Sunday, February 1, 2009

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking me along on your Obamathon. Your photos brought light to people and places that weren't covered by all the fancy news teams, and your coverage boldly took on the good the bad and the ugly.