A good friend had come down from Chicago for the event and stayed with us on Monday and Tuesday night. After his arrival on Monday evening, we went to bed fairly early to get as much rest as possible before what we knew would be a long day, and were up early on Tuesday, from excitement as well as the need to get on Metro early. My friend was participating in a documentary about people who traveled to DC for the event, so we were met early by the young man, a Virginia Commonwealth University student, who would be doing the filming. Third Dad drove the three of us to the closest Metro to our house, which happens to be the Virginia end of the yellow line - perfect, since our plan was to get off at L'Enfant Plaza and then walk over the Mall.
Well, the crowds simply exceeded the square footage of the station, and with the stations on and near the Mall closed for security reasons, the closest station at which we were allowed to exit was Chinatown. So along with thousands of others from our train and those before us, we exited the station and started the trek down to the Mall.
It was cold, but honestly with three layers of close and a day blessed with brilliant sunshine, it wasn't bad at all as long as you stayed on the sunny side of the street and kept moving. We zig-zagged our way back toward the Capitol, and finally ended up around Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd St. NW. Unfortunately, upon asking a policeman where our best chance of getting onto the Mall might be, he told us that there was no chance from the Pennsylvania Avenue side, and suggested that we walk back around the Capitol to the Independence Avenue side to try our luck there.
Which is what we did, heading first up to 2nd St., then down 2nd until we hit Independence, and down to the Mall from there. The mood of those with whom we walked was festive. We passed a couple of protests, but honestly, no one paid attention. It was day when, for once, the voices of doom and the naysayers weren't getting the bully pulpit. But people weren't overly gregarious, either. It was kind of like everyone was exhaling, all at the same time and all for the same reason.
Once we reached the Mall on the other side, we tried getting on near the Native American Museum, but by then (it was nearing 11:30) even ticket-holders were being blocked. It was simply too crowded; the Mall is, after all, a finite space. And so, just a couple of minutes before 11:30 AM, we found a perch at 1st St. SW and Independence near the Botanical Gardens, from which we had a distant but clear shot of the Capitol and the viewing stand.
From this vantage point we were able to hear anything loud, like the announcements and Aretha - holy smokes, she was amazing! - and the roar of the crowd. We needed the help of radios (God bless the lovely woman who loaned me an earbud so I could share her iPod!) for the quieter moments, such as the swearing in itself and Barack Obama's speech. When Joe Biden was sworn in, everyone near me yelled No more Cheney! at almost the same time, which of course led to lots of laughter.
I'll never forget the moment when Barack Obama was sworn in. There was a little lag between the audio system on the Mall and the radios, so we could hear the crowd screaming before the oath had been administered over the airways. And then we started, too - cheering, shouting, crying, hugging strangers - we all just jumped and screamed and let the tears roll. There was so much history and so much relief in that moment - I'll never forget it, ever.
When the ceremony was over, my friend and I headed back to the Native American Museum to see if the rumors that the museums were open were true, and indeed they were. They were also offering free hot chocolate, which cold as we were after standing up on the hill for nearly 45 minutes (which was really the only time we were cold) was a welcome treat. We had a cup, rested a bit, and then ventured out onto the Mall itself, which by then had already pretty much emptied out. After snapping a few photos (including the one at the top of this post,) we headed back to try to catch a train back up to Capital Hill to join friends for lunch.
We should have know that THAT wouldn't happen for a long time. Thousands of people immediately headed for Metro, and I learned later that waits were two to three hours. Fortunately, we had the sense to just start walking, and in little more than half an hour we were on the Hill with his friends.
My pictures don't do it all justice. I wish I could convey the magnitude of the crowds and the emotions as I experienced them, but I hope this post gives you a little taste of it. As I mentioned in my last post, if you're on Facebook, I've got more photos there.
So now we go back to our everyday lives, but with this new President we've elected. And even though we're already back to politics as usual, I for one have hope again that we can surmount the challenges that face us. And I have the emotions of Tuesday to keep my hope alive.