juxtaposition as we drove up to our relatives' house in rural Massachusetts. There were still wool-knit sweaters - alpaca wool, as the colder climate provided them the ideal setting to start an alpaca farm. But as we quickly found out, locals here despised taxes, secular values, and "big government". As we awoke Friday morning, a group of locals had assembled to haul alpaca-related materials to a nearby farm. My relative gleefully pointed out that I had just seen the inauguration, initiating a round of mockery at my expense. "How was the messiah?" I didn't dignify their pseudo-clever remarks with an answer.

My associate and I went into town mid-day for food. The town was quaint and brimming with new england charm, and there was a Quizno's right on the town square. We went in, and it turned out the store was linked to an all-purpose video rental/pharmacy/sports supply store. The staff was friendly, and they were nice enough not to ask us about our political views.

We spent the afternoon reading and catching up with our family, then in the evening we drove to a slightly larger town and ate at a nice restaurant. It was a pleasant meal, although it was a bit bittersweet since it would be the last dinner my associate would have before leaving for home. I was to stay for a few more days on the east coast visiting friends and relatives.

In rural Massachusetts, an area perhaps as conservative as the Southern towns we visited earlier, I recognized the same mood as I had in liberal California four years earlier: conspicuous indifference. Two years ago, these people were dismayed by the political ascendancy of their antithesis: a black man, a practitioner of big city politics, a socialist who pals around with terrorists. They had spent the previous year cultivating their hatred of this man, and now he's their president. Democracy can be difficult. On the days following the inauguration, after two months getting used to the idea of Obama as president, many had discovered the best coping mechanism was absorption in their daily routine. In the bluer parts of the country, we learned that lesson on January 20, 2005.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Road From Change - Jan. 22

We left Philadelphia - or "Phila" as the road signs refer to it - around 1 PM, and headed for New Jersey. Stopping for gas just north of Trenton, we were hoping to hear some good Sopranos-style Joyzee accents, but to no avail. We continued north on the fabled New Jersey Turnpike. It was my first time driving the length of the Garden State and I had high hopes for such a place that brilliant thinkers like Bruce Springsteen and Kevin Smith couldn't shut up about.

New Jersey proved to be uninspiring, it was like Orange County at thirty degrees. But given that we were expecting that, it didn't work out so bad. We decided to stop in Newark and ride the PATH to New York for a brief walk, seeing as we rarely ever get to visit the East Coast. Newark is remarkably similar to Oakland; it's old and run-down, it has a sports stadium, and it's built on a swamp. However, the most striking similarity between the two is that they are clearly set apart from the "desirable" city centers of Manhattan and San Francisco. I find it remarkable how how much both cities benefit from waterways; they allow the tourists and businesspeople to confine themselves to stunning civic cores while the nasty urban realities of Newark or Oakland are kept thoroughly out of sight, out of mind. Call it the theory of urban moats.

We boarded the PATH at Newark Penn Station - apparently all train stations in the Tri-State area have "Penn" in their names. The train rumbled past downtrodden railyards and forlorn ports before turning underground. Eventually we emerged at the former WTC site. I stopped to take a picture and was promptly repremanded by the New York cops. Apparently taking pictures in PATH stations is bad. But to be barked at in that inimitable East Coast style was actually an "authentic" experience - awesome!

Our walk around Lower Manhattan was short but sweet. There was of course the requisite gaggle of skyscrapers, the Duane Reade drug stores, the lack of public restrooms. We walked by Trinity Church and the entry to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. We ended our walk at Battery Park City, which is more park than city. The sun was setting over the statue of Liberty, but all I could think about was how cold the Hudson must be right now.

With the sun down, we turned back toward the PATH station. The ride back to Newark was smooth, and thankfully there was no traffic on the way out of town. We headed north to Massachusetts, crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge and the diminutive state of Connecticut. By the time we got to our family's home in rural Massachusetts, our relatives had already gone to sleep. But that was just as well, we were tired and didn't particularly feel like talking.

Brotherly Love for Obama

We began our day in Philadelphia at an authentic diner; it was probably the best food I've eaten near an airport. Unfortunately it was breakfast time so we couldn't order Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, but the food was still tasty. The diner was filled with Philly memorabilia: shots of the skyline, the Liberty Bell, and the stadium where the Phillies play - next year, they won't be so lucky.

We drove into town and parked in a giant-ass vertical parking lot. Conveniently enough, we were right next to the famous "Love" statue. We decided to ride the SEPTA subway east to Independence Hall. The city is littered with references to historical figures: Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross.

Independence hall is situated next to a large grassy field. Inside were numerous convention halls and a gift shop, whose employees were just beginning to remove all the Obama merchandise, which was fine by me; I'd rather see their shelves devoted to cheesy Franklin stove replicas and copies of the Constitution.

I had a quick chat with one of the store clerks, who began by complaining about the excess of people traveling through who had seen the inauguration - the DC-Boston corridor was certainly the most heavily traveled by inaugural attendees. He also was quick to brag about all the appearances Obama made in Philadelphia during his campaign. Obama appeared numerous times at Independence hall, at one point giving a speech in the room directly above this very gift shop. He said that Obama's train trip was apparently a really big deal in town, with people waiting for hours outside the station. He was quick to put in a good word for his fellow Philadelphians as well, they were all good Obama supporters. Fortunately, in this election cycle the Philadelphia side of Pennsylvania seems to have won out over the redneck side, the side that the people we stayed with have to put up with and that James Carville described as "Alabama".

We left and walked up Market street back toward the Love sign. On the way, we stopped at City Hall, which was closed due to a film shoot. Eventually, we made it back to the car without accumulating too big a parking fee. We would have liked to stay longer in Philadelphia, but we needed to leave since we had to be in New England that evening.

The Road From Change - Jan. 21

Our drive was largely uneventful after we left Washington on Wednesday evening. The Beltway was clogged, so we took a shortcut which ended up being a detour. Roadside signage warned us of severe traffic through downtown Baltimore, so we skirted the city via highway 695. We got off on the northwest side of town and had pizza at an Egyptian restaurant (go figure). Upset that the restaurant didn't carry soda, my associate asked that we have some form of beverage afterward, so we went to a nearby trader joes and had a free sample of coffee. Problem solved!

We hit the road again, reluctantly paying a toll to drive on I-95 through Maryland, and again through Delaware. For those of you with plans to drive through Delaware, I suggest you find some other way to go than 95; it costs 5 friggin dollars to drive on that road through our nation's first and lamest state. Maybe that's why Biden always rides the Amtrak.

So we drove on through the night. We crossed into Pennsylvania and realized we were pretty tired, so we checked in to a hotel just outside Philadelphia and called it a night.

Embracing What is Right?

The Rev. Joseph Lowery gave his benediction, and afterward, much was made over one particular line he dropped:

"Lord... help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right."

This has generated a lot of controversy, little of it deserved. If you want to see a bit of the controversy for yourself, check out the thousands of comments on the benediction's Youtube video. Some white people have gone on the offensive, smearing Lowery's comments as racist; I wouldn't go that far, but I still was a bit disappointed to hear them. On January 20th, we inaugurated a black man as president, a man who reminded us of how his father would not have been served in DC restaurants 60 years ago. And white people certainly helped, voting for Obama more than any other democratic candidate since Carter. Can't we acknowledge that, at least some of the time, white has already embraced what is right?

Of course, some whites continue not to embrace what is right. And I think that the accusation that Lowery was wrong because he "played the race card" rings hollow. These "race card" accusations are a mistake because they stifle necessary dialogue. But generalizing whites as monochromatic oppressors is not the way forward. How about we recognize that white can be all right?

Tough Love, Tough Not To Love

The initial reaction to Obama's speech was that it was exceptionally tough. Gone was the "soaring" rhetoric, the "Yes We Cans" of Nov. 4, reporters lamented. Obama's opening line was, "I stand here today, humbled by the task before us". In other words, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Or so it was reported.

But what the reporters seemed to miss, and what was clear to me standing on the mall, was how brilliantly Obama's speech diverted the sheer energy of the inaugural crowd and worldwide audience into forward motion.

Barack Obama is a Democrat and an expected practitioner of the center-left politics of his party. But his speech also brought to light ideas that had yet to be given voice in the political arena. When Obama said, "The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good", he indicated what could be a paradigmatic shift in social thinking. He follows with this brilliant line of thought "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect." It is my sincere hope that someday we will look back to this speech and recognize it as the beginning of an era in which humans abandoned mindless consumption and structured their society around something more meaningful. And I was touched that Obama would include "nonbelievers" in his speech - it was a much needed acknowledgment that one of America's most maligned groups are actually caring individuals and an integral part of our society.

However, as brilliant as the explicit message of Obama's speech was, the implied message was more pointed: there is work to be done, and that includes you. American government used to be above and unaccountable to the people, now it is again by and for the people. If the American people have gained power through the election of a worthy executive, that power is bound to the Spiderman axiom that "with great power comes great responsibility". But this is not a bad thing, it deserves to be celebrated along side everything at the inauguration. We will become a better nation, but only we all work together to make it happen.

Swear Words

When I heard that Obama was sworn in a second time, my first thought was: "What good will that do? Bush took the oath twice, and that didn't exactly force him to uphold the constitution." Nevertheless, there are a few brazen idiots out there who suggested that John Roberts's bungle meant that Obama wasn't president, and all federal employees weren't required to report to him (as if everyone would spontaneously demand that Bush still be in charge). This claim is singularly absurd; however, I support him taking a second oath just to set aside any doubts, particularly since it requires so little effort. However, there's one saving grace, as it were, to this whole affair. Nonbelievers, who Obama went far enough to actually acknowledge in his inaugural speech (gasp!), were dealt a blow when their court case to remove "God" from the inaugural ceremonies failed, but they can take heart in the fact that Obama's second oath didn't involve a Bible. How's that for an acknowledgment of nonbelievers?

The Day After

I woke up surprisingly early Wednesday morning, but my associate and I didn't leave until around noon since we spent some time gathering our things and chatting with our gracious hosts. We had no major plans after the inauguration, other than to eventually rendezvous with our family in Massachusetts in a couple of days. With a bit of extra time on our hands, we decided to head back to DC and check out the inaugural aftermath. We stopped for gas at a station just outside Bethesda; as I went in to pay I overheard some of the mechanics, an otherwise lowbrow looking group, bragging about all of the inaugural balls they had gone to the night before. My associate later overheard them talking about how angry they were at the possibility of one of their nephews being sent to Iraq.

We stopped off at the National Cathedral, which earlier that day had been the site of a prayer session which Obama had attended. The Cathedral itself was quite impressive, clearly having been designed by someone who was afraid of God. We snapped a few pictures of the impressive exterior, then went in. My first stop was the bathroom, which was inconveniently located at the end of a hall and down a flight of stairs. On my way down, I noticed one of the bricks in the wall was inscribed with the word "Gitmo", which made me think for a second that this cathedral might have its own torture facility - hey, with some churches, you never know.

Heading back up to the main level, we entered the main cathedral hall. A prominent sign suggested we donate $5, but being short for cash, we decided not to give money and keep our visit short. This may have offended God, but thankfully he decided not to smite us. The church was relatively empty, but I talked with a woman who had been outside the church earlier and she said the whole area was completely packed. Obama had apparently been whisked in and out through a secret side entrance so as to be minimally exposed to the proletariat. Oh well. At least his presidency is a bit holier now. LCD screens lining the aisles still displayed a "message of hope" for all to read. However, the woman I was talking with, a filmmaker from New York, actually recognized me from the blog. Hot damn, I'm famous!

We left the church after taking a photo for a young couple visiting the church. Afterward, we drove south to the center of town, which gave us a good reminder of why we don't usually drive through the center of town in DC. It took nearly half an hour to get from Thomas Circle to the south side of the Mall, a distance of roughly 10 blocks. At least that gave us a good look at the parade route and the mall. Many of the metal barriers and parade seats were still up, though much of the trash had miraculously been collected. The best part was that while we were doing this, we were also listening to news about Obama's first day on the radio. Not being political insiders, it was the best we could do.

And so we left the noble capitol city, taking the not-so-noble Baltimore Expressway out of town. On our way our, we caught one last glimpse of the Capitol Dome, silhouetted against the reddening dusk sky. While it would have been nice to stick around longer, we had our own lives to continue with, and we were reassured by the knowledge that that dome had a new employee who would do things differently, and better.

The Greatest Day in American History - Part 3

12:00 – There were a limited number of exits to the national mall, and they were all crowded. Approaching the exits, the crowd converged into an epic bottleneck. My associate and I spotted a freshly vacated handicapped area with vacant chairs, and having been standing for the last three hours, we decided to sit for awhile instead of fight with the crowd. We sat down and realized how truly exhausted we were. At this point, Bush flew over the crowd, his last trip in Marine One. The crowd erupted in the "Na na na na... Goodbye" song again, and I yelled, "And don't come back!". Afterward, we got up and walked toward the exits, which had calmed down considerably. We saw a group of people with pinwheel hats that said “the winds of change” and stopped to chat with them; apparently they were a kazoo band that was playing throughout Washington for inauguration day. I would have joined them, but unfortunately my kazoo and goofy hat were back at home. On our way to the gates, we stopped to pat a police horse resting in its trailer. We also stopped at a porta potty - we didn’t have to wait, but conditions inside were thoroughly rank. As we walked toward the exits, trash left by the enormous crowd billowed in the breeze, and trash cans overflowed with coke cans and hot dog boxes.

12:45 – We made it out of the mall and crossed over the 12th street tunnel, which was closed to cars and was filling with people trying to walk through to the other side. Since the parade was about to begin, the other side of the tunnel had apparently been closed to pedestrians as well, and people began flooding back in the other direction. We decided to head toward the southeast side of the capital to see some of the parade acts as they left for the main parade route. We walked east on Independence Ave. to the National Botanic garden, then were diverted southeast. We crossed the Third Street Tunnel, which was also crowded with people trying to cross the parade route. We then passed the South Capitol Metro stop, and the lines to get in there looked completely unbearable. It circled the block, and was barely moving despite the best efforts and barked orders of the metro police. We headed north to the Library of Congress, and from there some of the parade bands and floats were visible. My associate sat on the steps while I stood on a ledge to get a better view of the activity on the east side of the capital. Legions of secret service agents were scurrying up and down the capital steps, but there was no sign of the Obamas or anyone else recognizable. I took some telephoto shots of marching bands and left.

2:45 – We headed southeast along Pennsylvania Ave. to look for food. The street was closed to traffic for several blocks, and only the occasional ambulance or cop car rushed by. Many of the restaurants were packed, and as we walked by, the maitre d’ at a fancy Greek restaurant informed prospective patrons that they would have to wait another thirty minutes for a table, but they could come inside to wait if they wished. We finally stopped to eat at a small market with a deli. A man in front of us briskly ordered a corned beef sandwich, then stopped to talk with us. He told us he had lived in this neighborhood all his life, and that this was the most excited people had ever been there since the inauguration of Kennedy. We ordered sandwiches and then ate them in a nearby park as crowds filed outward in search of less crowded metro stations.

4:00 – We finished our lunch and continued southeast in search of a convenient metro station. The Eastern Market stop was extremely crowded, so we continued to Potomac Ave, which wasn’t crowded at all. We boarded a train which was completely empty and sat down. There were a fair amount of other people who got on with us; as the train got going a woman from New York complained that the Washington Subway was horrible because there “isn’t a station on every block like back home”. We stopped at Eastern Market, which was pretty crowded; South capitol, which was very crowded, and finally L’Enfant Plaza, which was completely clogged. The subway filled up, and as the train gave a sudden start, one woman reached for a handrail and accidentally grabbed my associate’s head. We eventually got off at Metro Center to transfer to a different train. It took us nearly a minute just to push our way off the train, and the subway station was jammed with people. We rode the Red Line to Woodley Park, then took a walk over Rock Creek as the sun was setting. We walked past a number of embassies and classy apartment complexes. People in elegant suits and lavish dresses were
hailing taxis on the street, presumably on their way to some swank ball. We turned east to the more lowbrow Adams-Morgan, whose name incidentally derives from a neighborhood school which was the first in DC to integrate. There were less suits and ties, but a large group of people had gathered on the sidewalk to dance in celebration of the new president. We stopped at a bookstore to rest for awhile, and by the time we left we were hungry again. We ate at a Peruvian restaurant, and while the food could have been better, the mood was boisterous as black, latino, and white patrons speculated as to what they might do later in the evening, and what Obama would be like as president. Unfortunately, we couldn't join in any more festivities for the evening, we were dead tired.

7:00 - We boarded the Red Line back at Woodley Park. The streets above were filled with people in fancy attire, some hailed cabs and others just took the metro. In the station, we were the only ones waiting on the train to take us out of town. Eventually the train came, and it was virtually empty for the entire ride. But as we got off at Shady Grove, we saw there were a few other inaugural attendees who had gotten burnt out early. We walked back to the car; thankfully the Liberty Mutual salespeople had already gone home.

9:00 - As we soon found out, spending an entire day on your feet gives you the urge to consume sugary food. On our way back to Pennsylvania, we got off in Frederick for a donut fix at Dunkin. We ordered a half dozen old-fashioneds and ate them all. To my dismay, a group of wannabe jock high school students began talking about how "messed up" it was that the new president was black. One of them even complained about how his dad called him from his office about the inauguration, which his dad knew would spur him into a racist tirade. To his dismay, the phone was on speaker, and everyone in the office got to hear him making an idiot out of himself. Of course, this young gentleman didn't see anything wrong with spewing hatred, and the scorn of dozens of office workers only turned his racism into a righteous cause. It was a dark coda to an otherwise magnificent day, but the silver lining came as a fresh stack of the Washington Post's inaugural extra papers were delivered. They were supposed to sell for $2 each, but the store owners let us have one for $.75. Nice! We walked back to the car, saddened by the reality of this country's lingering racism, but uplifted by our newly acquired keepsake and a fresh supply of sugar.

10:45 - We arrived back in rural PA. The family we were staying with was thrilled to hear about our trip and excitedly watched our pictures, proclaiming that "these are exactly what was missing from CNN's coverage." While we all talked about what a profound change this new president was, I got the feeling that the enormity of today's events had yet to truly sink in. We went to bed, satisfied and exhausted.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Greatest Day in American History - Part 2

9:05 - We skirted the mall and walked toward the Capitol along Constitution Avenue. Entry to the center of the mall was blocked except for certain entry points, other areas were filled in with restrooms and vendors. At the area just beyond the Smithsonian Castle, the road was blocked off and we were diverted inward, toward the mall. Crowds were dense, and we could barely move. Some couples held hands to keep from being pulled apart by the crowd; my associate grabbed onto my bag so as to accomplish the same thing in a more platonic way. We eventually realized that we couldn't get to the mall at all via this path, and yet people still continued to fight their way as close to the center as possible. People in the crowd were reluctant to let anyone in. Some families pleaded with others in the crowd to let them through, others simply tried to bully their way in. We made our way closer to the center in hopes of getting a clearer view of the Capitol, but after roughly ten more feet we reached the point of total immobility. Seemingly invisible forces pushed people left and right. A woman nearby remarked that at least this would help her trim her waistline. The whole experience was unpleasant, and since we couldn't see the capitol anyway, we decided to move back. We slowly threaded our way out of the central crowd, and eventually we made it to a place where it was possible to walk normally again. As we were leaving, a children's choir began to sing, and a large group of medical officials begged people in the crowd to let them in to help a sick man I found a small American flag on the ground and picked it up.

10:15 - We walked back toward the Washington Monument on Constitution Ave, and entered at the next closest portal to the mall. Amazingly, the central mall wasn't nearly as dense at this point and we were able to move toward the capitol, reaching a point almost as close as where we had been. Everyone was standing, and even though we had a clearer view of the capitol, we were far enough away that it was difficult to see much of anything. But spirits still ran high. People periodically waved their flags in response to the marine band now playing, and a group of small children traced "Obama" in the dirt. A photographer from the Chicago Sun-Times saw this and excitedly snapped dozens of pictures of them.

10:30 - Recognizable senators began to arrive, as shown on the jumbotrons and announced over the loudspeakers. We saw Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman, who didn't get a particularly favorable reaction from the crowd. Then, members of the president's cabinet began to file in, followed by all the former vice presidents and former presidents. Carter got a cheer, Bush Sr. didn't get much of a reaction, and the Clintons drew huge roar from the crowd. I asked my associate what he thought the crowd's reaction to George W. Bush would be, a man in front of me overheard and said that he would "get his boo on". Eventually Bush did arrive, and while the gentleman in front of us made good on his promise, other people made an effort to applaud the president despite their opposition to him. Eventually the booing converted to chants of "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye".

11:00 - Diane Feinstein took the podium and announced the beginning of the inaugural ceremony. Rick Warren was called forward to bless the event, and while I was expecting to see signs of discomfort from some people in the crowd, no one seemed upset. Perhaps they were so happy to be done waiting that they forgot Warren's previous history. Aretha sang, Biden was sworn in, and a quartet played John Williams's rendition of the hyper-Americana melody "Simple Gifts". The crowd went wild when Biden was sworn in, and the mood became pensive as music played, at least until Anthony McGill's impassioned clarinet performance began midway through the piece. It was then time for John Roberts to administer the oath to Obama. From the mall, it seemed as if Obama balked a bit at saying his middle name, but as it turned out he was actually just reacting to the way Roberts had read the oath. The crowd didn't seem to notice Roberts's mistakes during the oath, and after he finished the crowd erupted in cheers. Strangers hugged and gave high fives and some even cried. After a moment of celebration, Obama gave his address. It was one that would later be described as harsh, but to the Washington audience it seemed to convey the same gleam of hope that had been prevalent throughout his whole campaign. Obama sat down as the crowd continued to cheer. Eventually, people began to leave, but my associate and I stayed to listen to Elizabeth Alexander's poem, and Joseph Lowery's benediction. While he expressed his hope that "white would do what was right", I was convinced more than ever that we had all done what was right by electing a capable leader.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Greatest Day in American History - Part 1

5:18 - We woke up, a bit later than we had hoped. Some friends were kind enough to take us in at their farm in Pennsylvania, and it was a bit closer to Washington than Richmond although it was still pretty far away. We left at 5:45 and listened to news reports as the sun rose. We heard news of parking lots filling up at Orange and Green Line stations and were worried that Shady Grove, the parking lot where we were headed, would fill up as well. Fortunately, there was no traffic on the way, although we had a bit of trouble finding the station.

7:15 - We arrived and paid for parking. The woman selling parking tickets was thrilled that we had a $5 bill; some people had tried to get change from $50 or $100 bills. Parking was still plentiful and we walked to the platform. A few representatives from liberty tax services were promoting their organization, dressed in Statue of Liberty garb. Others hawked Obama shirts and calendars, and copies of the Washington Post. Ticket lines were long but not unmanageable, fortunately we didn't have to wait in them at all and went straight to the platform. Security forces were ample, and Metro workers guided passengers onto train cars. We were instructed to board the front car which was less crowded. The train ride was relatively quick, despite reports of delays on the red line. A group of black women complained about how white people always told them they liiked like Tyra, Beyonce, or whichever black woman was most famous at that time. A man from Maine chatted with a local businessman, who was traveling in to work but relishing the opportunity to play the expert to a largely out-of-town crowd. We left the train at Farragut North; the station was crowded but people moved out quickly.

8:15 - The crowd was escorted toward the mall via a roundabout route due to parade closures. Streets were closed to regular cars, but police cars and ambulances periodically cut through the crowds. Vendors were everywhere, and lines for the bathroom were long. We made it to the mall, which was relatively empty west of the Washington Monument. As we crested the hill, we saw the crowds, which by then had filled the mall between there and the capitol.