At 7:00 a.m. on January 20th, five friends and I were up and starting pile on our layers of clothing. With temps in the twenties, and a wind chill near single digits, we knew the proper clothing would be the key to surviving the inauguration experience. At 8:00 we assembled outside my house on Capitol Hill and began our trek toward the Capitol and the national mall.
Things went well until we reached 1st Street, SE where we were forced to turn left – two blocks later we were surrounded by the thousands of ticketholders waiting to get into one of the security gates. By linking hands and arms we threaded our way through the crowd and walked down an offramp of highway 395, which was closed for the day. From there we crossed the road (past the infamous 3rd Street tunnel of despair) and scrambled up the embankment on the other side. Our trip was only beginning – we walked another overcrowded, cramped, squeezed 13 blocks before the throngs of security would let us move north toward the mall.
At 9:30 we reached the Washington Monument and found a spot on an embankment where we could (sorta) see a jumbotron and (semi-sorta) hear the not-so-loudspeakers. For the next two hours we took photos of the crowd, wandered around a bit, chatted, and tried to keep warm. The crowd was joyous. Though many people looked troubled by the cold, there was a great feeling of anticipation and excitement.
By 11:30 the warm up bands had finished and the program began. Shots of Bush or Cheney on the big screens drew scattered ‘boos’ and the ‘na na na na, hey hey, goodbye’ chants. As Rick Warren gave the invocation, the people around us bowed their heads and stood quietly, some praying along. Joe Biden received polite applause as he was sworn in – this obviously wasn't his crowd. Folks around us started to get antsy during the classical piece performed by Yo Yo Ma and Itzak Perlman, and I heard a few shouts of ‘wrap it up’ and ‘let’s go.' But considering the intermittent sound and the cold, I have to assume these people weren't as rude as they seemed to be.
When the moment came for Obama’s swearing in, our screen and sound sync was so off, we could see him finish a sentence before we heard the first words. I doubt anyone watching on our side of the Washington Monument had any idea that John Roberts mixed up the words to the oath of office – we couldn't tell who was saying what. But we sure knew when the oath was over and Obama was officially the President. The crowd screamed, hugged each other, and jumped up and down. It was sheer joy. We stayed for the inaugural address, though by that time we were all talking about buying the DVD or catching what he said on-line at home. Too many sentences were lost to the struggling acoustics.
After the address, we quickly collected ourselves and zipped off the mall to avoid some of the 1.8 million other people. We later found out we missed poet Elizabeth Alexander and Reverend Lowery, but I believe John Stewart summed them up quite well for us. http://www.hulu.com/watch/53921/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-tue-jan-20-2009