2009: Obama Inauguration

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“Y’all, we Americans again” the Jazz bandleader repeated after each set.  Five of us were celebrating Martin Luther King’s holiday and the forthcoming inauguration on the night of January 19 into the wee hours of Jan 20.  Washington DC was festive, with people talking casually, smiling, even laughing—so unusual for this dour bureaucratic city.I planned to get up early and take the metro down to the Mall, perhaps find space on the Washington monument mound.  That didn’t happen.  I got up late and scrambled into the subway by 8:30 am, prepared to be miles away from Congress where the Inauguration Ceremony was to occur.  During the ride, I chatted with a mother (60+) and daughter (40).  It turned out that until recently they lived 15 miles from my house.  Cutting the story short, the mother offered me a spare ticket to the fund-raiser’s enclosure, just below Congress, if I escorted her daughter who had never visited DC.  Elated at my stroke of luck, I agreed of course.

We got off at Union Station and followed the signs to our ticket entrance. As we approached, the crowd thickened until we ground to a halt with hundreds of people behind us pushing forward and others cutting through because they were at the wrong entrance.  Total chaos.  When the gate eventually opened, the press of people eager to get in almost became a stampede.  Meanwhile, Marie (daughter) rummaged through her purse to pull out her ticket. Several frantic searches later, she realized that she had left it in the apartment.  I took a deep breath, thought easy come easy go and offered to give back the ticket her mother gave me, but she wanted to first have a shot at talking her way in.  It worked.  Unbelievably, we passed three checkpoints where she said I had the tickets and I waved the one ticket in the air, hoping to make it look like two.  So much for tight security!  Later, we learned that other people with tickets did not get in, even for hospitality lounges along the parade route for which they had paid $250.

Once in the enclosure, we had to stand for about an hour and a half before anything of note happened. It was pretty cold.  Although we were close enough to actually recognize people up on the balcony, the Jumbotron gave us a better close-up view.  Senators, past-presidents, cabinet members, Bush and finally Obama filed in gradually.  Bush was booed and yelled at “You lied and people died”, “Seven and half minutes and you’re out”, “Nana na naa, hey hey, goodbye”.  Cheney was booed louder and shouts of “Evil” could be heard.  The loudest boos were for Senator Lieberman accompanied by “Treachery trumps stupidity, even evil”.  Obama eventually arrived to take the oath, which Chief Justice Roberts flubbed and had to redo the next day.

I’m sure you heard Obama’s rousing speech ad nauseum so I’m not going to repeat the highlights.  One sentence made me feel more included than any other political speech that I can remember.  When he listed the religions in America that would receive even treatment, he added “and unbelievers”.  Finally, someone recognized that atheists are citizens too.  Come to think of it, he did not mention Buddhists.  Perhaps, he correctly pegs Buddha as a non-theist.  After the applause ended, I agreed with the band-leader that we can be Americans again and are “Fired up, ready to go”.  Whether the promised change occurs, remains to be seen.