Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mass Enthusiasm to Mass Confusion: The Inauguration

This is really long, sorry guys. Also, I will get pictures up as soon as blogger isnt being incredibly slow.
Disclaimer: I wrote this for the Picket so you wont find any words like buster or sonnn in here, strictly PG writing here. I had to be ladylike and patriotic and all that. I know this might be hard for some of you to believe but I can pull "ladylike" out of my back pocket at will.

At 5 in the morning my alarm went off and I mumbled and groaned and hit the snooze. But this was no day to drag my feet, no day to linger in bed. On this day, January 20th 2009, President elect Obama would be sworn into office, making him the first African American president and also the first president I personally had voted for. There was no way I could miss this historic event. Despite the warnings of the clogged subways and the freezing temperatures, I was bundled up tight and departed for the metro with a groggy smile on my face. My two room-mates and I drove out of Shepherdstown around 6:00 am expecting to be met with heavy highway traffic and insane parking ordeals at the metro, but we didn't encounter either. Were we late? Was everyone already there? Or maybe, all the hype had scared people into not coming. In either case we joyously jumped a train from Shadygrove, easily finding empty seats to occupy, smiling to ourselves because we had somehow managed to miss all the terrible lines we had read so much about in the days prior to the inauguration.
We smiled, that is, until we got to the Metro Station. It was here that we began our hectic long day of standing in line and being jostled and pushed by eager Obama supporters. There is something about being completely surrounded by strangers, whether its at a concert, a carnival, or an inauguration that reminds you that you're part of a much bigger thing. It also reminds you that a lot of people have no manners and will push and shove their way through you. We waited at Metro Station through 5 trains going by before we were finally able to do some pushing and shoving of our own and make it onto a fully stuffed train. The excitement was obvious on the faces of my fellow passengers. We had made it, we were going to be let out at the National Mall in just a few short minutes! As we came out of the metro station and the first icy gusts of wind hit our faces it became a reality. We were going to see Obama sworn into office and one day we could tell our grandchildren what it had been like to witness the history firsthand.
At 8:30 we walked out onto the Mall, weaving our way through the crowd, pushing closer and closer to the Capital. We were still over 10 blocks away when we hit a wall. People stood shoulder to shoulder densely packed and huddled together for warmth. We found our crack in the wall and pushed through it, hoping to get a little closer. Pretty soon we were totally surrounded with no exit in sight and it felt like the crowd was simply shifting rather than moving in any particular direction. A moment of panic hit me when several people around me moved and I felt myself lift off the ground just slightly and get carried along with the direction of the crowd. We headed for the edge of the crowd and after a few minutes of squeezing and apologizing we broke free.
The cold soon set in and we quickly realized that we had hours ahead of us before Obama would be sworn in and we had no activity planned. We decided to head out of the cold and into one of the galleries. We chose the Smithsonian Castle and joined the already daunting line. Ambulances were parked everywhere on the ready for disasters, and one sat idling in front of the Castle. People had gathered all around it with their hands pressed to the hood trying to suck the warmth into their frozen hands. At 10am the Castle opened to the public. The crowd surged forward pressing towards the door but a lone officer stood at the top of the stairs and held everyone back. He let 5 people pass him. 5 minutes later he let 5 more people in. We stood in the unbearable cold like this for close to two hours, with 5 people at a time being let in. Little did we know that the line for the Natural History museum across the mall was circulating without delay. But we stuck it out for almost 2 hours and just 15 minutes before the start of the inauguration we were let into the building to stomp our feet and store as much warmth as we could before heading back out into the cold.
We hurried out to the jumbotrons just as Bush and Cheney were walking out of the Capital. We carved ourselves out a little nook in the crowd and settled in to watch. When Michelle Obama came out into view the crowd went wild. The sound when the camera caught sight of Barack Obama was like the sound of a football stadium on Superbowl day. People frantically waved flags and we raised our voices to blend with everyone else's. The swearing in was over and done with in under 10 minutes. We started heading for the metro station to beat the crowd when the sound of Barack's voice came over the loudspeakers and he started his speech. Drawn in by his eloquent voice we stopped to watch and listen. Like all his speeches, this speech was beautifully written and carried out but this speech took on a whole new meaning as he stood before us as our president. Tears started to swim in my eyes and as I looked around me I saw the same expression on almost every face. We all felt proud to be Americans.
At the end of his speech the crowd started moving as a mass towards the different metro lines around the mall. We headed for the Federal Triangle stop where we had come in. As we got closer to the street though we saw towering over the heads of the people in front of us large chain linked fences. As we approached the fence we realized with a sickening clarity that the entire street between the metro and where we stood was blocked off from us. When we asked a police officer when the fence would be coming down he replied that it wouldn't be coming down until after the parade. We were stumped. All of the other metro stops around us, like the Smithsonian and L'Enfant Plaza stops, were closed. The closest open stop was all the way up on 18th street close to the White House. With no other options in sight we decided to walk up there and try our luck. We didn't walk far before we noticed the huge streams of people walking in the other direction. When we stopped someone to ask he told us that there were gates down on 18th street too, that is was impossible to get out that way. We looked at each other in disbelief. Then, through the noise of the masses we heard that L'Enfant might be open afterall. With a sigh of relief we set out for L'Enfant. But as we neared the station our hearts fell again. There was a solid wall of people blocking the entrance and everyone we talked to said it was down for repairs. We admitted defeat. We were trapped, literally, in DC. Every way of escape was either blocked by gates and police officers or was off limits because of the parade.
Tired and hungry we decided to go to the Native American gallery and get some food. We hadn't eaten anything since 5:30 in the morning and it was now coming on 2pm. This too proved to be impossible. The line from the cafeteria went out the door and up the stairs to the third floor! Exhausted and grumpy we slumped onto the floor with 50 or so other people in a small gallery room. That feeling of being part of a much bigger thing only intensified when I looked around and saw the hungry faces of the children and adults who had braved the weather to see our new president and were now locked into the inner city just like I was.
Once we felt warm we went back outside to try again. This time we walked towards the Capital down off the side of the mall. We came upon the third street tunnel and were amazed to see people, tons of people, walking through the tunnel on the highway. We checked our map and saw that the tunnel went under the Mall and came out on Massachusetts Ave. With nothing else to try we decided to join the others who were braving the tunnel. Walking through the tunnel with everyone else, all bundled up and confused, I had a strange feeling of being in a movie. Like we were survivors from some sort of apocalypse, and we were moving as quickly as possible through the city before darkness fell and the zombies came out of hiding. It was, without a doubt, one of the strangest things I have ever felt. The tunnel started to slope up again and we could see daylight once more. We all let out on giant sigh of relief when we realized there were no fences or gates or police officers waiting for us on the other side. We had made it through an exhausting, stressful day and now we could finally go home and tell our experiences to others.
We ended the night by bowling at Lucky Strike (at which I did horribly but had lots of fun) and got some tasty burgers


Joshua said...

Thanks for posting this, Lacey. A great read. Wish I could have been there too -- I'd never really missed living in that part of the country until I realized that, if I still lived there, I could have gone too.

Lacey said...

You're welcome :) I flip-flopped back and forth about whether I wanted to go but in the end im really glad I did