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Saturday, January 24, 2009

I was there

Caroline Eader

No, I didn't see the inauguration of our 44th president as well as I would have if I had stayed at home, warm and comfortable in front of my own TV. However, I had an experience I will never forget.

My trip from the Falls Church Metro station started at a relativity reasonable 7:30 in the morning. The first train that passed throug
h the station was too full to allow us to board. No worries; my friend Karen from Colorado and I started conversation with the people around us, including 3 young fellows who were trying to find their way home back into D.C. after a night of celebration. We were just beginning our day, and they were trying to end theirs.

Once on the train we had to handle the stop-and-go of our train in order to allow the trains ahead of ours to clear the tracks. While packed on the Metro like sardines in a can, we again made conversation. Everyone was traveling the Metro with more than just tolerance, and more than just patience, but with a sense of jovial anticipation.

The worse thing which I saw all day was a woman fainting on that ride into D.C. And wh
en she said, "I'm going down," I grabbed under her arm to hold her from falling. Since she was several inches taller than I am I warned the gentlemen behind me that I would be leaning their way or else I too would be collapsing. I received the support I needed until the woman awoke and received some water. She thanked me and my friend and a couple of stops later, joined her friends in exiting the train. As Karen and I waited for our stop at the Federal Center we found ourselves in conversation with a fellow who was part of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Although Karen and I already had silver tickets provided by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, the P.I.C. member offered us blue tickets which gave us an even closer view of the inauguration!

At First & Independence Ave. we entered a long line to enter the Blue Ticket Gate and we somehow got involved in a Trivia Pursuit-type of discussion with a couple of men with one of them being a freshman professor of history from N.J. (Do you know the tallest mountain in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River? On Tuesday the answer was Mount Washington in New Hampshire, but a google search revealed the correct answer to be Mount Mitchell in North Carolina.) We probably were in line an hour, and the packed crowd did get a little tiresome, but we didn't really mind the wait.

Once inside the gate (the security people were very courteous) we had space in which to move. No, we couldn't really fi
nd a spot to actually see what was happening, except for an occasional "speck" which was someone famous on the podium, but the fact that we were within the circular drive of the Capital was exciting enough! There was no Jumbo-tron within sight, but after a brief moment of annoyance, I realized I was glad there wasn't. I really listened to Aretha Franklin sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and when the Lord's Prayer was recited I closed my eyes and listened to the baritone behind me in his solemn prayer. My own voice was heard probably only by me.

That baritone (Lewis was his name as we came to learn), had a small T.V., and he allowed me and Karen to lean over each of his arms as Judge Roberts performed the swearing in of President Obama. We were there watching and listening to the oath on Lewis' "Mini-tron" (as we called his hand-held T.V.) Mistakes and all, we were there listening to each and every word.

I then chose to close my eyes as I listened to Obama's speech. It was quiet around me except for
our new president's words and the occasional clapping or cheering from the crowd. I felt the cold on my face and I really listened to the silence around me. There were no cars, no planes, and no whispers or talking from the thousands of people surrounding me. The only sound which filled the air was Barack Obama's words reverberating down the National Mall. Afterward, I opened my eyes to the cheering crowd. Lewis, my new found friend got a big hug from me. When has someone last hugged a total stranger on the Capital grounds without the police being needed?

Karen and I followed the crowds out of the gates and watched the Secret Service leap from nowhere when someone jumped the barricade into the Blue Ticketed area. "Get back over that gate. Get back now!" was the demand. His presence was so authoritative that I was ready to follow his command. But wait, I was suppose to be on this side of the gate. No one else around dared to jump any of the barricades.

The line to the Metro station was long, so Karen and I decided to have Thai food for lunch (after just a 10 min. wait in line), and while there we met 2 guys from Silver Spring, a family from California, and an art collector from Georgia. After warming our fingers and toes and satisfying our hunger, we headed to the Eastern Market Metro station. Once there Karen chit-chatted with the Military Police, and one fellow in particular about his devotion to the Steelers. (No, I am not sure how that conversation started!) In line we spoke to a man from Alaska who brought his child and had a sticker which said "Alaskans for Obama." (Hmmm, I wonder what prompted the necessity for that statement?)

We got on the train, found a seat and had a pleasant ride back to McLean, Va. where we watched the remaining festivities from the warmth of my friend's father's living room.

I doubt that I will ever again experience a day traveling in the heart of D.C. where everyone I met was more than tolerant but downright pleasant to be around. I spent the day with hundreds..thousands.. hundreds of thousands of my newest, closest (by physical proximity!) friends that I will never see again, but with whom I share lasting memories.


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