I wasn’t planning to go to the second inauguration of Barack Obama until sentiment crept up on me. I recalled the high I felt of being part of history when I went in 2009, a high fueled by conditions that would otherwise be my nightmare: unfathomable crowds, sub-freezing temperatures, interminable lines.
I was ready to return, even though the historic significance of the second inauguration was not on par with the first. But I decided to think of it as a way to remind myself that we only have four more years of a reasonable, fair, and progressive person occupying the White House, that he’ll be gone before we know it, and who knows who might follow?
So I took the bus down to stay with my family in Maryland. And on Inauguration Day, I boarded a not very crowded Metro, picked up the paper…
And made my way to meet my cousin and his wife. Unlike 2009, we made it easily from the Metro to the Mall, past vendors selling buttons
and other vendors selling Delacroix-inspired Civil Rights art,
and yet more vendors selling…
Soon after we found our spot, I began to worry that my cousin, cousin-in-law and I might lose each other, especially when I realized that others had come far more prepared than us not to lose their group.
We settled in to a great view of one of the Jumbotrons and a distant view of the Capitol,
and then the fun began.
The man behind us was venting to his female companion about the people who were trying to squeeze through our area to get closer in. Amen! I thought at first. It is obnoxious for people who arrive later to push through other people rather than just stand farther back. How refreshing to be near someone who will call people out on this behavior!
But I began to notice that this man would not quit. Every person who walked by merited an inquisition. “Where is he going?” “Where is she going?” he would ask as someone was weaving through. Every so often, he would question them directly: “I don’t know where you’re trying to go.” Usually that person was coming to or from the Port-o-Potties and seemed understandably surprised that such a trip led to questioning from a man they had never met.
Finally he turned his wrath on me.
“You know, you keep on moving back, and you’re about to move into their card game,” he said, pointing at a group of people standing next to us who were sitting on the ground and playing cards. According to this officious fellow, I was moving around too much in the tiny patch of grass around me. The two of us exchanged some irritated words. I told him that while it was not my intent to get in anyone’s way, we happened to be at a crowded event, and some of this is unavoidable.
Other irritated words were exchanged, and finally, I told him: “You know what Jean-Paul Sartre said? ‘Hell is other people.’ I know where you’re coming from, but this is just kind of inevitable with crowds. I live in New York and this is how it always is. You just have to deal with it.” He told me he was from Anchorage, Alaska.
I would recommend quoting Sartre if you ever want to shut anyone up, because that’s basically what he did, or at least, what he did with me. As the jumbotron began broadcasting people arriving at the Inauguration, he turned his attention there, and began a running commentary.
“There’s an asshole!” he said, as John Boehner arrived. “There’s another asshole” when Paul Ryan arrived. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was not spared. “There’s another squirrel!” he said about the man who oversees our nation’s aviation system. Next up was a man on screen wearing a cowboy hat. “Who the hell is that? A Texan?” When Jesse Jackson arrived, my friend behind me got excited: “Jesse made it! Oh turn the mikes off.”
I couldn’t make out all of what he said when Clarence Thomas arrived, but it began with: “He’s a poor excuse for a…”
I was in agreement with just about everything he said, except perhaps the point of Ray LaHood being a squirrel. It seems to me like he’s been a decent secretary of transportation.
Noting the ex-presidents who were present and absent, he asked:
“Are the Bushes here?” Then, as if to answer his own question, he began laughing.
The ceremony began. All was fine until Myrlie Evers-Williams was reading her invocation blessing the president.
From somewhere came music. It was the beginning of Usher’s “Yeah, ” from a cell phone. No one was claiming ownership. No one knew where it was coming from. I began to worry that somehow it was mine. Had I ever assigned anyone “Yeah” as their ring?
Then I rested my gaze in front of me and down on a belt loop with a phone holster. J'accuse!
The owner was most surprised of all. He didn’t even realize it was his phone until hi female companion pointed it out.
After Biden was sworn in, it was time for a rendition of “America the Beautiful.” We had all seen Beyonce arrive earlier; it was just a matter of when we would see her perform. Would it be now? Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths.
Senator Chuck Schumer began the introduction: “It is my honor to introduce renowned artist…”
The crowd cheered wildly until Schumer said the performer’s name:
“James Taylor.” The crowd groaned.
Trying to make sense of why we weren’t getting Beyonce at that moment, someone behind me said, “Well Jay-Z playing at the thing tonight.”
After Obama was sworn in, Kelly Clarkson was called to perform “My Country tis’ of Thee.”
With Obama inaugurated and temperatures dropping, people started leaving, apparently not realizing that Beyonce was slated to perform at the way end. As her friend were trying to pull her away, one girl in front of me stood stubbornly, feet planted staring up at Kelly.
“We can watch this on YouTube!” her friend said, prodding her along.
Leaving the event proved the most difficult part. We exited the Mall and walked down Constitution Avenue, encountering various bottlenecks along the way. At one point, someone near us said “I need a Metro to get to the Metro!”
I went to throw my coffee cup away with the 700,000 other people who had thrown away coffee cups that morning.
As we walked along the Mall, we passed an old, historic home of some kind.
“What’s this little house over here?” exclaimed a woman behind us.
“I don’t know, but I’m about to eat all of these!” reported her friend mid-way through a bag of Cheet-Os.
Then we went to a bar, watched schadenfreud-istically as John Boehner spoke at the luncheon, began to feel tired…
…And that was Inauguration 2013.