Being In D.C. During Obama’s Inauguration

/ 23 January 2009

As I’m sure many of you know I had the privilege of getting to go to Washington D.C. for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration. Given how rare it is for anyone to directly know someone who was at this historic event (even with 1/2 a percent of the U.S. population there) I’ve decided to describe the entire trip in as much detail as I can recall here. Read on for the day-to-day recollection of events! Please comment on it and maybe say where you were at those times. To any who were on the National Mall: feel free to add to my series of events on that historic morning with your own. Enjoy, Alex.

Day 1; Monday, January 19: We had to drag ourselves out of bed at 3:30 am so we could be at the airport by 5:00 am for our 5:50 am flight. The flight was in two legs, the first went to Milwaukee and landed around 7:00 am. It was neat to see the sun rise over the tarmac while eating breakfast at the airport. Our next flight was at 7:40 am and landed in D.C. around 10:25 am (don’t forget that there is a 1-hour time difference). Once on the ground we made our way to the Metro and waited in the massive crowd to actually purchase tickets. When we did get on the train we took it into the downtown Metro Center station and then switched over to another line to head back out towards the hotel that my uncle Christopher and his kids were staying at. When we met up with them they took us up to their rooms and let us drop our bags off in one of them. As it turned out, they had ended up with a whole extra room for our first night there, so they offered it to us as a way to stay in downtown so we could be on the National Mall earlier the following morning. We, of course, took it and called the friend that we were planning on staying with each night to inform her that we weren’t going to be there the first night. When that was done we planned out a rough idea of what we’d do the rest of the day. We decided on first going to the Manifest Hope art gallery. This was a lot of Obama art, some of which was recognizable as used in his campaign, some of which not. Yet some wasn’t even Obama-related, just hope/ peace related. Afterwards it was a priority for us to find some lunch, so we ended up at an Italian restaurant and got soe quite good food (we were all starving by now, so good food wasn’t hard to find). We then made our way doen to the National Mall and across to the Air and Space Museum. The Mall itself was packed full, though fairly spread out. All the grass was stamped down and brown, and there was a solid wall of porta-poties on each side. In the Air and Space museum we more or less quickly ran through most of the exhibits. By the time we left it was dusk and the Mall looked quite pretty in the light, it was also cool seeing a glimpse of the prepared security fences and checkpoints for the following days events (both the swearing in and the parade as we walked along that route to get back to the hotel). After returning to the hotel all 8 of us reunited and headed (on foot of course) to what was considered the best Indian restaurant in D.C. (all of us love indian food). It was already 10:20 pm by the time we got back to the hotel. Even given the time Eric and I took showers in preparation for the early start the next day.

Day 2; Tuesday, January 20th (Inauguration Day): We were all up by 5:30 am (4:30 am MN time) in order to get dressed with many layers and all meet to head down to the National Mall together. We left at 7:00 am, but the reports were already streaming in of how packed the National Mall was. On our way we quickly grabbed some breakfast from a Starbucks in route. Given that Christopher’s family had had a New York Times reporter interview them for a “journey” story we also picked up (well, technically stole) a copy of that days New York Times to read the article (available online too). At around 7:20-7:30 am we came up to the huge wave of people descending onto the National Mall. It took some time and pushing, but we finally ended up in our permanent location for the Swearing In ceremony (hours before it took place, even hours before Avalon students had Advisory), As we waited Eric was able to get a few tweets out with pictures before the cell network went down, you can see those on his twitter page. To keep us entertained, moving, and to theoretically test the video/ audio systems they played Sunday’s concert. That at least kept us entertained for most of the long wait (though for a Minnesotan not that cold of a wait). After the concert there were a couple more official people playing more official music while the video was of Bush’s and Obama’s car heading through the streets from the White House to the capital. At somewhere around 11:20 am (10:20 am MN time) the ceremony began with a ton of introductions and even short speeches. After many formalities and such the moment that the entire country was waiting for and watching came. Joe Biden was the first to be sworn in at exactly 11:48.45 (according to my watch, which uses the Atomic Clock for it’s time, so a very accurate timestamp). There was one song performed after Biden’s swearing in before Obama took the oath. It was at exactly 12:05.20 that Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office (though it was with words slightly misplaced as a mistake of the judge’s). He then stepped up and addressed the crowd on the National Mall as well as the millions others watching on TV or internet stream with a 20 minute long inaugural address. After that was done came the benediction and what I consider to be a too-long poem before the mass of humans began our futile attempt to exit the National Mall. On our first route we just ended up turning around, making for a gigantic bottleneck. Our second attempt led us out past the Washington Monument and diagonally across to Constitution Ave. As we stepped over the hill that the monument rests on we saw the helicopter flying overhead that we all knew led George W. Bush out of D.C. A huge outburst of joy washed across the crowd at the sight of that! The problem there was a long line of coach busses trying to get to the Capitol as they carried bands for the parade. These busses directly blocked our passage out for at least 15 bus-lengths. When we finally were moving along at more than a snail’s-pace it was 2:30 pm. Once back at the hotel we turned on the television to watch the parade (or as it became, the health problems during that luncheon) and sent Eric out to bring back pizza for lunch-dinner. Soon after Christopher, Max, and Julia left for Cleveland (Eleanor had a flight to Spain the next day, so she stayed one last night). Many hours later we packed together our stuff and headed out to Sommerset, a suburb of DC., to stay the next two nights at the house of an old family friend. We ended up staying up late to watch the news coverage of the inaugural balls.

Day 3; Wednesday, January 21st: We enjoyed sleeping in a bit for the first time since Saturday morning. We left the house at around 9:00 am to meet up with Eleanor at the Metro stop closest to the hotel and take her to the Spy Museum and the original painting that was later essentially the “signature” of Obama’s campaign at the National Portrait Gallery. As it turned out, the Spy Museum’s timed entry was too late for Eleanor and the other exhibition didn’t open for a few more hours. So we got tickets for ourselves at the later time, but instead took Eleanor to the Newseum. That museum had many of that day’s front pages (all had Obama on them) as well as many fun exhibits on the news media. They had a fun, yet saddening, room on September 11, 2001 that included a part of one of the towers and a minute-by-minute account of that devastating morning. We then parted ways with Eleanor so she could go and pick up her bags and head to the airport (we were literally the last family she’d see for 4 months) and we headed to an Austin Grill that we had found for lunch. We then headed over to the National Portrait Gallery to see the original of the Obama painting as well as other paintings. After that we headed to the Spy Museum. Even given Nathaniel’s intent interest in it we only ended up spending one hour and 18 minutes there. After that we headed back out to Sommerset and spent the rest of the day just hanging out around the house.

Day 4; Thursday, January 22nd: We spent a good portion of the morning at the Natural History Museum. That was fun, but it clearly had less stuff spread out across more space than the Natural History Museum in Vienna did. Afterwards we took a walk across the National Mall and alongside the Reflecting Pool to end up at the Lincoln Memorial. After spending about 15 minutes there we took a walk to and then through the FDR Memorial. By that time it was about the time for us to head to the airport. Given how tired Mary and Nathaniel were, Eric hailed a cab and we got to the airport hours ahead of our flight. Before even passing through security we ate lunch there and then went on to our gate. While waiting to board we watched the news and though television news isn’t too good it was a really nice feeling knowing just how much President Obama was turning around from the Bush years within just 2.5 days of taking the oath. Our first flight departed at 5:00 pm and arrived in Milwaukee at 6:00 pm (again, don’t forget the time change), After 1.5 hours of waiting our final flight departed at 7:35 pm and we landed back here in Saint Paul at 8:50 pm. We think that we were the first on our flight to leave the Humphrey terminal because we had no checked luggage and had driven our car to the airport Monday morning.

Update 1-24-09: Eric has uploaded a decent set of photos from the trip.

I just noticed that this post was initially posted at the exact same time in CT Friday as Barack Obama was sworn in on Tuesday in ET. Sweet!!!