Thursday, February 5, 2009
First things first. I love road trips. I love experiencing everything that comes along with being on the road. This particular road trip occurred on January 19, which marked George W's final full day in office after eight treacherous years, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So it really meant something to wind around tree-lined Carolina roads, eating McDonald's breakfast and singing along to Willie Nelson. And it meant something to not feel embarrassed when we passed under an overpass where people stood proudly draping a giant American flag above the road, waving at drivers headed in the direction of our nation's capitol.
Zach and I barely talked the entire drive to D.C. He loves music as much as I do, so the night before I left to meet him in South Carolina, I burned 16 mix CDs in anticipation of our trip. I know I feel completely comfortable around someone when I let myself sing along with songs as if I was alone, full well knowing I don't sound great.
We stopped for gas once at a surreal tourist trap called "South of the Border," just before crossing over the North Carolina state line. Awhile later I pulled off at a rest stop where we met a car-full of guys also headed north for the big day. They started chanting, "O-ba-ma!" when I got out of the car, which I realized later was because our President-To-Be was on my t-shirt. They were driving all the way from Florida and couldn't believe I was only wearing a t-shirt and said they were freezing. One of the guys was even wearing a ski mask!
We made one last stop as we approached our destination, Dunkin Donuts for more caffeine. Our fuel light went on just as we saw the first sign for Dulles Airport, where we had to return our rental car. Since we had already paid for the tank of gas in advance, this was unbelievably perfect timing. There was no traffic and we made it from Point A to Point B in under nine hours. I drove the entire way and apparently was driving, although safely, around 90-100 mph most of the way. We only had to wait behind one person in line for a Super Shuttle and were immediately called to board one as soon as we paid. Everything seemed to be going almost too smoothly, since we were expecting major traffic delays and a mob-like atmosphere at the airport.
I was expecting to get to P.J.'s apartment late at night and we got there before 7 p.m., in time to get some pizza for dinner down the street with him and Ryan, who I didn't know was going to be there and I hadn't seen since high school. P.J. and I have been friends since first grade, and he's currently in med school at Georgetown, so we lucked out with having a free place to crash.
We woke up before the sun and left at 6:30 to catch a bus. We got on the first one that arrived, no problem. I bought the $5 commemorative Inauguration-Day bus pass with Obama's face on it and as I sat down next to Zach, I remarked how smoothly this whole plan continued to play out. We got off as close to the Mall as the buses were allowed and walked the rest of the way. This is how the Washington Monument looked as we approached. We found a place to plant ourselves, just past the Monument for the next five hours, where we had a relatively unobstructed view of one of the many Jumbotrons. The screens broadcast footage from the day before of different speakers and performers. Some celebrities didn't quite make sense...like the actor who played Kumar in the Harold & Kumar movies...why does he get to speak at the Inauguration? I don't know. Throughout the morning we kept tabs on Devon, who had pretty much the opposite experience as me and Zach. She drove from NYC to D.C. with a filthy windshield (and had never driven in snow before!), got stuck on the Jersey turnpike, and then in the morning had to stand in a crazy long line to get on a Metro train into the city, which ended up breaking down. But, despite all of that and only semi-functioning phone service, we found her! As we waited for the event to begin, I photographed some of the people around us. Here are some of my favorites. I wore my "Be the change you wish to see in the world" shoes again. By the time the introductions began, we had all been already suffering from numb toes and frozen noses. The last person to be introduced before the President-Elect was former President George W. Bush, emphasis on the former. As soon as his face hit the big screen, the crowd erupted in "BOO!" I was shocked. I mean I've said some not nice things about him, I even sat in Washington Square Park beside a painted sign I made that said, "STOP THE BUSH SHIT, SAY NO TO WAR!" in college during the weeks following September 11. But in this moment, I saw him as a defeated human being and I actually felt bad for him. Today is supposed to be a day of celebration, I thought. Shame on you for Boo-ing! I understand being excited that he's out of office, but then clap it out and cheer for the new one. Because that's why we're here. We're not here to dwell on Bush's mistakes, we're here to support Obama's challenges.
I did join in the collective sarcastic laughter, however, when the moderator said, "You may now take your seats." How few people out of the million there actually had a seat to sit on?
Then came the man of the hour or, I should say, the man of the next four (hopefully eight) years. A poem came to mind that I wrote senior year of high school when I was obsessed with the 60s and civil disobedience. (Note: I am not claiming this to be in any way a well-written poem, but I'm going to share it regardless)
August 28, 1963
Visions of Emmet
Voices of Martin
Screams of Protesters
Gospel of Supporters
This is the place
They all come
This is the place
They all march to-
With the strength
To pass through
Steps up to
Turns and faces
Thank God Almighty,
We Are Free At Last
The swearing in was actually more humorous than emotional because the voices didn't match the visuals on the screen, so it actually looked like Obama was swearing in the "repeat after me" guy. This on top of the whole swearing in slip-up that ended up requiring a do-over the following day. I don't remember much of his speech and I don't have favorite excerpts to share like I did after Election Night in November. But I do know I teared up. And I do remember noting that when addressing, "Christians, Jews, Muslims..." he also included "Non-Believers," which I don't think I've ever heard anyone who's anyone say. And I do know that after everything he said, the woman to my right proudly punched the air and loudly said, "YES!" How pleasant it felt to listen to such an eloquent President. How awesome it felt to stand on the same soil that so many people stood on in the past.
What was poor planning on the Inaugural Committee (if there is such a thing) was waiting until after Obama's speech to let Elizabeth Alexander recite her beautifully-written poem, "Praise Song for the Day," when people were already turning to leave. As soon as Barck's part was over, it was like a mass exodus of the Mall. At least people were in good spirits, despite the cold and despite the length of the ceremony. Well, everyone except this guy. I mean, really? You're going to choose this time to say that God hates a specific list of people? Classy.
No one knew where to go. Every direction we attempted to walk, we got stuck. Finally, we joined a group of people who had formed around a fence and were, one at a time, crawling underneath it. That worked. But then we ended up walking ALL the way back to Georgetown. The frozen Potomac was pretty and the Starbucks pit stop was much-needed. It was funny to see everything Obama-ized, such as the drink special at this bar (the Barack-O-Bomb): When we finally got back to P.J.'s, it was after 5 p.m. and we all crashed for several hours, sprawled on the floor and couch. Eventually, we all sleepily rejoined the waking world and mustered enough energy to play Rock Band for awhile. That game is seriously non-stop entertainment. Zach's friend, Joe, who was also down from NYC, met us at P.J.'s and we all piled in a cab to U Street, in search of a restaurant/bar called "Utopia." How appropriate, I thought. Instead, we ended up in a pizza-Indian fusion hole-in-the-wall with disco lights and reggae music. We got huge slices of pizza and watched the new President and First Lady share their first dance at the ball on a small TV suspended in the corner of the pizza parlor. While jamming to UB40's "Red Red Wine." From there, we walked down the street to a bar, where P.J. led us to the basement. The DJ played awesome old music and the small space was packed with elated patrons. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was dancing. Everyone was cheering Obama as they clinked glasses. A guy with a Boston Red Sox hat came up to me and asked to temporarily switch hats. Then this happened. Devon left from there to head back to her cousin's house. I took a cab back to P.J.'s with the boys, where I sat shotgun and interviewed our cab driver on video. It was a long day, but so worth it.
Zach and Joe left early next morning to meet Devon, who was driving back to NYC. P.J. had class, so I spent the day walking around the Mall and going to the Postal Museum. While there I took advantage of their postcard machine and printed and mailed postcards to a few people whose addresses I knew by heart. They even had an exhibit about one of my dream jobs, working in a dead letter office. After the museum, I decided to try and figure out where we had been standing the day before. First I walked to the Capitol Building and had someone take a picture of me. As I walked from there in the direction of the Washington Monument, I realized how close we had been the day before. To be honest, at the time, I didn't even know we were facing in the direction of the Capitol. I tried to take this picture of myself as an approximation, although I think we actually may have been a few hundred feet closer. So I continued walking and thinking about how I wish I had one of the cool nametags I saw people wearing during the Inauguration. Immediately following this thought, I saw a nametag stuck to the gravel sidewalk. Something compelled me to bend down and look at it. My jaw dropped when I saw that it said, "Hello my name is: ALYSE" How crazy is that?! By this point, my mind was blown and my feet hated me, so I sat down on the hill for awhile and took in my surroundings. I then had to walk a pretty far distance in search of a bus back to Georgetown and then had to wait, freezing on a bench, for a long time. P.J. got me a copy of the Washington Post, which was great because the rest of D.C. seemed to be sold out of the paper. He and I met my friend, Marion, at Afterwords, a book store that doubles as a restaurant, and indulged in their special Inauguration Menu. It boasted meals, such as, "Obama Family Chili" and "Biden Pot Pie." As soon as P.J. and I arrived back at his apartment, I went right to sleep because my Super Shuttle was scheduled to pick me up at 3:10 in the morning for my 6 a.m. flight.
All in all, I am so glad I took a few days off work to make this round-about journey to D.C. to partake in such a monumental and historical event. And it meant even more that I got to experience such a day standing side by side with some of my favorite people. I think being in Chicago on Election Night was more exciting, since A) no one knew the outcome and B) the Hometown Hero aspect, but it felt great to also be a part of the epilogue. I am excited to see where President Barack Hussein Obama will lead our country. Hopefully in better, more peaceful, and more logical directions than his predecessor.
The following is an edited (and not very good compressed file) version of my video footage, which I originally put together for groundreport.com
And, as always, here is a link to the REST OF THE PHOTOS.