Yup, this is what we pretty much ate for the 3 days we were there. Wait, I also remember some 'real' food. Thanks to our lovely hostess, Renee, we ate a good breakfast. And I remember a great El Salvadorean meal at El Tamarindo on U Street.
So, lets back up. My friend Paula and I went to DC on the 17th. We had planned our trip the week after the election. We just wanted to experience this historic occasion in person. Miraculously, just a few weeks before the inauguration, we were able to procure tickets to the Swearing-In ceremony and the Western States regional ball. Many many thanks to Paula's Aunt for getting these for us. I was on cloud 9. And many thanks to the lovely couple we stayed with and their visiting friends. It was great sharing these special days with all of you!
Sunday, January 18
We woke up leisurely at 9am and decided to head to the 'We Are One' concert at the Lincoln Memorial. This concert was to mark the opening of the many Inaugural ceremonies to follow. We walked over a few blocks to the S-bus line on 16th and Colorado Avenue NW. The Washington Post had put out a special Inauguration Issue, and we tried to purchase it from the newspaper stand at the bus stop, but the box was jammed. Oh Well! No biggie. Then, we turned around and noticed that 16th was blocked off by the police. Wow! When did that happen and why? Eleanor, a DC resident (just met her at the bus stop) was also on her way to the concert. She offered us a ride in her car to the next closest bus stop and we tagged along. You could tell Eleanor was totally clued in and we were so not. Anyway, we got on the bus within a few minutes and found out that Barack Obama was at the 19th street church, a historic black church for the morning service. Hence the police blockade. An older black woman was crying - she was on her way that morning to that church for service, and couldn't make it on time. She missed her chance to see Obama. This story will repeat itself many times over the next few days! Each time, my heart went out to the distraught folks - ordinary people, like you and me..
We got off the bus on 17th street, near the White House, and Eleanor, a naturally gifted group leader took over the role of tour guide. It was my first ever time in DC, and I was awestruck. She told us our goal was to get as near to the Lincoln Memorial as possible, and we all formed a little group and stuck together. As we were walking, we were able to see Obama's motorcade go by - gleaming black cars. Beautiful! We got a view of Barack Obama in his Limo through the heavily tinted glass. Or was that Barack? Who knows...
We made it through long lines and a very very large crowd, only to find that the gate was closed. However, the park service personnel told us two other gates down the street were still open. We made it through a sea of people. There really was no way to enforce crowd control at this point, but the public was great. When we'd be getting crushed, we'd yell back asking folks to back off and ease the pressure, and that worked. Not one person collapsed, got stepped on, or fell. Phew! I was terrified for the few kids that were there. Nothing worse than getting your face smothered in a sea of down coats. Luckily, nothing bad happened. I 'm not sure how we made it, but we squeaked in the gate. I heard the gates were closed soon after. People were mad, as they could clearly see that there still was a lot of room inside the grounds, but the security folks decided that was it! I am glad we were in. We got a great spot by the reflecting pool. My binoculars and the jumbotrons worked great.
The concert was amazing. I mean, what a line-up. The crowd was spectacular. It was quite emotional to see people of all races, colors, ages, sizes with the same purpose. My favorite performances were by Mary J Blige (Lean on Me), Garth Brooks, Pete Seger and the Boss (This Land is your land), and Bono. When Obama took the podium, I could not believe I was listening to him in person. It was spectacular. I think though, that what made it was the crowds. The concert was aptly named -- the spirit in the air echoed that. I felt very very proud to be standing there! Sure, it was cold, we were hungry, I wish I was even closer to the stage. But one look at the crowds and it all did not matter. The crowds that made it impossible to get any closer were what made the day!
Oh! I did manage to get the paper. The nice cabbie made 8 stops and I finally got the last one at a convenience store. You would've thought I was out to rob them - the way I charged in demanding the paper at 10pm :-)
Monday, January 19
Only one job today. Go to the Senate offices at the Hart Building and pick up swearing-in tickets. We rode the Metro in to Union Station. As we walked towards the Capitol, I could feel the excitement building. Barack Obama would be sworn-in tomorrow on these grounds and I would be there to witness it! Surreal! We walked over to the Hart building and of course, there was a line. Not too bad - a half-hour wait. Easy! We met some more fabulous people in line - a couple from Pennsylvania, a gentleman from DC - the half-hour went by too soon. I was sad to say good-bye. We went through security and walked over to the Senator's office. We were handed tickets in an envelope, and I could not wait to peek. What section would we be in? BLUE!!!! Yes!! I was all prepared for Silver and we got blue. Look here for seating map if you are really curious what that means. Paula and I decided to walk the grounds and familiarize ourselves with the layout. We knew the next day would be crazy, so it would be smart to make a strategy now. In retrospect, I think that was the smartest thing we did. Without knowing exactly where to go, we would have been hosed on Inauguration Day. We went back home, and I think we spent the next 2 - 3 hours planning the best way to get to the Capitol the next day. I had a splitting headache! The logistics were killing me! What was worse is that we knew folks in over 1 million households and hotel rooms were having the same exact conversation -- what was the best way to get to the Inauguration activities?? Relatively early night - 10 pm. Lights Out!
Tuesday, January 20th!!!
Woke up at 4:30 and our dear hostess, Renee drove us to the metro station at Cleveland Park. She and her husband had Yellow seats, so they could leave at a more respectable hour. The metro was running every 3 - 4 minutes, so we missed one train as it was packed, but were easily able to get the next one. We got off at the Judiciary Square station, along with thousands of others. The energy was amazing. I could feel the goosebumps on my arms - not from the cold. A black lady with an amazing voice broke out into song and we all sang along. There were O-BA-MA chants. We got off the metro station escalators. It was only 6am and the crowds were SCARY. I thought "no way in hell is this real". Crap! Should have gotten up sooner. We walked into the 3rd street tunnel (was closed to traffic). This is the tunnel that gets you across the Capitol grounds. The tunnel was packed with people but it was moving. I'm sure you've heard or read of the horror stories of people being stuck there for hours, but we missed that. Another hour to go before that mess started. Thankfully!
We made it out the tunnel and easily followed the directions to the BLUE gate. Now, the fun starts. It is 6:30am, and as you can see above, the Capitol is luminescent. We got in line (there were already about 500 people ahead of us - now when did they wake up??). Within a half-hour, the line grew all the way back and around the building. I felt very grateful for my position in line and sorry for the folks way back there. It was cold!! We stood in that line for 2 hours. How I wished I could have a cup of coffee. Renee had made coffee in the morning, but I took a mere sip and left the rest. Long lines and a diuretic? Bad idea. I so so wanted some, but I even held off on water. There is no way I was leaving my spot to find a port-a-potty. Paula and I ate some trail mix and some apricots! Hey, 5 more minutes had passed. Yay!
The gates were supposed to open at 8am, but no such luck. The crowds were getting restless. People started cutting in line. Folks in line started chanting "Don't cut the line, Don't cut the line", but as one gentleman put it, "the shame angle isn't working today". I am amazed that there wasn't a riot, and that is good, because if one were to break out, there was no security to handle that. We made some good friends. Hey, when you rub up so close to folks for so long, I guess it is more like family. Finally, at 9am, things started moving. Awesome! We made it through security. The TSA folks were surprisingly cordial. We were in! Paula and I found a spot at the base of a cherry tree - it was elevated about a foot, so it gave me a good view. We were surrounded by a nice group of folks and we all watched out for each other and militantly guarded our space from unwelcome intruders. The rest, I'm sure you all caught that on TV. It was a beautiful sunny day. I knew it just had to be. It somehow seemed so wrong to have anything but blue sky on such a historic day!
The way back home was long. More walking, more waiting. But we made it home at 4pm. Time to grab a quick nap! The Western Ball starts at 8pm.
We got ready and headed out the door at 6:45pm. Our gracious hostess drove us to the Metro Station. Our ball was at the Convention Center alongwith 8 other balls, but still 8,000 - 10,000 people would a breeze compared to the 1.8 million this morning. The metro ride was super stress-free and we made it to the convention center by 7:30pm. My first ever Inaugural Ball!! Yipee. I had no idea what to expect. Well. not exactly true. My friends, who have been to these before warned me that it was conference-like in atmosphere, crappy food, many long hours on your feet, and then a 5 minute appearance from the President and Vice-President. They were mostly correct. The bartender I had set me up with an uber-strong Long-Island iced tea, we danced to a great cover band playing 70's music and lots of ABBA, and then we made our way across to the main stage. We met some fun press folks and some fellow ball-goers. Thankfully, the main act was Marc Anthony who played fantastic Latino salsa music and even brought his lovely wife Jennifer Lopez to sing. That was fun! At 11pm, Joe Biden and Jill Biden came. Joe gave a charming and short speech, they danced and left. 11:15pm. When is President Obama going to come? At 12pm, the marching band came on stage and played 'Hail to the Chief'. Then President Obama and the charming First Lady came on stage. Speech and a nice dance to the tune of 'At Last' and they left. That was more than worth it! When else would I get the opportunity to see the President 40 feet away. And on Inauguration night? And dancing? Once in a lifetime.
The Ball was uneventful after the President and First Lady left, except for the Coat Check. It was a mess. It was 2am, the party-goers were exhausted, their feet hurt, and everyone was dreaming of being horizontal on their beds. As is in any situation, there were a few cheaters, but for the most part folks were polite and patiently waited in line to retreive their coats. It was a mess, but I think everyone got their coats. Made our way home at 3am. Long day, but oh-so fabulous. I think I need a vacation!
Friends have asked me what I enjoyed the most. For me, it was the Concert. I loved the music, I loved seeing all the big-name performers, but most of all, I loved the crowds. The very same crowds that I was cursing while in line, the very same crowds I fought with to get on the bus, the very same crowds I cursed in the hot dog line. The very same crowds that made this such an exhausting weekend. But I cannot shake off the feeling I got when I was standing in these crowds singing, swaying, and dancing to 'Lean On Me'. It was America at its best! I was proud and overwhelmed with a sense of joy, and promise of better days to come.
Below is my 6 1/2 year old son's interpretation of our President. He drew it from memory after watching the ceremony. I thought it was beautiful!