On our way home from D.C., I had the realization that I really needed to write about our trip in as much detail as I can remember, lest I forget.
It was wonderful and inspiring, and though I would probably never do it again (at least not on a frigid January morning) it was an amazing day I’ll hold dear forever.
We spent several days in D.C. before Inauguration enjoying the growing stream of people, the media frenzy, a jaw-dropping number of police and armed escort caravans, along with the stunningly gorgeous museum offerings, archives, and architecture. It had been decades since either of us had been to our nation’s capitol, so we tried to take in as much as possible. We paid for it physically. We walked anywhere from 5-10 miles a day in the 20-30 degree weather and felt like very old people by dark. I’ve never been so thankful for ibuprofen in all my life. Every part of me was sore every single day.
Among the sites we walked past were the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol Hill, Library of Congress, Supreme Court, National Archives, Smithsonian Museums, Native American Museums, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Wall, Korean Memorial, and various other state buildings around the Mall. We spent time in the Natural History Museum, Native American Museum, National Archive, Air and Space Museum and at all the monuments on the Mall.
On the day of Inauguration, we awoke at 6 a.m. to chants of “Obama! Obama!” outside our hotel window. We booked a room at Hotel Harrington, one block off Pennsylvania (the parade route), two blocks from the White House and four blocks from the Mall. Outside our window was a security checkpoint and a lot of people were waiting there to enter the parade area. We got up at about 6:30 and turned on the television to realize that we were already running late and the Mall was filling up. We quickly showered, dressed and made our way into the crowded streets to grab a bagel and coffee and start walking. Wow it was cold. But everyone on the streets was in great spirits. Despite the lines and incredible crowds there was singing, chanting, laughing and loads of smiles.
We had watched the military, police and secret service erect barricades and block off streets the day before so we were prepared for a long walk to the Mall but it still took almost two hours to walk up and around the White House. We finally got as far as the Washington Monument at about 9 a.m. after a few miles of rerouting around the parade route and were forced to turn back as the streets had been closed and we couldn’t get any closer. After trying a few alternate options we resigned ourselves to settle in with a group of people who were sitting near a jumbo-tron between the Monument and the White House. This was the only frustrating part for me – I had intended to be much closer to the Capitol building, but it wasn’t to be. Once we introduced ourselves to the ladies behind us from Chicago and realized that they actually had tickets and could not get in, I realized that I could be a lot more frustrated and decided that if they could have a great attitude about our location, I could as well. Besides, we were ON THE MALL! It ultimately didn’t matter where or with whom - we were there, experiencing the entire event in the flesh with millions of other people who were so happy to be there with us.
It was easily the coldest day of my entire life, but once the Obama family arrived at the Capitol it didn’t matter anymore. Sore feet and legs, frozen toes, fingers and ears all ceased to exist as the moment arrived. As soon as he accepted the oath, everyone as far as we could see cheered, waved flags, jumped up and down, danced, cried, and hugged total strangers. The speech was wonderful and all around us people cheered and sang. When it was over, we both hugged the wonderful ladies behind us who had been so sweet and shared their stories with us. One of them had gone to school with Michelle back in Chicago, so this day meant a great deal to her. We wished them well and headed back to the warmth of our hotel, which took yet another two hours. Such big groups of people slammed shoulder to shoulder might normally cause a stampede, but people were wonderful about helping each other, even as much as calling out when a step was coming up (since no one could see anything) and helping others over barricades and down embankments. I feel lucky to have been amongst such good will and joy and it made me feel proud to be an American again.
As we heard later, there were absolutely no injuries or arrests associated with that day’s events. If only we can all carry this loving, helpful spirit forward with us for the next four years…
In all, we spent about 7 hours in the cold with 4 or so of those hours on the move. Afterwards we watched the parade on tv as we warmed up and took naps. It was worth every moment.