A Burien Brit’s DC Diary Day #2: Inauguration Day

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob is an Englishman who lives in Burien who traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to attend the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. This is his second of three reports.]

Inauguration Day had come. At 4:30am we walked out of the apartment and down to the bike path that runs along the Potomac River. It was quiet and, apart from a few police officers, we saw very few other people. The view across the frozen river to the Mall was spectacular with the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and US Capitol perfectly lit. The Arlington Memorial Bridge was empty and the police didn’t mind us standing in the middle of the road to take photographs. At the end of the Mall, it was still very quiet except for the activity of the security services and the vendors setting up their stalls. At the Washington Monument a large crowd had assembled to take advantage of the elevated position. Then things changed. The closer we got to the Capitol the more chaotic it became.

At 5:40 am we joined the long line at the Silver section entrance and met some great people from all over the country. One girl asked us if we’d like to swap one of our Silver tickets for an even better Blue one, but we’d come together and declined her offer. It was incredibly cold as we were waiting and removing my gloves to take a photograph turned out to be a bad idea. The crowds quickly grew. Flashing lights and police officers were everywhere, many having come from as far away as Philadelphia and, most likely, places beyond.

When the Silver section gate opened at 8 am, the movement of the massive crowd was generally civilized but definitely not something for the claustrophobic. With our new-found friends we were elated just to get into the first part of the Silver section, but it was on the wrong side of Third Street for us. We quickly found a narrow fenced passageway across Third Street and shuffled into the other smaller part of the Silver section behind the Reflecting Pool and nearer the Capitol. The hope of getting our preferred spot by the second speaker stand had long since evaporated but it didn’t matter. We were in and we had plenty of space to adjust our positions. The chaos that we witnessed was prevalent up and down the Mall. It wasn’t long before a barrier fell and people rushed forward. That was fine with us because it left us with lots of open space and a clear view of the Capitol from which we enjoyed the early part of the Inaugural Ceremony. We then decided to move over to the area near the jumbotron on the north east corner of the Reflecting Pool where we stayed for the remainder of the swearing-in ceremony. The line of sight was spectacular with a direct view the podium and the seating areas above and to the sides. Unfortunately, the sound was not very good, but we were there and that’s what counted.

The crowd reaction to some of the official attendees was amusing. George W. Bush’s arrival generated a not-unexpected response. The discontent with Joe Lieberman was clearly heard and there didn’t seem to be much sympathy for Dick Cheney, who arrived in a wheelchair. The official line is that he hurt his back while packing boxes.

We weren’t aware of the mistake with Obama’s taking of the oath until much later in the day and we had to wait until we got home to hear his speech in full. We did hear enough though to appreciate the significance of what he was saying and the historic nature of the occasion. The crowd reacted accordingly and it was amazing.

Many people started to leave not long after President Obama’s speech, but we were keen to stay and former President Bush leave:

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His helicopter rose quickly and spectacularly from behind the Capitol, flying almost directly over us and heading westwards. The cheering of the masses below was no match for the sound of such a large aircraft, but the occupants had to be aware of what was going on below them. A few minutes later they came back for another circuit of the Mall before heading off to Andrews Air Force Base and then on to Midland, Texas. That was it. For many, the world was now a much better place. A few minutes later I received a text message saying:

“Barack Obama is now the 44th President of the United States. Please stay and watch the parade on the jumbotrons.”

These guys really know what they’re doing.

After lunch at the National Museum of the Native American, we headed west along the now mostly empty, but trash-covered, Mall and soon came upon the MSNBC facility where presenters including Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow were conducting their live broadcast against a glass backdrop with an enthusiastic crowd doing their best to be seen on television. It was at this moment that the new president and first lady got out of their enormous car and walked along the parade route, driving the crowd into a frenzy. Moving from jumbotron to jumbotron we worked our way west along the mall, stopping at each one to catch more of the unbelievable spectacle that was unfolding only a few blocks to the north.

It was soon time to head home. As expected, the Metro was not an option due to the high demand. Foggy Bottom station was closed so we had no choice but to keep on walking to Roslyn where my friend’s wife met us. Dinner at a great restaurant called Artie’s in Fairfax was the perfect end to an unforgettable historic day.

[TOMORROW: It’s Bob’s last day in DC, and it’s jam packed – he goes to Hillary’s confirmation hearing and meets a fellow northwest visitor who failed to even get in to the inauguration – Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.]

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