Thursday, January 22, 2009
Peaceful Transition - Part II
So here I am all in my spot, with 2 million of my closest compatriots, and the ceremony begins. I was right near speakers so even though I could mostly just see the top of the capitol building and the backs of people's heads, I could hear everything well. Loved the music, wished I could have seen the goof during the President's oath. My friends tell me that the televised version didn't pick up much sound from the crowd, but there were so many moments of spontaneous reactions that you just had to be there to understand. Just as the program got to the President's oath of office, there was a low, steady "yes we can, yes we can, yes we can" - I'm tearing up just recalling it now.
Lots of m-hmms and amens during his speech, people around me sniffling and a husband who wiped a tear from his wife's cheek. Then, too, moments when all 2 million were completely silent - even the children on parents' shoulders were still and mesmerized.
Then, when the program ended and the crowd started to disburse, up popped the helicopter carrying the former President Bush (I asked Jeff to clarify for me - it's not called Marine 1 anymore, since it wasn't carrying the current president) and those around me broke into a spontaneous "na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey Goodbye..."
So now the throngs of people had to get out of the district and everyone tried to get on the train at exactly the same time - nope, that wasn't going to work. The station we had come in on had closed but I had arranged to meet my niece back there and figure out a plan. Cell phone service, as we had been warned, was overtaxed and calling or texting was really difficult. My niece and I were about 20 feet apart at the meetup point but couldn't find each other for a long time - finally we were able to connect by phone and found one another. As it turned out, every spot along the mall from the Capitol, where I was, to the Washington Monument closed so after walking all the way back to the end of the mall, she ended up finding a coffee cafe on the L'Enfant train station/shopping mall and she stayed nice and warm, sipping coffee and enjoying a muffin, still able to hear the entire inaugural program. We decided to walk back from the Capitol South train station to see if L'Enfant was open (bumped into - literally - John Oliver from the Daily Show on the way - looking concerned that his camera crew couldn't stay together in the mobs) and found thousands thinking the same thing. We decided to find food and a restroom in the shopping center and still the crowds of people were kind and gentle and patient. Got a sandwich and got into line (by line I mean the hundreds of people filling the entire shopping center corridor that lead to the escalator down to the train) and prepared to wait. And wait. Most of the stores were closed, except Radio Shack for some reason, and the hallway got really warm. Then someone fainted. A little while later, someone else fainted. A nurse who was in the crowd helped both, then started advising (yelling at) everyone to take off coats and hats to avoid overheating. I wondered if anyone was (1) communicating with the metro station to open and prioritize getting this crowd onto the train (2) thought about turning on the air conditioning and (3) was prepared in case people panicked thinking we were under terrorist attack. In the 2 1/2 hours we were in the hallway, no one had cell service and a total of 4 people hit the floor. The reaction from the crowd was to help each other off with their coats, share juice and water they had and continue to be kind and patient. Unbelievable.
Line moved forward, we all got on the train (got to sit down, even) and then we (all of us on the train) just sat back and collectivey shared how remarkable the day was. And our optimism for the future.
Arriving back at my sister's house, she had dialed up cnn.com and I got to see a photo of what the mall looked like - amazing.
At Dulles the next morning, I was watching the news and hearing the day called a "lovefest" and "Woodstock moment" - I wouldn't presume to give it a label, but it was truly something extraordinary and I was privileged to be a part of it.
I've never been more proud of my country.