Just one week ago I was in a plane heading toward Dulles International Airport. For those of you who know me, flying is not one of my favorite activities but there was no question that I would bare it in order to be a witness to history.
We flew over on Virgin America, now my second favorite airline after Hawaiian. We each had personal screens, could chat with our seatmates and could watch any cable network– I left mine on MSNBC. You could also get a Google map and follow a little red plane across the country. I appreciated us not flying over Texas. A few other pluses about the plane, the interior was lit up in purple for our flight, the seats were leather, roomy, and very comfortable, and the safety video was amusing as well as informative. The plane was full of people traveling to the inauguration including my seatmate who was wearing an Obama t-shirt. When we touched down the plane cheered and the pilot welcomed us to the celebration.
We arrived at the airport with no glitch what-so-ever. Dulles is interesting, you have to take these little shuttle vehicles between the terminals. They were like self-propelled train cars with blade like spires on top, which we figured was there so snow did not collect on the roofs. These shuttles also elevated and lowered themselves on hydraulics to be level with the terminals. It was a little disconcerting to cross the paths of planes but it was much better than walking in the cold.
The blast of cold air from the sliding doors was actually refreshing after being in airports and the plane for so long. It was also nice to finally know the cold instead of worrying about it. Apparently, that morning it had snowed and there was evidence of it all around us. Ryan was really excited about it, but I just hoped that was the end. We got the car with little hassle, and with hardly another soul in the place. Where were the hordes of people, I wondered to myself. I wasn’t complaining, I was just a little confused.
We finally made it to the hotel, we stayed at the Sumerfield Suites in Herndon, VA. It was a lovely two room suite with a fireplace and plenty of flat screen TVs to keep us all happy. Jana and I mostly watched the news and I bounced back and forth between the two TVs happily.
Monday night we drove out to meet my friend KG and his wife. He used to work in my office and is now out in DC doing awesome things. I’m glad my tax dollars are going to at least one thing I can truly be behind. KG was awesome! He bent over backwards to get my inauguration tickets for me and I owe him big time. We had dinner and it was nice to catch up!
We stopped at a grocery store called Bloom after figuring out that it was in fact a grocery store. We bickered a bit over what to buy and then downright fought the self-checkout lanes. “Put your bananas on the belt.” Line of the night! Back at the hotel we called it an early night. We had an early morning and we were working off of fumes.
Tuesday morning I nearly jumped out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:00am. After putting on what felt like an entire closet of clothes, I was happy to get outside because I was burning up. Bedecked in cameras, we opted to leave our bags behind, I was ready for an historic day.
Our plan was simple, our journey was anything but. The lines for the day passes were horrendous, the trains already brimming to capacity. We were sandwiched in a car that hardly moved. It seemed like as soon as we were moving we came to a stop again. Trains ahead of us had some problems and the sheer overload seemed to be causing back ups. But the spirit on the train could not be dampened. Even as we watched the minutes tick closer to the start of the celebration, no one seemed to be in a foul mood. The conductor was just as excited as the passengers which helped our moods. We tried and failed to start a sing-a-long, but we made a smile so it was worth it. Forced to exit at a different stop because the ones we wanted were closed, we emerged on to the streets of DC.
The excitement was palpable. We joined a heard of people moving towards the National Mall. The energy was absolutely amazing. I didn’t really know in which way I was going or how I was getting there. I’m glad Jana had some sense of direction. Then finally the streets opened up to rows of leafless trees and porta-potties. A welcome sight to some in our party. Jana and I spoted a screen and a speaker and were delighted. It was nearly impossible to get to the tickting location in time so we were content to find a speaker to hear history, even if we couldn’t see it with our own eyes.
With the rest of our group back together we converged on a big screen near the Washington Monument. The crowd wasn’t nearly as dense as I had expected. Again, I was amazed at how bright the spirit was. No one was angry or bothered. We were all cold and only the tallest among us could see. But it seemed as if no one cared. We all booed the evildoers of the past 8 years, we cheered with hope for our new leaders and we burst into song, “Na na na na hey hey hey goodbye!” The crowd bellowed it into the cold crisp air. A freeing sort of chant that lifted the last 8 years off of our collective shoulders.
Cheers and tears as Joe Biden became our nations new Vice President! Then Barack Obama stood up to take the oath to become our 44th President. The air tingled with excitement. But what was that? Was that the sound? Um? Oh well. More tears.
Then our new President took the podium and spoke to us. I couldn’t hold back the wave of emotion inside me. There were nearly 2 million of us standing out there, under the same sun, breathing the same air, hushed with a silence that left me thunderstruck. Just remembering that moment brings tears to my eyes again.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
It was over with erupting cheers from the crowd. It was so fast it felt as if the whole event had taken place in the span of a heartbeat. The crowd started to disperse. We huddled together and waited for the seas of humans to part.
The mall was littered with trash and the wind was colder than before. Our celebration was over and all around us, signs of reality and work ahead.
We meandered in the mall for a bit. The the helicopter carrying our 43rd president passed overhead. Some on the mall saluted the man inside in a not so honorable way. I waved, knowing that the last eight years were finally over. All that talk of a peaceful transfer of power began to make sense. In how many countries can two very different men, with very different ideals hand over the power of highest office in the land with a shake of the hand and a wave goodbye.
Legs and feet frozen, we made our way back to the metro station. When we finally arrived there was an unmoving, ever growing, crowd trying to get underground. Defeated we sat down in the cold air, frozen we took off looking for shelter. Our phones told us a Starbucks was near by. We circled the area only to come within feet of where we stood originally. Inside a hospital cafeteria there was the Starbucks. Thankfully, they let us inside. We warmed up, rested our feet and ate.
After some time we bundled up and decided to wait in the crowd around the station. The metro workers were very cheery telling us not to push and priasing us for our good work. I felt like a small child on a fieldtrip. It was surprisingly quick and we didn’t wait very long in the cold. Got on a train rather quickly and headed home to watch the rest of the day’s celebration on TV.
Wednesday morning we had a late start eating breakfast and packing up a lunch. This time we drove into DC. Surprisingly street parking wasn’t that bad and we ended up being lucky each time we moved the car. Our first stop was the Lincolon Memorial. The only must see on my list. We headed towards the Mall and walked straight into the Vietnam Memorial. Might as well we all agreed.
The day was bright and beautiful, the air was cold but fresh. I started walking down into the memorial really unaware of much. Then I saw a man come down a ladder with a rubbing. The wall was so tall he needed a ladder. The little American flags reflected against the shiny surface. My reflection. Name after name after name. Not names, people. Kids. Who were gone. The wall started to tapper down I brushed my fingers against the etching. What fate let me be there to stand in front of this wall? I was overwhelmed with emotion and I couldn’t control my tears.
I was over war memorials.
After collecting myself we headed toward the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t think it was so large. It was an overwhelming place to be in light of recent events. To wonder what he himself would think of our new President. I sure he would have been proud of his country.
We then made our way to the National Museum of American History. It was jammed packed full of information and real artifacts. The highlights were real documents from the Lincoln library. And an exhibit of Lincoln and the presidents. There was a time line of presidents along a wall starting with our first and ending with our 44th. There was a tingle to see Barack Obama’s face and name at the end of that line, 220 years of progress. We also saw the Star Spangled Banner, the real flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our nation’s anthem. It was amazing to see real historical artifacts. It made the connection to our shared history so much more real.
We then headed for the National Air and Space Museum. Unfortunately, our time there was limited. We were able to see the Right brother’s plane and exhibit. But by far I mostly enjoyed the exhibit on the Apollo missions. To see the real gear worn by our first astronauts and I was absolutly flabbergasted at the size of a model of the Saturn V rocket.
By the time the museums closed so did my brain. I just couldn’t handle any more information. We walked out to the Capitol building and took some snaps at dusk. Walking around we stumbled across a cute little sandwich shop called Potbelly. It was a great little find. I was thrilled over the coat hooks by our table.
We walked back passed the Capitol building lit against the night’s sky, and snapped a couple of more shots.
We were up fairly early on Thursday for what would be our last day in DC. It was a sad feeling. There was so much to see and do we kept saying, next time, next time.
Traffic seemed to return to normal as we fought our way in. Again we found parking relatively easily. Jana gets tons of kudos for her excellent parking skills. We headed over to the Capitol building and took the tour. History oozed out of the walls. What an amazing and inspiring place.
Then we spent our last remaining hours in DC at the National Museum of the American Indian. My brain was overloaded and the space was ideal. It was very meditative and relaxing. We saw an exhibit of Fritz Scholder which was absolutely beautiful.
Tired, we then made our way back to the airport, after a bit of road shenanigans. It was sad to leave, the weather had just become tolerable and there was so much we had to leave behind. Security was so much more strict than LAX, which made me laugh. American Airlines was so much more uncomfortable. It was a strange bookend, where Virgin felt like flying into the future, American felt like flying into the past. Which in an odd way was appropriate.
I know this blog post was extraordinarily long, so thanks for making it to the end with me. I hadn’t realized how many words were trapped inside me. It seemed as if I didn’t want to talk about it and that must have been frustrating to some around me. But as the words spilled onto this page I realized it was that there was just too much inside me to express.
I am not blind and I will never let my youthful exuberance hide from me the truth. All my hopes do not lie in the hands of one man. I know there will be disappointments along the way, even heartbreaks. After all, it did not take long to feel the twinge of idealism broken by practicality. But what will not ever fade is the enduring knowledge that we as a people can move our country forward. That we can rebuild. We will not give way to the cynics and thieves. This is our country.
In the 27 years that I have been alive this is the first time that I have truly felt engaged, empowered, and prideful. This is my country, and I belong here. My president is biracial. My president can dance. My president throws shakas and has a big bright beautiful smile. My first family is a role-model for love.
I was in Washington DC on January 20th, 2009. I was there when history was made. Fighting back tears even now, I am proud.