We teetered on the edge for a while. Should we go to the inauguration? Should we skip it? With 2 kids and a busy schedule it seemed nearly impossible to take the time to go, but we didn’t want to regret not going. About a week before the inauguration pieces started falling into place, and we found tickets, time off, and a place to stay. Grandma and Grandpa agreed to come and stay with DD1, which meant that we’d only have to drive with, and find babysitters for, DD2. Yes, we told ourselves, it was meant to be. We’d go.
One week later, I am so glad we went. It was so exciting to be in the middle of it all, but more importantly, perhaps, it brought closure to a big chapter of our lives that I hadn’t realized we needed. As has been well reported in the media, the logistics of the inauguration were almost all consuming. But in between picking up tickets, looking for cabs, and getting lost in crowds were moments of introspection and clarity that made it all worthwhile.
I’m realizing now that what I will remember is not the hassle of going, but those little, emotional moments along the way.
Before we left, all was chaos and uncertainty. We thought we probably had tickets to one ball. And maybe dinner reservations with some friends. We were staying with friends that promised places to stay, but were unclear about how many would be in their house. Our babysitting plans came and went as the events that we would attend changed. At the last minute, I stopped at a department store to buy a ball gown and accessories (I never dress up, so this was all new to me) and the sales lady, upon hearing that we were heading to DC, smiled at me and said, “I know that President-Elect Obama has a lot of work to do to get our economy on track. But his election has already jump started our formalwear department”.
Just like that, I was reminded that what I was not just checking off another box on an endless to do list. Instead, I was going to witness and celebrate of the election of a man that I truly believe is the best person to address all this country has in front of it.
Our drive to DC was plagued with bad weather and snow. Our car was packed to the rafters as we essentially had to packfor the cold of a ski trip, the glitz and bling of a formal wedding, and added to the mix paraphernalia that goes with traveling with an infant. We packed the bags that we use for 3 week vacations for the full family, and then piled on canvas bag after canvas bag. We looked like the Joad family goes to DC.
What I will remember from the drive was that nearly every vehicle that we passed, or that passed us, was draped in Obama/Biden stickers and signs. We saw a rental RV with a handmade “Obama 2012” sign in the window, a Honda Fit loaded nearly to the ground with 4 adults packed tightly in among sleeping bags and pillows and Obama signs, a minivan of kids with Kansas plates. At each rest stop people stopped to compare notes: “where are you from?” “do you have tickets?” “where are you staying?” “how involved were you in the campaign?”. The answers to the last question was always yes. In some way, either through phone banking or donations or field office leadership, everyone had pitched in and was heading to DC for closure.
On the border with PA/WV we stopped at a rural general store about a mile off the highway. After we exchanged greetings with the other Inauguration pilgrims, a local man leaned in and asked DH, in a very heavy appalachian accent, if we were heading to the inauguration. “Yes”, DH replied. “Figgered” said the man, tucking a case of unfiltered cigarettes more tightly under his arm. Then he nodded at us and said, “well, guess we’re finally getting rid of that dictator and getting ourself a real president. Yes we are”. Indeed.
We got to DC late Sunday and on Monday, tessajp and I met for margaritas (oh, and lunch!). We walked around the capitol and again, the crowds of people and the energy of the event struck me. This was a pilgrimage for busloads of people, young and old, of all incomes and races. The police didn’t quite seem to know what to do — they’ve seen crowds before, but typically they are protesting crowds, or angry crowds, crowds with a point to prove. Celebratory crowds seemed to confuse everyone and the police expressions varied from confused to amused to outright bored.
Monday night DH and I went out to dinner with some friends, and then to the Illinois Ball. The highlight was dinner. Most of the people at the table had been involved in the campaign in one way or another and initially the conversation centered around who had thought that Senator Obama had a snowballs chance, and when people had started to believe it could happen. But after a while the conversation changed. Many of the people at the table were black and had grown up in segregated South Carolina. Again, the enormity of what was happening — to have friends at the table that had had FBI escorts to school, now to see Obama’s inauguration… wow.
Tuesday we got up early and headed to the Capitol. I was nervous as we tucked our phone numbers and details into DD’s snowsuit. Was this the dumbest thing I’d ever done? We had tickets to a reception in one of the buildings overlooking the mall, and DH had tickets to the ceremony. As we walked to the reception I was struck by the orderliness of the crowds. There were excitement and anticipation in the air, but the snippets of conversation that I heard were all logistics: “where are we meeting them?”, “do you have tickets”, “Have you seen mom?”, “have you spoken to him this morning?”, “I’ve got the camera in my front pocket”. Strange, but even now what I remember of that morning was the cold air and the quiet, business-like manner of the thousands of people all intent on being there.
It wasn’t until the music started that I realized that the moment was upon us. But even then, as I watched on CNN and from the reception windows, it all seemed surreal. In part, it seemed like a very routine. An anti-climactic conclusion to a huge event that we had been hoping to see for years. But then a moment would come where the enormity of it all struck me. We did it. This was it. He’s President.
It didn’t really sink in entirely until Tuesday night. We went to the Midwestern States Ball with a couple of friends, and after taking in the sights ($12 champagne, $75 tote bags, and a pretty good band), we found a place to stand near the empty stage that we hoped would be where the President spoke. To our surprise, first Sheryl Crow came out (in formalwear, no less) and played for about 45 minutes. I’ve spoked to people at other balls and I have to say, I’m delighted that we were at this one — Sheryl Crow is a concert I’d willingly get a ticket for, any day. After that, the Flag People (seriously, there were flag people) came out and fluffed up the American Flag and the VP Flag. Shortly thereafter, Joe and Jill Biden came out and spoke to the crowd. And let me just say, Joe may be the happiest guy in DC. All smiles and jokes and, of course, poetry, followed by a dance with his wife.
Then, the waiting. The Flag People returned to switch out the VP Flag for the Presidential Flag. The military band arrived. The Color Guard came out. Some woman sang God Bless America. And finally, the band struck up Hail to the Chief, and the Obamas came out. Obama spoke to the crowd, they danced together, and for me, this is where it sunk in.
Until now, Obama was my Senator. When I first met him, it was at a fundraiser at a friend’s house, with wine from a box and little cubes of cheese from Costco. He walked in through the front door like a normal guy, and spoke to us off the back porch. At other events he mingled with people, shook hands, and listened carefully to what each person had to say. A little over a year ago I saw him walking around downtown, by himself, with a baseball hat on as camouflage. Now he travels with full protection at all times, people stand when he enters a room, and Hail to the Chief is played as he walks into a room. I mean, holy. cow. He’s the President. And I can’t think of a better person for the job.
If you’ll indulge me, I feel like he’s left the nest. I’m proud that he’s there, but I’m a little sad, too. He’s not my Senator anymore. And as much as I believe that he is the best person for the job, and as hard as we all worked to help get him there, I’m going to miss him a tiny bit.
I can’t wait to see him in action.