Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The Giant of Illinois
My official inaugural festivities began on Monday afternoon, when I donned a ridiculous two-piece formal dress ($4.40 from Value Village) and proceeded to hang around Dupont Circle's bookstores, coffee houses, and bars all afternoon with Allison, Oliver, and Paul. The second-hand formal attire was warranted by the Big Shoulders Ball. After a nice dinner, Maudie and I caught a cab over to the Black Cat. (Our cabbie told us he was just planning to go home - he couldn't make money crawling around town in all the traffic.)
Kudos to the Hideout on the concert. They were shockingly punctual with the music acts, at least for awhile. We saw some great stuff: originals, covers, and special collaborations. David "Honeyboy" Edwards got one of the most appreciative reactions of the night, and various Curtis Mayfield covers were sung with enthusiasm. I enjoyed hearing my second-ever Sun Ra tribute set. My favorite part of the night came when Andrew Bird played a song I've dreamed of seeing him play for years - "Don't Be Scared." Tortoise played with him, and so did Janet Bean and Sally Timms - Sally handling the bulk of the female vocals. It was wonderful. It was apparently a Handsome Family kind of night - we also heard "The Giant of Illinois." Although, as Andrew commented, the song was apropos in name only.
In spite of some rousing solidarity tunes from the Waco Brothers, Maudie and I cut out before the end of the night. We had an early morning ahead of us. At 6:00 a.m. we donned eighteen layers of clothing and hit the dark streets on our way to the silver ticket line ... which was already enormous. We were lucky. Although we weathered freezing wind and some line jumpers, we got into the front portion of the silver area with very little trouble. We were inside the gates by 8:30. Many people we heard from in other sections weren't so lucky. Of course, from our spot slightly behind the reflecting pool, we couldn't see any video screens. We could see the capital, with the tiny little people milling about, but when the ceremony started in earnest the crowd surged forward and mostly blocked my view even of that. We were right below a speaker, though, so the words and music came through loud and clear. Being in the midst of such a crowd for such an event was pretty amazing. (And cold. Also very cold.) The details were the best part for me. Everyone around us laughing each time the loudspeakers solemnly announced, "Please be seated." A man from Kenya posing for photos with a contingent from Hawaii, all beaming and holding up flags and banners. A gentleman dressed as Abe Lincoln standing behind us. The yelp of joy that went up when the oath of office was complete and we heard, "Congratulations, Mr. President." During President Obama's speech, people calling out responses. "Yes, sir!" "That's right!" Hearing this speech without the chatter and dissection of commentators immediately following, allowing the unfiltered words themselves to bounce around in my head for awhile.
After the ceremony, we followed the masses in the general direction of Maudie's hotel. I think we made it within twenty or twenty-five minutes, which was a minor miracle judging from the gridlock Heidi and Paul were stuck in, and our view of the unending crowds streaming past below. We thawed slowly, scarfing down vending machine snacks and cold leftover pizza - our only possible food options given the choas on the street. When our purple ticketed friends finally arrived, we watched luncheon and parade coverage from the comfort of the 7th floor. Later that evening we braved the crowds again for the sake of a long, leisurely, celebratory dinner at Dino. On the metro back to Takoma, a woman sitting behind us showed us a photo a friend had sent her in a text message: she was at a ball, and the president and first lady had just had their first dance.
Finally back at Heidi's house, we relaxed and watched ball coverage. I packed. Super Shuttle picked me up at 2:30 a.m. I'd been afraid that getting to the airport on time might be a problem, but all was calm. I was back by 9:15, and proceeded to the office where I worked a full day. And then I went grocery shopping. And now I'm home.
I kind of want to lie down and collapse for 24 hours, but mostly I'm still happy and excited. I realized today that as much fun as the inauguration was, it wasn't the event itself I was really looking forward to. I was looking forward to the result of that event. To right now, and the fact that Barack Obama is our president. I know this will feel perfectly normal to me soon enough, and that thought makes me happy, too. So far, so good.