Inauguration Report 1
Posted January 24, 2009 4:08 am (about 4018 days ago)Day 1
I arrived in Philadelphia after a rather uneventful trip, meeting up with Ernie and Andrew. We flew into Philly as it was a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than flying into D.C. We checked into our hostels, then hit the town, but nothing really stood out me, beyond how bitterly cold it was! I crashed earlier than the other guys as I was leaving for DC the next day by train.
I haven’t stayed in a hostel in awhile, and when I did, there were never more than three other guys in the room. This place was sold out and had eleven bunk beds, thus 22 guys crammed into a room like we were in the military or lock up. Needless to say, there were plenty of snores, farts, and other random sounds. The guy beneath my bunk farted at one point and I almost gagged. The smell was horrible; like burnt spam and sauerkraut. He also was talking in his sleep in a British accent, but in the morning he had an American accent. The other weird thing was that I was on a top bunk near the door and their was a motion-sensored light nearby. The thing was, whenever I bent my knee too high or turned over the light came on.
Still, the few people I spoke with were super friendly and hostels are always crap shoots when it comes to the sleeping quarters. It’s a great way to save a few bucks though.
I took off for the Amtrak station and there were cops everywhere, as well as vendors hawking Obama gear. Come to find out, the Obamas had just left. In fact, they were on the train directly in front of us. Every time they stopped, we stopped, as this was the historical trip that Obama and Biden were taking. Most of us didn’t know this at first and there were a few complaints as we kept stopping. Once we were informed of the reason for the delay, everything changed. People were laughing and talking to one another. The conductor was super funny as well so it began to feel like a party bus. I met some great people and already felt glad I came out, even if we never got close to the Obamas due to security concerns. Still it was exciting to be a part of history, even if it was just being delayed on our trip, which doubled from two hours to four hours. The scene at the Union Station Metro stop in D.C. was jam packed, but again, didn’t feel tense. My friend Ann, her husband Doug, and their friend Jenny scooped me up and after some good dim sum we just played some Taboo and crashed. It was Saturday night, but we knew the next three days were going to be CRAZY!
Ann and I decided to hit up the free concert at the Lincoln Memorial, coming in via Metro. It actually wasn’t too packed. Although there were lots of people heading there, it wasn’t a huge amount yet. We arrived a few hours after the gates had opened so I was a bit surprised there weren’t more people, although it was crowded. There were plenty of security and vendors around. They had some cool stuff but a big deal was made about what you could bring in and I didn’t want to haul a bunch of stuff around. Unfortunately some of the things I wanted, that were related to the concert, I never saw again. Security was fairly simple as I just unzipped my jacket, they patted down my pockets and we were in! Other people with bags and such had a tougher time, but I didn’t see anything too bad.
One of the first things I noticed as all of the porta potties. Someone said there were 7,000 brought in. I think I only saw a few hundred and there was no way I could take a picture capturing what this looked like. They were all over the place. The front was beginning to fill up and it felt like a typical outdoor concert, albeit a large one. Still, you could tell that something big was going to happen. Ann and I sought out one of our friends from Wisconsin, who we never found, and Ann and I were quickly separated. She’s a bit smaller than me and was darting in and out through gaps. Once she was gone, that was all she wrote! There were simply too many people to fight through! I attempted to call and send a few texts, but the cell towers were overwhelmed. Both Ann and I are pretty independent people so I didn’t worry too much. I worked my way towards the front and steeled myself for the three hour wait before the concert began. Despite the cold, people were pretty relaxed for the most part, but it got a bit hectic as people began to fill in. There was lots of pushing, but I only saw one potential fight break out. At one point someone fainted or something a few feet behind my area. A call for help was passed down the line, and I kid you not, at least 15 police and military guys showed up. Some point later a little wagon came through the crowd, although no one was on the gurney. The problem was, a bunch of people were following the cart in an effort to get to the front and actually pushing people out of the way. Some words were exchanged before the main guys were talked down. Beyond that, people were in a cheerful mood, in spite of the cold and the crowds.
Surprisingly, the concert started on time. Although it was noticeably more crowded, the air was filled with anticipation and the performers/speakers did not disappoint. Just about everyone got roar of approval—Bono, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Tom Hanks, Jon Bon Jovi, Tiger Woods, George Lopez, Mary J. Blige, Bruce Springsteen, and Usher, to name a few. The star-studded line up was extra special because the concert was free! Both Obama and Biden said a few words, before things wrapped up with Beyonce leading a group of singers, including Samuel Jackson!
I have to admit that I didn’t actually see any of these people perform live. I was so close that all we could see from my section was the back of the VIP section! I think a special stage was set up for them so we basically got to see their backs and them taking pictures of us. If we had been about 100 yards back we would’ve had a better view. The only live thing I saw, besides the color guard at the top and some snipers was the tip of an eagle someone brought out. Still, we had a good view of some screens and the energy of the crowd was incredible. I connected with a mother and her daughter who had driven up from Atlanta and we laughed at all the jokes from people around us and said whatever silly chant the crowd would say (eg. “Turn it up! Turn it up! due to the low volume of the speakers.)
It was so crowded that I didn’t get a good sense of how many people actually came to the show. It was a situation of not being able to see the forest for the trees as there were so many people crammed up in your space. As everyone began to disperse, it was simply amazing to see how many came out, as well as how much trash was left. It was cleaned up fairly quickly though.
By this time, the load on the cell phone towers had lessened so I called Ann and we eventually reconnected. While making my way towards her, which was nearly at the other end of The Mall, I saw plenty of vendors, a live broadcast from CNN and later took a cheesy picture with a cardboard cutout of Obama, courtesy of MSNBC. Again, I met people from all over, including Detroit and Jersey, and for some reason I kept running into Jamaicans.
Ann and I caught up with some of my friends, including Dr. Dawn Elissa Fischer of SFSU, and later ate at Oaxacan restaurant, where I ate grasshopper for the first time. I decided to do some shopping and saw everything from Obama bottled water, to Obama condoms, and Obama socks. I didn’t buy any of those items, but I definitely contributed to the Barack industry. By now we were exhausted from being on our feet all day and made our way to the Metro, after 11 hours on our feet. Come to fine out, we missed the last train and had to wait for Doug to pick us up from Virginia, in a town about 25 miles away. That wouldn’t have been bad, except for the fact that several streets were closed down, making travel difficult. He was stopped several times by the police before we finally made it back by 3 AM. As exhausting as it was, I felt really good about the trip so far and looked forward to what was yet to come.