So, I don’t even know how to write about this without it sounding like bitter grousing, and frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to have to report that after five hours of standing in the bitter cold, getting pushed and shoved to the point where you start to feel for your safety, and being herded to and fro, the most I can report about the inauguration is that the 21-gun salute is really loud.
So loud, in fact, you can feel it outside the security perimeter.
That’s right, despite having in hand magic purple tickets, and lining up hours before the gates opened, I saw nothing. I heard, beyond the guns, nothing.
I followed all the signs, I went to the appointed spot. . . and what? There was almost no one who had a clue of what was to happen next. Some people who seemed to know what they were talking about stood on the back of a garbage truck and shouted–sans any amplification–so that all anyone could make out was that they were pointing in a certain direction. Most of us followed.
The gates weren’t to open till 9, so it made sense that the movement stopped at that point, but what is inexplicable is what happened after that point.
The lines for the Purple Tickets and the lines for the Yellow Tickets crisscrossed at numerous points causing every bit of the road-blocking mayhem you would imagine.
Over the next 90 minutes, I traced a circle with a diameter of no more than 20 feet. We then came to a stop just outside a fence within within full view of the metal detectors and the uniforms that were staffing them.
And, there I stood. I stood next to women from Florida who had saved for months to make this trip. I stood next to a woman separated by the crowd from her husband. I stood next to people who had been standing in that same spot since 5am. . . since, in one case, 3am.
At about 10:30, two women with Day-Glo vests who seemed like they were speaking in some official capacity, pushed down the middle of this crowd, explaining to a few people at a time that they would be opening a second entry directly behind us. But looking there, I saw no signs of movement. This news, however, caused about a third of the crowd to turn 180 degrees and try to work themselves against the general flow. Needless to say, a nightmare.
And then things began on the Hill, you could tell because they would stop letting people in every time anyone of national import was being led to the Capitol balcony. I knew this because a guy next to me had CNN on his mobile phone.
And then we would move just enough to cause everyone behind me to surge forward. I was pushed. I was crushed. A woman in a wheelchair repeatedly was pushed into me–I finally had to warn her that I was about to fall on the woman and she needed to back off.
And all the time I am watching other people go through the metal detectors that were meant for my crowd and me. It gradually became very clear that they were drawing from another line–a line that had formed hours after mine.
But there was no escape–no chance to leave my area. I was boxed in. I couldn’t join the line of latecomers.
People chanted, "Let us in." People chanted, "We have tickets." People chanted "we are purple," waving their precious 4×6 inch tickets in the air.
And then they just started begging and shouting. Let us in. We have tickets. We’ve been here for hours. Let us in.
And then it was noon. And everything stopped.
And then a 21-gunner of deafening percussion.
And then, shear, crushing disappointment descends over the crowd. Unlike the smiles on all the faces you walked by on, say, election night, or in the metro last night, this crowd had to summon up all they had left after multiple hours in the cold to give a tepid ovation to the inauguration of a new president.
I know because this was how I felt. And then I felt selfish for feeling that way. But the disappointment, amplified by the cold, and the overall expenditure of energy over not just this election cycle, but the eight years of Bush misrule, really made it hard not to feel utterly crestfallen.
I probably would have rather witnessed this moment from just about anywhere else than where I was.
And then I overhear a conversation between people waiting on my side of the fence with a well-insulated security officer on the other side. Those with me were begging to be let in for the speech. The officer said, "I can’t tell you anything that will make you feel better."
I look up over this post, and, believe it or not, I don’t think I even begin to capture the chaos and lack of organization–and, of course, the frustration and anger that this caused in all of us out there.
The crowd began to disperse. I was happy to have a little breathing room, but still extremely unhappy. And then a wild quiet fell over everyone. It was actually quite amazing to behold when I distanced myself from my disappointment. Small groups gathered around people’s phones and radios to listen to the inaugural address. And there they stood and strained. I tried to listen, but I couldn’t really hear, so I decided to just keep walking. . . and as I walked, I kept walking by these groups of people listening to the speech. I have a picture of some folks gathered around a police canine car that had its windows open and the radio turned up. Dogs barked along with the new president.
What is the takeaway from all of this? I honestly am not sure. At least not yet. I will have to watch the swearing in and speech on YouTube. And maybe after a day or two, I will be able to evaluate the actual transition of power, the little "moment" between Justice Roberts and President Obama that people are already telling me about, the speech. But now?
(btw, I have just spoken with someone who had a blue ticket and had an almost identical experience)