Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Slog into History

It was not an easy path to witness the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama, but then, neither was his path to the Presidency. My wife, daughter, grandson and I drove to Frederick, Maryland and spend the night before at the home of a friend of our daughter. We were up at 5 AM on Inauguration Day and arrived at the MARC Train Station at 6:15. We were dressed for tobogganing.

The station was quite cheery with a large Obama Inauguration sign to welcome us. People of all ages and colors poured in, each with eager anticipation on their faces. Many asked, "Is this the station to D.C.?" because they did not want to miss the historical moment.

A group of black folks was huddled on one side of the room and we found out that their Greyhound bus, scheduled to pick them up at this station at 5:30, has not yet arrived. They were anxious, yet hopeful that they would get to The Mall.

Our train loaded at 7:00 and we were off at the scheduled time, 7:15. My daughter wrote, 'President Obama' on the fogged-up window and the sunrise created an interesting image.

An air of excitement and gladness filled our car as the whistle blew and train wheels clacked across town and country crossings. An elderly black woman, Gladys Gaines, sat next to my wife and she, never one to miss a conversation, chatted with her along the way. The 81-year-old from Flint Michigan had ridden here with others in her church group. She was very

happy to be on the train because the bus from Flint had a blow-out and was disabled for 5 hours as they sat along the highway, the tow truck driver unable to remove the rusted lugnuts. The group had only 2 hourse of sleep.

"Honey," she said to my wife, "I wouldn't miss this for anything and God got us back on the highway in time." She said that it was hard to believe, having lived the life she had, that she was here to watch a black man be sworn in as President. "Lord, I've been through a lot in my lifetime," she stated. My wife filmed her interview on her FlipCam and I will try to get it on here when I figure it out.

An hour later, we stopped in Union Station and applauded our destination. As we stepped onto the platform, we saw hundreds of folks leaving their coaches all around us.

With a crisp heel, we moved with the crowds and into the main building. Amtrak workers held 'Welcome' signs and 'This Way' signs to guide us out into the cold morning air of the city. Interestingly, our first 'sight' was a row of perhaps 100 blue porta-potties, some of the 5000 that were set out for us. Our daughter had packed her own toilet tissue for the occasion.

The sun shone brightly and made it difficult to see more 'This Way' signs that people held for us. We spotted the Mall This Way sign and headed towards it with several thousand others. Soon, however, it was apparent that things were not going to go as smoothly as the past hour. A mass of humanity came to a dead stop near a tall fence at the end of Louisiana Avenue. A large sign read, Purple Ticket Entrance. As we had no tickets at all, we realized that this was not where we ought to be, but there were no more Mall This Way signs to guide us.

Not only that, but many hundreds of others had now arrive behind us, with even more train people behind them. We were at a dead-end.

[note: this Purple Gate was, we later learned, the site of much confusion as folks with these tickets were not able to get into their 'reserved' seats at all.  YouTube of this gate]

We were stuck in a sea of humanity, unable to move in any direction. We swayed like a wheat field in the wind, one way, then the next. It was becoming dangerous and several people yelled, "We just want to get out!" and "Let us through!" We joined the chorus of others saying, "We have no tickets, let us through!" Very slowly, a snake of people began to move out of the mass and we followed along, being jostled as we wove free. That was a scary situation that darkened our spirits greatly.

The map shows our 'dead-end' and the retreat we had to conduct. I had this map in hand and knew that the black double-headed arrows were the designated 'cross-over' points, implying that pedestrians could move through these openings. But I was wrong. And no one knew much more than I. Faces lost their pleasant smiles as they understood that The Mall [green on the map] seemed to be cordoned off. It was now about 9 o'clock and a bit of panic set in. No one knew where to go, even the police officers we passed along the way.

What I did not realize was that the double-arrows on 3rd Street indicated walking on the I-395 roadway tunnel that went under The Mall. However, where we were, there were no ramps to get down there. And so, we kept on moving westward and northward, looking for another opening. Unfortunately, there were no more entrances to The Mall, only to the parade route. Each of the parade route entrances were surrounded by tens of hundreds of people waiting to go through security. Thus, we slogged onward, finding much the same. It was now 10 o'clock and we were heading towards the White House.

Our only hope of getting onto The Mall, I realized, was to go around the White House and down to the Washington Monument.

That was quite a trek, especially with frozen hands, faces, and feet. My daughter had a tear in her eye and fear on her face and I knew what she was thinking.

Soon we were walking with many other people who had the same plan, Up 14th Street and along I Street, our parade marched, hoping to reach the monument by noon. We had come so far that we couldn't miss the Inauguration by a few blocks. Of course, we had no idea if there would be barriers and security checks with masses of people waiting to get through.

The bright sun shone on our faces to warm us up as we walked down 18th with the tip of the monument visible on our left. Closer and closer we came and then, as if by some magical magnetic wizardry, The Mall's brown grass, bathed in that glorious sun, lay before us, no fences, no barriers at all.

It was our own, Free At Last moment and we scurried forward, bones aching, but happy to be there at last.

It was 11:15; we could once again breath easily as we walked up towards the monument to find a good standing location.
Behind us, throngs of others followed, filling up the entire area by the noon hour. It was good to be there, with all of these other fine peope, awaiting the moment we had dreamed of...

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