Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Delect Connect Goes to Washington (Part III): January 20, 2009

Our view from behind the Washington Monument (in reference to the Capitol).

Inauguration Day

It’s standing room only in the subway car. Someone’s elbow is close to my face and my butt is probably in somebody else’s. The train rocks side to side beneath the streets of DC. I look around. There’s something strange about being amongst a group of unhushed people and everyone’s quiet. There is muted chatter here and there, but mostly folks are swaying with the train, staring at their own thoughts.

I hear the drone of helicopters several seconds before rising from the cool dimness of the Metro station at Judiciary Square. My heart beats faster in anticipation. My sister and I climb from underground into the icy welcome of DC in January. It's about 9:30. We are here.

And so are two million other people.

I pause outside the station, looking for…something. Swarms of people walk to the left, to the right, and past us. They are a mass of dark winter coats and cotton hats of many colors, some with glittery "Obama" emblems or displays of "Change."

We shuffle to the side to get out of the path of those exiting the station behind us. I'm still looking for something, listening for…something. Alas, is that it?

“Obama T-shirts, ten dollars! Get your T-shirts here!”

No, that's not it. Something's missing. I'm expecting something, but I just can't put my finger on it---ah! Help. That's what I’m expecting. Guidance. Direction. A sign pointing us in the way we should go.

Blame it on my being a woman or a spoiled tourist, but I thought someone would be outside the station to guide us along, just like they were outside the station yesterday for the We Are One concert.

"Let's just follow the crowd," Hope suggests.

"Which crowd? They're all going in different directions," I say.

I fished out my ill-folded DC map in a valiant effort to navigate our way to the National Mall.

“Okay let’s head up this way,” I say. “There should be a Hyatt Regency on our left.”

After two blocks “this way,” there is no Hyatt Regency on our left.

“Hand warmers! Toe warmers! Two for five!”

DC is simple to navigate. So I don’t know if it's excitement or the presence of thousands of history watchers whooshing around me, but I cannot get it together and my sister is too engrossed in people watching to assist. I stop to study the map again. “Excuse me,” a gentleman says after almost running into me when I halted.

I study another map and decide on a different route. After a couple blocks, we come across several hundred people flowing into a tunnel. We get in behind them.

"Ummm…Hope, do you really want to take the tunnel?"

"No," she says, reading my mind. We turn around and find a square of pavement to regroup.

This feeling is peculiar, and surely shared by everyone around me. We are millions strong; yet, we're on our own. It’s like being home alone except we have an entire city to ourselves, in a weird 28 Days/I Am Legend kind of way. Fatigue-clad special police and armored vehicles command every corner, but we'd soon discover that these guys were brought in from other states and knew DC as scantily as we did. Their function is security, and security alone.

After aimlessly circling a couple of blocks, I yank my map out with new purpose. Change is the theme of the day and if we are ever going to make it to the National Mall in time for the inauguration, that’s what we need. And hope too.

I peer at the map for a moment and announce, “The numbers must go up!”

My sister and I march west down the middle of E Street as the cross streets’ numbers increase: 5th Street, 6th Street, 7th Street. We’ve finally found our way, and with each block, it appears that the amoeba-like multitude has found its way too. We're all going in the same direction, parallel to the National Mall. Our game plan is to infiltrate the Mall at the point of least resistance.

So yeah, just happened to be walking by when an SUV arrives with Sarah Obama, the president's paternal grandmother.

I buy a chicken kabob two blocks from the White House. Orangey brown sauce seeps into the fabric of my new white sneakers.

“I’ve never been around so many people in my life,” a woman behind us says to the woman walking next to her. “And polite people, too.”

Yeah it’s corny, but true. Folks are friendly. The only shouting we hear comes from street hustlers peddling Obamawear. Other than that, it's strangely quiet, except for the occasional blaring ambulance or police vehicle toting dignitaries. We're roaming the streets of DC on foot and no one's being rude. And we're everywhere. It's the Running of the Bulls without the running. And well, the bulls.

One nation under a groove. Gettin' down just for the funk of it. One nation we're on the move, nothing can stop us now!

I'll try my best to convey this other, new, lovely feeling. If you've ever been to, oh let's say, a conference or a convention, you know how neat it feels to walk through the convention center or the hotel and everyone you encounter is in your organization, or your fraternity, or likes Star Wars. You're among people that like what you like, dig what you dig. But when you step outside the confines of that building or hotel, everybody else is going about their business.

This pretzel company sponsored a U-Haul truck full of free pretzels for inaugural attendees.

Now imagine that the people that like what you like, dig what you dig are everywhere. They're in the lobbies, they're behind the counters, they're driving the taxis, they're riding the buses, they're marching through the streets shoulder to shoulder with you.

This dude has been waiting a long time to rock this coat...

It is the type of saturation only possible by sheer numbers. While others balked at the projected attendee numbers leading up to the inauguration, I was intoxicated with the idea of sharing a common purpose with so many people in one place. How often are you in a situation where virtually everyone within at least a 5-mile radius believes what you believe?

Guantanamo Bay demonstrators. Eerie.

We are one.

Evidence of a cold early morning.

Cold but determined.

These are the folks behind me watching the jumbotron from the World War II Memorial. You can see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance.

People walking across the partially frozen lake. As a Floridian, I have never seen something like this in-person in my life.

Post-inauguration movement was way more stagnant than pre-inauguration movement. Walls of humans. Walls.

Had this many people been anywhere for anything else, it would've been a riot. But collectively, we wanted to show the world that we could congregate en masse in support of Barack Obama with no problems.

Menu in Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. "Pear-fect President." I can dig it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Delect Connect Goes to Washington (Part II): Ballin'

The Root's logo displays on the ceiling of the Smithsonian.

This station closes at 12," the Metro employee announced as we exited the station at the Smithsonian stop.

"Okay, so that means we need to leave at 11," Jeannine said to my sister and me. I agreed, even though it was a little after 9 o'clock on Sunday night and my gut warned that less than two hours at The Root Inaugural Ball would be less than fulfilling.

We peered at the map outside the station, trying to figure out where the Smithsonian we needed to be at was located (who knew there was more than one?). A helpful woman pointed out the Smithsonian Museum of American History across the National Mall about a block away. Jeannine groaned. Her new sexy black stilettos were already kicking her behind.

We trudged the path across the Mall, a lit and towering Washington Monument on our left, dark jumbotrons and lonely barricades set up on our right. It was quiet, a contradiction to the thousands who were in that space just hours earlier for the inaugural opening ceremony.

My poor homegirl was limping. My sister and I took up either side and the three of us huddled to the entrance of the museum. I wore a black knee-length dress (purchased that morning, along with other items of clothing since I had to leave my luggage in Florida), borrowed coat, and borrowed shoes. Fashionista friends advised me that in cold climates you don't dress for the weather (i.e., to be warm), you wear what you would normally wear; just rock a big coat to fight the freeze.

Cars lined up for complimentary valet in front of the Smithsonian. Men donning tuxedoes and women in floor-length coats strode up the sidewalk. By the time we entered the museum, Jeannine had summoned up enough swag to bring sexy back for an encore.

We checked our coats immediately inside the door. To the far right, a red carpet lined the wall. "Is that…Samuel L. Jackson?" I muttered aloud. We ventured closer, and sure enough, it was the bad mother--shut yo' mouth--himself. Jackson sported his trademark Kangol and appeared to be wearing the same fit from the We Are One concert earlier that day. He stopped to interview with AJ (formerly of 106 & Park) of Extra, who was working in the press area with his camera man.

AJ Calloway interviewing Samuel L. Jackson on the red carpet.

We made our way up the clear, lit stairs to the second level where hundreds of doozied up attendees sipped cocktails, chatted, and swayed to the music; several more peered down from the museum’s third level. While I didn't recognize any of the sparkly and spit-shined at the time, there was no telling what facet of entertainment or media some of these folks represented.

Between the first and second levels of the Smithsonian.

We hit up a bar table (ahem, “open” bar, that is…), where I requested one of the night's bubbly-laden specialty drinks, Hpnotiq and champagne, served in a blue-sugar rimmed flute.

The buffet tables boasted light--but continuous--fare of crab cakes, pot stickers, shish kabobs and the like, and later on tiny cakes and pies. I picked up something new every time I passed by.
We found an available table off the main floor, near one of the exhibits. Jeannine rested her feet as we nibbled and sipped on PomObamas and various other fancy beverages.

Jeannine enjoys a PomObama.

[Delect Inject: Virtually every restaurant in the city boasted some form of Obama Burger or “BarackStar Martini” or first family platter. ]

After a bit of chatting with folks near our table, I decided I needed to network; and I especially needed to find the members of the Root staff that I recognized only by email signatures. I strolled back to the main floor where I spotted Henry Louis Gates Jr., editor-in-chief of The Root, making his rounds with Chris Tucker.

Cheesin' a lil' too hard with Chris Tucker.

I ventured downstairs. T.D. Jakes was in the lobby and Tatiana Ali worked the red carpet. I still couldn’t find who I was looking for so I headed back up to the party.

Tatiana Ali on the red carpet.

I ran into Danielle, a girl I knew from Delray who interned with the Root. She vowed to introduce me to everyone as soon as they appeared. It was after 11. I decided to partake of the open bar once again, then I would go tell Jeannine and my sister that I needed to stick around and, you know, handle some business.

I glimpsed in my peripheral a bespectacled blur racing towards the stairs. “Jeannine!” I called, leaving the drink line.

“It’s after 11. The station’s about to close. It’s time to go.”

Ah, it wasn’t Jeannine but her evil twin, My Feet Hurt and You Got 4 Seconds to Figure Out What the Hell You’re Going to Do Before I Bounce.

“I’m gonna stay. Y’all go head,” I said, not concerned about navigating my way back to Bethesda, Maryland from downtown DC in the wee hours of the morning.

“Okay,” Jeannine said, turning on her heels, possibly leaving skid marks on the Smithsonian floor.

My sister rolled up, electing to stay as well. We reconvened at the drink line.

I eventually completed my mission. Biz Markie didn’t take charge of the DJ booth until around midnight. My sister and I danced, and the curse of Jeannine’s shoes had found its way to the borrowed pair I wore of hers.

We checked out the third level and chilled outside the VIP area. Samuel L. Jackson had just taken a photo with someone and was at the home stretch towards the guarded VIP.

“Just one more?” my sister asked as Jackson attempted to pass by. He sighed.

“C’mon, it’ll be quick,” I said. “I’ll even take it myself.”

Jackson muttered something under his breath, but like a good sport, acquiesced.

Mr. Jackson
“Thank you!” we cooed as he fled behind the curtains of VIP, where I later discovered Oprah was hiding out at some point.

We found out later that the Smithsonian station was not the only station that closed at midnight, but to our surprise, the entire Metro shut down at midnight. Yes, the weekend before the largest inauguration in American history. Go figure. We griped about the nonsensicalness of it, but my sister learned how to hail a cab while I propped up my throbbing feet.

My sister and I with radio host Tom Joyner.

Tom Joyner and wife Donna Richardson-Joyner mingle amongst the crowd.

Even Abe Lincoln rolled in! (and these are actual people, not wax...)

Natalie Portman and Tatiana Ali.

(View more pictures from The Root Inaugural Ball...I didn't know half these people were there!)


Ballin’ (the following night)


“Tonight is the niiiiight. You make me a wuhmuuuun…”

The old school vocals of Betty Wright rocked the crowd at the Florida PAC Ball, hosted by Congresswoman Corrine Brown at the Grand Hyatt in downtown DC. Headlined by go-go pioneer Chuck Brown, the ball’s attendees were mostly Florida politicians and those with hook-ups to them (like us).

We two-stepped, ate fresh pasta and roast beef, and sipped on more open bar offerings. Jeannine sported more comfortable shoes, and was in a better mood. The Metro ran until 2 am-- inauguration hours.

My sister and I with songstress Betty Wright.

Top Orlando law enforcement heads Jerry and Val Demmings.

Fellow NABJ member Kenya Woodard and Star 94.5 radio personality Monica May.

National Geographic Explorer host Lisa Ling attended another ball at the Grand Hyatt.

And while neither one of the balls we were fortunate to attend were "official" balls (i.e., Barack didn't roll through), attending these star-studded events were the perfect precursors to the big day.

(check out Part III)

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Delect Connect Goes to Washington (Part I)

A welcoming IKEA ad wrapped around a pole in DC subway.

We Are One (1/18/09)

“Satisfy your thirst for change!” the man yelled to passersby as he peddled Obama water.

The hustlers were out in rare form. They showcased not only the standard shirts, hats, and pins, but Obama binoculars, Obama basketballs (“The only inaugural balls you don’t need tickets for!”), Obama earrings (“Change for your ears!”), Obama cameras that printout “Inauguration 2009” at the bottom of every photo, and of course--Obama scented oils.

My sister, my friend Jeannine and I were among the thousands headed down the middle of 17th Ave in Washington, DC on the cool Sunday afternoon before the inauguration of Barack Obama. Our destination was the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One concert featuring Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, U2, and Usher amongst others.

The area in front of the Lincoln Memorial was packed, so we marched over to join the crowd viewing the concert via jumbotrons from across the street in front of the Washington Monument. The crowd cheered each time the camera briefly showed Obama.

I studied the faces of the people around us. Some were smooth, others wrinkled. Some of the faces were brown, others beige, and others were ivory. The demographics reflected a norm when it comes to all things Obama. Diversity. Black, white, Latino, Asian, seasoned, rollin’ in strollers, rollin’ in wheelchairs.

I wondered about their stories and how far they had come. Did they have to be as “financially creative” as I did to make the trip? Were they too living in the home of gracious strangers, strangers that had left town for the same reason I was here? We met an Indonesian man who had driven three days from Washington state; he and five others were staying in a friend’s studio apartment in the city. We chatted with a black woman who was stationed in Germany who made the pilgrimage as well.

“Different people had different feelings but in the same vein we all had the same feeling and the same purpose,” my sister said, explaining her thoughts for the day. “We’re here not to just be a part of history but to be a part of the change.”

Guard vehicles at every corner, naked tree branches against grey skies, walking in the middle of what is usually a busy city street…it all felt surreal. All eyes worldwide are on this place right now. And I’m here, I thought. I felt glad that I made the sacrifice.

Thousands of onlookers view the HBO We Are One concert via jumbotrons in front of the Washington Monument.

A baby Obama supporter dressed appropriately for the 20ish, 30ish degree weather.

See all the way back by the base of the Washington Monument? Those are people too.

A handful of protesters being escorted away.

Obama scented oils (not Obama-scented oils..)

This is a great photo of our president. I thought it was a Gap ad at first.

"Satisfy your thirst for change!"