Wednesday, January 21, 2009

air and simple gifts.

like most of the other two million people that joined me on the national mall yesterday, i'm having a hard time figuring out a way to talk about being at the inauguration, the entirety, experience of it all.

so i will start with the temperature. people, it was fucking cold.

now, i'm a new englander who spent a few years in chicago, so i am not exactly new to this whole winter weather business. however, i also don't usually make a habit of standing outside in it for five hours straight. however layered-up you are, in that amount of time, you will get cold. you will get freezing. you will begin to assert the impossibility of the existence of god. you will curse the existence of government in the first place, because without it goddammit we wouldn't all be out here in the first place. damn you founding fathers, damn you!

then your fingers actually go numb.

we started the day earlier than anticipated - my parents had set out for their silver ticketed area destination around 6:15, and we were going to leave around 7:30 or 8:00. however, cnn helpfully showed us the waves of people descending on the mall before the sun had even come up, and we decided we better move it. out the door at 7:15, we made our labyrinthine way along the sound side of the mall (or a few blocks south of it to be precise, as we didn't actually have a death wish) to 14th street and the washington monument. lots of open grass! a slope to aid jumbotron viewing! the capitol dome in view! score. we put our blanket down and settled in to wait.

did i mention the part about my fingers going numb? oh right i did. around 9:30, my ill-fated venture to the port-a-potties (didn't even make it halfway there, crowd was too thick) made me nearly lose jason in the throng - sheer luck and a memorable tree saved me from lost kid hysteria. and around ten, the cold having seeped through every layer i had on, the involuntary muscle spasms started. those were fun! but just when i was started to contemplate weeping quietly into my ratty old fleece gloves, there was a sound! music! from the stage! it was starting.

it seemed to take forever to get all the VIP attendees announced and into their seats. did you know there are a lot of members of congress? and joint chiefs of things? and former vice-presidents and presidents that have the nerve not to be dead already?? but at least it gave us something to cheer about when our partisan heroes appeared - lots of love for teddy, and for bubba too. but then, eventually, bush came out.

the booing, it was epic. i think you could probably hear it in new jersey. and i know - i know - he heard it. before he emerged, i considered for a moment what i should do - i questioned whether it was right to boo any standing president, to disrespect the office of the president in that way. but then i thought, you know what? he disrespected the office of the president far more than i ever could - and so i booed. loudly.

the inauguration itself was mercifully brief - compared to the hours of waiting that preceded it - and brimmed with an energy and intensity that is hard to describe. with that many people in a shared space, with a common feeling, it is impossible not to have that consensus become something almost palpable right before it is realized - like it might actually coalesce into something you could grab, touch, hold onto at any moment. we hung onto each other, i think, because we knew it was right there at our fingertips.

before the oath and president obama's speech, there was a classical piece called "air and simple gifts" performed by itzhak perlman, yo yo ma, gabriela montero and anthony mcgill. it was perfectly appropriate to the moment - pieces of nostalgia and alchemy and comfort and comprehension - and it simultaneously seemed to bring everything back down to earth and lift it onto a different plane all together. a woman standing in front of me turned to her right, tilted her face toward the sun, closed her eyes. smiled.

then, the oath of office. it didn't matter than we were on about a three second delay between the video on the jumbotron and the audio from the speakers, and it didn't matter that i couldn't entirely see between the hats and tall heads in front of me. i left my camera in my pocket - i wanted to be completely present at that moment. and i was. and i'll never forget it.

his speech, as you all heard, was very good - not lofty rhetoric, but tailored to the moment, and i thought it worked. and still, even in its pragmatism, it had its moments of high ideals and inspiration - calls to renewal, to service, to the barricades. to be honest, the cynic in me should have been rolling my eyes at points - it all got a little man in the mirror, you know? but guess what - on my more optimistic days, i kinda like man in the mirror. and i do want to make that change. so there, take that, pessimism and doubt! score one for obama - at least for today.

our trek home was nothing short of spectacular, and not necessarily in a good way. i think i was on the verge of being trampled once or twice, there were numerous inexplicable points of human gridlock, and we had to engage in much re-routing and cursing of families that had the audacity to hold hands and try to stay together. i may have kicked an old woman or two, i'm not sure.

kidding. i'm kidding. i think.

i don't even know how long it took us to get back to the apartment. time had ceased to have any meaning by that point. we were a city of momentary refugees, all just trying to get back to where we were from - trudging down side streets in packs, helping each other over concrete barriers, wandering aimlessly down an empty blockaded highway. i have never been so happy to see my building - jason ran, flapping and giddy, down the last half of the back alley, me too tired to do anything but cheer him on. "go, go, you're almost there!" and then we were. home.

all in all, it was one of those crazy once-in-a-lifetime experiences that kicked the crap out of you but was completely worth it. i'm hoping to be able to hold on to this feeling somehow, this real sense of possibility, of re-invigoration. because it only comes along so often, and when it does, boy you've got to grab hold.

be the change. yes we can. let's get back to work.


Toast said...

Excellent recap.

Could you elucidate on the "man in the mirror" effect? Beyond the crappy Michael Jackson song.

Tracy said...

Excellent post, kate. I love you rationale for booing Bush. Perfect.

I hope that feeling is still there for you. It should be, because this man is kicking boatloads of ass and taking names. Actually he's probably not taking names. He doesn't care. He's just going to do the asskicking part and not worry about the rest.

Tracy said...

I love your rationale. I'm sure I would probably love you, too, but I don't think we're there yet.

kate.d. said...

hahaha toast, that's exactly what i'm referencing, just the crappy michael jackson song. except sometimes its not crappy, it's awesome. sometimes.

tracy, i'm definitely into this presidency so far - and the global gag rule goes down tomorrow, holy shit zomg yippee.

restaurant refugee said...

I went back and forth on this matter for a long time - to attend, or to watch in comfort and surround sound? I made plans to attend until two things happened. 1)My mother made a not so subtle hint that she thought giving her my tickets was the least I could do in payment for pregnancy, child birth, and tolerating me for all these years. and 2)The weather forecast.

I gave my tickets to Mom, and I drank champagne and bloody mary's with my friends. I am glad that you went (and made it back,) glad that you were joined by my mother, her best friend, and about 1.8 million other people. I am also glad for the accounts of the experience that you and others have provided. It will make it so much easier two years from now when people ask me if I was there and I reply "of course, I was."

Jen C said...

Love this post. And I love the photos -- so glad that looney Steelers fans show their pride everywhere possible. Got to love it.

Anonymous said...

See? See? I'm not the only one who is puppy dogs and rainbows...AND unicorns!