08 February 2009

Dispatches from the District {of Columbia}

Dispatch #1: I lost my camera the night before I came home…so the images you see are courtesy of April.

Dispatch #2: The Decision:

It was a last-minute one to go to DC. I had asked my friend Jill if her daughter April would mind a houseguest. (April is a legend… smart… a law school graduate from Yale and an attorney for the Justice Department (Civil Rights… appeals), talented… her undergrad was in medieval history and she knows a lot of stuff, plus she has such an intricate and informed take on everything she is fascinating to listen to, and she has style… like the man I was go to see take office April has a strong sense of herself… she is just plain fun to be around) I had made up my mind not to go and then I spoke to April and she hinted that it would be kind of nice for me to drop-in as she probably wouldn’t venture out into the frozen masses by herself. I booked two one-way tickets 10 minutes later.

Dispatch #3: Arriving:

I flew to Denver and then to Reagan National. There were a myriad of events happening to be pumped about. NFC and AFC playoff games… the We Are One concert happening at the Lincoln Memorial. Side note… April was riding her bike to church and made a detour to the Mall and watched the concert instead. Seeing U2 was a highlight. As the plane descended into Washington and the passengers caught a glimpse of the glowing monuments we could all hardly contain ourselves. Someone shouted over the intercom, “Who are we here to see?” and the reply was a resounding, “Obama, Obama, Obama!” Clapping and cheering ensued as we touched down on the Nation’s Capitol. Oh, I rode the metro into town and even my ticket had a likeness of the soon to be 44th President on it.

Dispatch #4: Martin Luther King Day:

Kudos to Jason Chaffetz, the newly elected congressman from Utah’s 3rd District. You may have seen him on Steven Colbert. Well, I had sources tell me that I was next up on the list for inaugural tickets if there was a cancellation… we’ll call you they said, hmmm, I thought and instead of taking any chances I went and joined the line to the Longworth House Office Building for a few hours. As I slowly got toward the front I saw the Congressman himself exit the building… my gut instinct was to shout, Jason! (of course I went with the gut). He came over and indulged this extremely excitable woman from Utah and invited me to go to his office where he thought Ryan, the office boy, would be able to accommodate my request. Enter the office: Ryan needs to deliver tickets to someone in line and asks if I will watch the office. OK, so I call Darren and tell him that I am in the office alone… should I scrounge for the tickets and take off running? Answer: No. Swarms of people were looking for tickets… it was intense. Ryan returns, and the Congressman, and his Chief of Staff. They say they need to talk. They say I need to have my passport and answer some questions. I enter the Congressman’s office with trepidation… they are so serious. Rep. Chaffetz stands, shakes my hand, offers me two ticket packets and graciously says, “Today is your lucky day, congratulations, enjoy watching history.” I’m all, “Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou so much.” I was shaking, I felt like when I was 7 years old and I got to go to an Osmonds’ concert. I called Darren in Nevada and empathetically state, “I have tickets to the inauguration of Barack Obama.”

Later in the day we go to the National Cathedral and listen to hip-hop poetry and music. Really cool in a cathedral… the dancing and shouting “Peace” against the echoing stone vaults is riveting. April and I also find the gargoyle on the front tower that is a carved likeness of Darth Vader… there is also one of a security camera trained on the Russian Embassy… who says the federal government doesn’t have a sense of humor.

We wait in line at the Kennedy Center for tickets to hear Aretha Franklin. No go, but waiting in line is the #1 activity in DC this weekend. You meet so many interesting people, a documentary filmmaker from Mexico, a woman who when she turned 50 walked across the United States, the chairwoman of the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation, a high-school councilor from Houston, a couple from Alaska that came in spite of Sarah Palin, students, families, individuals all here for a common purpose, but very personal reasons. We do the electric slide, spontaneously burst into song, perform the wave, and talk, and tell stories, and listen and it is amazing.

Dispatch #5: Inauguration Day:

3:15 am the alarm sounds. Our goal is to beat the Metro opening at 4. Layer upon layer upon layer, upon layer, I can’t move, but the radio says it is 10 degrees outside we will be in the elements for over 8 hours. We are speed walking to the Mall. I can’t believe how many are already up at this ungodly cold hour… you mean someone else had the idea to get there early? We are about #100 in the silver ticket line. More getting to know each other. Lines transformed into human clusters transformed into running masses.

We finally arrive at our viewing spot. Front row just behind the barricade around the Capitol reflecting pool. April and I are listening to the radio… the mall is already filling up, it has warmed to 16 degrees outside… the sun rises behind the capital, applause for the dawning of a “new day”. The crowd is getting restless, a man is straddling the barricade and when he sees that there is no security looking on he makes a run for it. Tens of thousands of people follow suit. I experience a panic attack against the stampeding crowd. Once we determine that we are safe, the barriers are not going back up and we have lost our front row seat we take off into the pressing throng. There are people in trees and on the statues. The next hours are spent on tippy toes and peeking between shoulders to keep our view. A man remarks, “Damn you’re short”, and pushes me even further toward the front. The music is beginning. On the jumbotron we can see various “players” in the government arriving to take their place. I pick them out on the podium using my binoculars. The crowd roars with approval for most, groaning disproval meets some others. I feel incredibly American.

It is beginning; the prayers, the National Anthem, the oaths of office. There is a moment of weirdness when Joe Biden is sworn in as vice-president… for about seven minutes is it a Bush – Biden administration?

Obama finally takes the oath (after a bit of a stumble from Justice Roberts) and then here, at this moment, I will never forget. The sound of the citizens cheering, it was like aftershock or a swarm of bees traveling the two miles from the Lincoln Memorial right through your shoes and straight to your heart. It shook your soul. I don’t have words to describe it, it was expressed in the faces of those in attendance. As John Lewis said, “it was too much, it was too big.” And then President Obama began his speech and conversely, as the crowd was loud they became hushed, hanging on every word. The occasional “amen”, or “you know it”, or “it is time” was offered. Two African-American women, beautiful and wise, clothed in their Sunday best… long fur coats, hats, brooches, leather gloves, perfectly set lipstick, remarked, “We were here for Martin Luther King when he marched on Washington and we are here today for Barack Obama”. As the speech neared its end emotion grew. Tears streamed down my face, high fives and hugs to virtual strangers. Wow! I was there.

Dispatch #6: Afterwards:

We actually walk across the frozen reflecting pool… the creaking and cracking make me a bit nervous.

We head to the Hart Senate building where the Utah Congressional Delegation is hosting a reception on the top floor. (So nice) We see an ambulance in the front of the Capital and later realized that it was for Ted Kennedy. Orrin Hatch speaks to the Utah crowd and explains Senator Kennedy’s condition. We watch the parade on the TV’s provided. It is warm and there is good food and company. We learn that many people did not even get in through security. I am disappointed in my congressman, Rob Bishop, he doesn’t even show to the reception, and of course, I am still upset that he was unable to accommodate my request for tickets. Not a Fan.

Around 5:00 we head home. We have been up since 3 and I am floating. I think the senators and the President must be superhuman to still be going strong, all the “galas” and inaugural balls are yet to happen. We pass on the partying and watch on the TV, amazed that all this is taking place right outside the door. Good, good sleep.

Dispatch #7: Wednesday, January 21st (Darren and I have been married 21 Years)

April must go to work, with new bosses, mind you. I head to the Corcoran Gallery and view the Richard Avedon exhibit, “Portraits of Power”. Moving. I also go to the Renwick gallery and then walk by the White House. Code Pink is outside and someone asks me to hold a sign for a moment. They are mellow, just reminding people that this can be an administration of peace. In exchange for holding the sign they take my picture with a President Obama cutout with a pink feather boa. I don't have that photo due to the lost camera, but I noticed I did make their flickr set.

I do some shopping… mostly just looking around. Can’t bring myself to buy many of the Obama chotchkes. I settle for a few pins that make me laugh. I meet April and we go to the National Portrait Gallery. Again, so nice. We wander through some galleries and then eat at Oyamel. Good food, but somewhere between the gallery and the restaurant is where I lose my camera. Ehhhhh.

that's April in the pic

Dispatch #8: Going Home:

Wake at 3am again to get to the airport for a 6am flight. So tired and satisfied. I can’t believe it. It was incredible! So glad I made the decision and went for it! Thanks to April who made it a possibility and Darren for always supporting me in my obsessions and crazy ideas.


Nat said...

It sounds like it was an experience you'll never forget! How cool is it that you were there?! I'm glad you had a great time. Sorry you lost your camera, that stinks.

Henke Family said...

Sounds like you had fun fun fun!
I'm also glad you had such a great time there.

Sara Jane said...

Your trip sounds like so much fun--exhausting, exciting, emotional, action packed!

Kell said...

I'm so jealous you got to be there! It sounds like it was an amazing trip. I never said thank you for the birthday wish, so thank you! :)