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.


spchrist said...

Those were some great photos. My hands were too cold to take too many photos.

Delect said...

Dude! My fingers were cold, chapped, dry, and bleeding. I don't know when's the next time I'll be in DC in the winter (or anywhere up north for that matter...).

Inner-Side-Out said...

Sis, I am still relishing in the aftertaste of our D.C. adventure. Delectable!!

Delect said...

Indeed! What a way to set the tone for 2009...