As some of you know, I’d been given what I thought amounted to a Golden Ticket – photographer’s credentials to shoot the Inauguration. Turns out the pass was only good for the north parking lot of the Pentagon, which, I compare to horses playing ice hockey – oddly amusing, somewhat aesthetic, but not really what I was after. No, clearly this event would be best observed among the people, and there were a lot of them on this freezing Tuesday in January. A look into the future told me an estimated 1 million people would brave the cold in order to witness this event in person. I dressed warmly, checked my gear and Shazam! Off I flew.
OK, so I didn’t really fly. Instead I took the Yellow Line all the way to Chinatown, because L’Enfant Plaza was closed. The trains were packed with people, and there were lines for all the trains, the escalators, other lines, you name it. People were jamming themselves into the cars, blocking the doors and getting the stink eye from other passengers – wait, did I just say what sounded like ‘dirty looks’? Let’s go back and see, because that one sort of stumped me.
Here we are, waking up from the nightmare, on our way to the biggest ‘feel good’ (not to mention historical) event we’ve had in recent history, one of those things that people will remember what part they played in it for years to come, and people are grumbling? I feel certain that anyone willing to do mortal combat with the pneumatic doors of a Metro car would also very much like to witness the son of a goat herder become president. This is, after all, a magical time. Can’t we just get along? (Have we been spoiled by ‘gimme’?)
In days to come, the heartwarming ‘Where Were You When’ articles will begin to trickle forth. Why not? There is money to be had. So which one of these would make for a better headline? “I shoved my way on a train because I wanted to hear Obama speak”, or “Well, some people were rude…” That’s not a question without an answer. It’s not even a fucking question.
Where was I, indeed?
Vendors, vendors, hawking every manner of Obama related souvenir! I heard one man call out, “Don’t hesitate to commemorate!” I bought lo mein and chicken from a cart, juggling my chopsticks through fingerless gloves while clutching the Styrofoam container in my free hand, my bag slung over one shoulder, trying to protecting my phone and camera whilst making best possible speed for my destination, where ever that might be. I listened to my headphones on the way in, because I wanted to keep my space a little while longer. I knew it was gonna get dense. I didn’t really strike up a conversation with anyone, if that’s what you wanna know. I spoke a little here and there, and for whatever reason.
We were packed like cattle, but the mood was energizing. People were laughing and smiling, and there was a sense of friendly excitement in the air! Everyone was chanting his name, and shouting, “Yes We Can!” Can you possibly imagine that dream for yourself, and not think about sex?
Essentially, I just followed the heaving throng. Gave them their lead as it were, spanked their haunches and rode the beast. Many useful streets were cordoned off, so we were directed through the tunnels instead. Walking, walking, walking in my normal fashion; stretching mighty legs far, digging deep, falling through the crowd, watching for openings, never losing momentum. I didn’t have a ticket, so I just kept moving, making snap decisions that I hoped would get me closer to a monument or a specific area, something I could tie my photos to.
Wound up at the west side of the Washington Monument just within sight of a jumbotron. (Just added the word ‘jumbotron’ to my custom dictionary, in addition to ‘Barack’ and ‘Obama’.) Thanks to the guy next to me, giving a play-by-play on his cell phone, I could barely make out what was being said. (“Dear Carl Sagan,” I prayed. “If, against all probability, the words ‘poor event etiquette’ are found randomly painted on the side of an enormous asteroid speeding straight for Earth, please, let it hit this man.”)
I saw only fleeting images on the jumbotron. The sight of George Bush brought forth an ugly reaction from the crowd; catcalls, boos and jeers, which I didn’t find surprising. Perhaps uncalled for in light of the ceremony. But that crazy Dick Chaney and his props! What a show stealer, a real card to the end.
The odd part was hearing hundreds of thousands of people mutter the Lord’s Prayer. The sound of the thing hit me from all sides, and for a moment I felt like a fish swimming through an open-water baptismal. My opinions of religion aside, it was a genuinely moving experience to wade in that river of belief.
Finally, Obama was sworn in and everyone was excited, ecstatic. For a moment, there was a feeling in the air that we could really pull this off if we all worked together. It would require hard work, renewed effort, rolled sleeves. The speech was good – I wonder if Obama writes his own stuff?
But when the golden words ended, the spell was broken, and the excitement in the crowd began to fade. Suddenly there was nothing but faint echoes, as though we’d been dreaming about something utterly wonderful, and had been awakened by our neighbor’s car alarm. People around me began muttering, pushing to get out of the crowd. Again with the dirty looks. I guess I was hoping for something more. But then, we are encouraged to be the change we wish to see in the world, are we not?
On the way back out, no one was waving merchandise. It felt as though we’d worked really hard to have Aerosmith play an enormous free concert, and now that the show was over we could go back to being our rotten crummy selves. (I don’t really think that’s gonna happen.)
I floated with the crowd headed south, making important phone calls and sending a flurry of frozen text messages to different friends around the globe, eventually washing up at the Waterfront Metro entrance. I bought three small bottles of Odwalla from the Safeway, and waited for the mob to thin before braving the trains. I am very a patient man, possibly one of the most patient you will ever meet. But even I have my limits.
The nightmare of the Bush administration is over: He’s not pining! He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!
Well, maybe not dead, but we’ve chased him out of town with few prospects, even fewer book deals, and very little fanfare. There are those, even now, who maintain that history will side with Bush once the roar of the media disapproval dies down. Do I want the ‘truth of history’, or do I just want to continue to hate George W. Bush because he was the easiest of targets, and a vile waterhead at best?
We interrupt this blog to make a confession — I’ve never had much trust in politicians, finding it much easier to assume they are all corrupt before they were ever found guilty of wrong doing. Reagan the Actor, Bush the Elder, Clinton the Con Man, Bush the Younger. I refused to see the good any one of these men might have done, always looking for the bad, and accepting at face value that hundreds of talented liars were hard at work upholding and protecting their bosses’ respective reputations. (I’m a spin doctor, it’s only natural.)
Chalk it up to change (no pun intended), but for the first time in my life I am ready to accept that maybe not all politicians, not all presidents are born scum. When Bush the Younger took (literally) office, I owned (literally) one pair of pants. I was working two jobs at the time, and still couldn’t afford a car. The world was a scary place back then. I took one look at what W. represented, saw the kind of people who followed him, put 2 + 2 together, and figured we’d probably get a postcard from the End Man at some point during the next eight years. We damn near did. And we aren’t clear yet.
The HMFIC has a long road ahead of him, but I feel better about him being at the wheel than I have any other leader. Something just feels right.
What matters now is that WhiteHouse.gov is the official web site for the White House and President Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. What matters now is that the word ‘former’ now precedes the phrase ‘President George W. Bush.’
“Long time coming, but now the snow is gone.” – Josh Ritter
P.S. Shazam! proved to be a popular program of its day, and for a time the comic book was altered to match the format of the series. Michael Gray found himself typecast after the series ended production, and had trouble finding acting work, leaving the profession until the late 1990s.