SATURDAY MORNING, JAN. 17, 2009 in Washington, D.C.
(Disclaimer: The following are thoughts on the Presidential Inauguration in DC, from a very unbiased observer. Lance is a DC-area native, Portland-transplant, WW-freelancer over the past coupla years...and hardcore Obama-phile. He worked as a community organizer for the campaign in Dumfries, Virginia, during the last several months leading up to Election Day, and finds himself back in DC for the weekend, embracing his ticketless-ness, getting frostbite, hangovers, and a little taste of change direct from the source).
After arriving back in DC around 2am on Thursday, by way of San Francisco and Las Vegas (at $80 airfare, you get what you pay for) - I made it down to the National Mall for the first time on Friday afternoon. There's no hiding the preparations in place for the weekend, and of course, for Tuesday. Pennsylvania Avenue is lined with grandstands, able to seat thousands. There's the sea of chairs in front of the Capitol building, the MSNBC broadcasting hut, and the standard, default Red, White and Blue decorative get-up that's dressing most of the buildings. Then some structures have really outdone themselves, to exhibit that little extra bit of personality on their trimmings. Exhibit A: the Canadian Embassy, with giant pictures of Obama affixed to the exterior of the building. They've also wrapped his name around the giant pillars greeting visitors at its entry, along with the phrase, "Le Canada vous salue" (there's very little hiding who Canada voted for back in November).
Outside the Newseum (that's the museum o' news, in case you didn't guess) just down the street, there's a substantial "Newseum Welcomes President Obama" sign below a "Newseum Celebrates First Amendment" banner, and another banner displaying a smattering of our "Freedoms" scattered and plastered across its lower facade, things like "Press," "Assembly," "Religion," "Petition," and "Speech," as if the country is welcoming a return of these foundational ideals to our society, just as much as we are welcoming a new head of state.
Everyone's jumping on the Inauguration bandwagon, from the obvious — like the makeshift, streetcorner merchandisers, to the not-so-obvious — like Pepsi (ever notice how the Pepsi logo looks frighteningly similar to the Obama O? Well if you didn't, the Pepsi people did. They've got their own take on the "HOPE" poster plastered all around the city and subway).
I've read predictions for Tuesday that have ranged from 1 million people on the Mall to more than 5 million, though the talk in town feels like the numbers are getting trimmed down quite a bit as Tuesday approaches. The numbingly cold weather, the threats of giant, mob-esque crowds, lack of suitable places to urinate, paralysis of public and private transportation, and all-in-all general discomfort, may have scared off at least some potential Inauguration junkies. But one way or another, there'll be a shitload of ecstatic people. The last time I was on the Mall with hordes of humans, was back in 2003, covering a large anti-war protest and march for my college newspaper,
shortly before Bush declared war in Iraq. Even then, the crowds were big, with at least several hundred thousand frustrated souls, but it won't even come close to comparing to this coming Tuesday. I went back to read that old story earlier today — turned out it was published Jan. 20, 2003, exactly six years before the Inauguration date. My, my, how things have changed.
I'm staying with my old childhood friend Dan, at his house in Columbia Heights. Friday night, after inhaling a vat of leftover Indian soup in his fridge, we bundle into our multiple layers (mine includes two sets of gloves, a scarf—something I never wear, two hats, wool socks, long underwear underneath my corduroys, an undershirt, flannel shirt, hoodie plus regular coat), and venture outside to make our way to a friend's party. Turns out the preparations for the gelid temperatures were damn-near unnecessary: Dan says it's almost impossible to hail a cab in his neighborhood ordinarily, especially past 10 pm, but we flag down a very well-heated Chevy Suburban cab in less than a minute right on his streetcorner and our posse gets door-to-door service. We pull up to the party, share well-wishes with the cab driver (who was very excited for a new future of leadership and a few days of good business), and make our way onto the dancefloor (living room), where a DJ wearing an Obama/Biden shirt spins a healthy mix, just like the crowd (there's black, white and Hispanic people drinking and dancing together — signs I'm definitely not in Portland anymore). I walk upstairs to leave my coat and other accoutrements and make a pitstop at the bathroom. While waiting in line, a cute, petite girl named Julie asks me what my expectations are for the next five days.
"No regrets...be excited for the future, and surround myself with wonderful people," I say.
I forget to mention that I also wouldn't mind making out with her on the balustrade (adorned by Red, White and Blue streamers, with an Obama portrait hanging above our heads like political mistletoe), but by then it's my turn to use the can, and she's already talking to the next guy in line.
NEXT ON THE DOCKET:
ass-shaking at the Rock and Roll Hotel, Stevie Wonder on the Mall, and lots of disturbing IKEA signs on the subway...