Ever since President Obama was re-elected, I’ve been looking forward to attending my first inauguration. It turned out to be as exciting as I expected — and much easier to enjoy than I had feared.
I decided early on to invite my oldest neices — Olivia, 13, and Rose, 11 — to visit me for the weekend. Logistics then became my main focus.
The stories of the 2009 inauguration were legion — more than a million people turned out and overwhelmed the transportation system. People with tickets got stuck in a tunnel or in line for security and never got to see the event. Others arrived before dawn to get spots within viewing distance of jumbo TV screens.
So I was going to be as prepared as possible, starting with trying to get tickets through legislators rather than take our chances on the National Mall with thousands of others.
My sister Carolyn scored first, getting two tickets for my neices through her congresswoman, Rep. Nikki Tsongas. Then my friends Tim and Joyce came through with tickets from their congressman, Rep. Chris Gibson. Ted and I thought we’d have no chances in the Maryland lotteries, with all the people close by who would want to see the spectacle, but Ted got lucky and got a pair from Senator Ben Cardin.
Olivia and Rose arrived Friday night, and we jumped right in with inauguration activities the next morning, when we volunteered at my church’s food pantry to be part of the National Day of Service that Obama encouraged Americans to join in. They were a big help, bagging groceries for the families who arrived for assistance, stocking the shelves and breaking down huge bags of rice into small, family-sized packages. Rose even helped hand out bags of food to the families and learned some Spanish so that she could communicate with them.
We then rushed down to the legislative office buildings to get our tickets. Rep. Tsongas’ office was the most hospitable, with hot cider, cookies, cheese and fruit on hand. The girls even got to meet her when she came in as we were leaving, and she was quite interested in learning who they were and where they are from.
We went sightseeing from there, and signs of the inauguration were everywhere, with billboards indicating the entrances for the different-colored tickets and barricades being set up.
We didn’t see everything spring into action until inauguration morning, though. The logistics were amazing, with most streets fenced off to keep everyone along prescribed paths to their destination, where lines for security greeted them. New pathways were later created to block off access to the parade route except for specific entryways.
Despite hearing that in 2009 people headed to the Mall before dawn, we decided to take our chances a little later this year, and it worked out fine. We left the house about 8, boarded an uncrowded bus and then a Metro train by 8:40 and were at a station near the Mall by 9ish. Through security around 10 and in our places by 10:30 in the “gold” ticketed area, just in front of the free-for-all crowds spread out as far back as the Washington Monument.
It was exciting being among all the crowds, some wearing Obama memorabilia they had purchased from vendors on their way. We could see the flag-draped Capitol but the people appeared only as dots until we looked at them through Ted’s binoculars or, of course, on the jumbo TV screen in front of us.
The cheers started as various dignitaries were announced — especially loud ones for Jimmy Carter and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor earned some cheeers as well when she was announced to administer the oath of office to VP Joe Biden.
The place erupted with cheers of “Obama!” “Obama!” when the president appeared, and plenty of whoops and loud “yes”es during his address. Ted and I were particularly happy to hear him talk about climate change early on in the speech.
We were tired and cold by that point and left a little early with lots of others, winding our way back to the Air and Space Museum to warm up, have something to eat and get the girls to a gift shop.
By the time we were thinking about trying to get to the parade, most of the routes there had been closed off, too crowded to accept more people. That was just as well, since we learned later that the parade didn’t get going until around 5, and that would’ve meant hours of standing around for the start. We did catch glimpses of some parade participants at their staging areas: the “cosmic Mars” float, the floats for Illinois and Hawaii, an equestrian team of boys from a boarding school in Indiana, a couple of marching bands.
So we just walked around amid lots of other people, breaking off with very few others to the Jefferson Memorial. From there, we could see mobs at the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, which was so fitting given that it was his holiday.
A truly exciting day all around.