I never in a million years thought I would blog about *anything* at all. I'm responding to a friend's suggestion that I write about my experience at Barack Obama's inauguration. Perhaps others will be interested, too, and if not, well, at least I've written it for myself to keep. I'm warning you -- this is long!!! It certainly was an experience I hope I'll never forget.The flight into Baltimore from Salt Lake City really got me in the mood for the trip ahead. I was a little anxious about going so I hadn't really gotten the bug quite yet. I'm a bit of a homebody when I'm not planning a trip so getting me out the door -- alone, with no kids and no husband -- was a bit difficult, even with the excitement of the journey ahead. But once on that Baltimore-bound plane - WHEW! I finally caught on. The plane was filled with people that represented the diversity of our great country. They were wearing Obama shirts, buttons, hats, sweaters, coats. Waving flags. Chattering. EXCITED. I sat next to a woman from Portland, Oregon, who had immigrated to the United States from Northern Germany 20 years ago. She was headed to the Arab Ball on Monday night.Upon arrival in Baltimore, the buzz was unreal. The airport was overflowing with inauguration swag. I turned on my cell phone and immediately got a text message from my brother in law, who had arrived the day before: "Are you going crazy with excitement?" That didn't describe the half of it. I called him right away, and he was in the midst of watching the soon-to-be president give a brief speech at the Lincoln Memorial. I was pretty bummed to have missed that concert event but made sure that John DVR'd it so I could watch when I got home. Just think -- I missed my big chance to see Garth Brooks! Damn!I trudged out to the bus stop to take the 30B to the Greenbelt, MD Metro stop. The bus was overflowing with people (all looking for a dime in their pockets to achieve the EXACT $3.10 fare). Everyone was talking about where they'd come from and why. One African American mother had her approximately 10 year old daughter with her, and listening to her explain to her daughter the details and significance of what was happening was enough to bring tears to anyone's eyes. The mother could barely contain her excitement. There was a white retired couple next to me on one side, and a light-skinned African American woman from Boston on the other, talking weather and the winters she's never gotten used to there.Arrival at the Metro station -- wow. Lines everywhere, and LOTS of people who'd never used this train system before. I was in line in front of a trio hailing from New Hampshire. They were talking about how many times they'd seen Obama, how they'd been in living rooms with him, etc. Those New Hamphireans -- NO FAIR. They get all the play! Finally got my metro ticket (with Obama's face printed on the front), and got on the train upstairs. So far, the crowds are real but not unbearable. I sat next to a good-looking African American man who introduced himself in short time, Luis. He was heading in for an early ball (remember, this was Sunday), having gotten tickets from his boss, the executive at a county in Maryland. We talked red and blue politics. There was a woman and man across the aisle who had a giant bag of Obama shirts, walking up and down the aisle selling them. Luis and I joked about entreprenuership in America. Hey, you can't fault em'!I got to the U-Street station and made my way to Lucy's house. Lucy's my old professor at U.C. Davis and an all-around fun person. She was letting me crash on her couch for the night before my brother in law Michael and his partner Christian made it into the District on Monday. Had a great, mellow night with Lucy and her friend Jolene, talking politics and inauguration and drinking wine. It felt very good to have finished my dissertation at this point. A bit of redemption, I guess.JThe next day, Michael, Christian and I met up at the next couch-surfing apartment a few blocks away.Christian's father drove us as close as he could to the congressman's office building, where we were to pick up our coveted PURPLE tickets.Everyone wants to know how I got the tickets, and to be honest, I'm not sure.For starters, I asked.No one came running to me with them on a silver platter.However, it helps a lot to be from Idaho, where there weren't a lot of Democrats clamoring for them.It probably also helped that I played soccer with newly elected Congressman Minnick's daughter, though that may have had nothing to do with it.It may have helped that my daughter is in preschool with Minnick's chief of staff's daughter.But maybe not!Or, it may have helped that I was a contributor to the Minnick campaign?Who knows.I was just glad as heck to have them.The crowds, by now, were swarming.Every congressional office building had lines snaking around them, all the way up and down blocks.Barricades were up all around the Capitol, so you couldn't drive very close.Signs were up, indicating the entrances to certain gates for the next day.People who had tickets were separated into different sections by color.Yellow was seated, and I think the remainder was standing.Of course I probably don't know anyone with the REALLY good tickets, so maybe there were other seated colors, but what do I know?Michael, who had worked on the hill for a few years, suggested that we find an office building with a short line, and then take the underground tunnels to get to the Longworth building.So we sort of walked around looking for a "short" line, ultimately deciding that that wasn't a particularly good idea, and just hopped in line outside Longworth.It was chilly, but not unbearable.There was no wind, so that was a good thing.Everyone was buzzing.I looked around, and absolutely everyone looked different than everyone else.It was a mosaic of faces, clothing, hats, and smiles.I struck up a conversation with the folks around me, particularly Willa and Freddie, these two African American women in their late 60s who were dressed in these gorgeous hats and coats.They were from Oklahoma, and we joked about which state -- Idaho or Oklahoma -- was redder.The folks behind us were from Florida, the ones in front of us from Illinois.The lady right in front of me had a 15 year old son, Zachary, who was there as a "reporter" for a local youth station.She videotaped me and asked me to say something about my experience.I'm sure I said something completely ridiculous and God only knows where that's going to end up.For any of you who know me, it's truly a miracle that I didn't cry.Anyway.As we approached the doors after about 90 minutes of waiting (thank God for handwarmers), a man, about 30 years old, maybe younger, came right up to the doors and helped himself to the front of the line.Any of you who know me well knows that that just about sent me over the edge.I of course had to say something to him, to which he replied in his entitled sort of way that he'd be happy to get behind ME, but that he had every intention of hopping in line right there.What a jerk.We made it through security and up the elevators, where I took off my -25 degree boots and changed into my heels to greet the Congressman.Ran into Sue Reents outside the door and said hello, and then made our way into see Congressman Minnick and his chief of staff Isaac Squyres.We chatted with the congressman for about 20 minutes.He is a kind man, expressed a good deal of interest in Michael's law school experience and the bar exam, and shared stories of his own bar exams (both Washington and Oregon!).We got a picture with him and headed back into the world to make our way to the Capitol, where everyone who was attending the events from Idaho had gathered to take a photograph at 2:30, arranged online on Facebook.Once that was over, we made the mistake of getting a cab to head over to the University Club for the reception Minnick was holding.A cab ride that should've taken 10 minutes max took 50 minutes and was very frustrating.Note to self!No more cabs!The reception was going strong when we finally arrived (ok, ok, it's true that we stopped for a bottle of champagne on the way there, but still!They should've waited for us!).Roland Burris (newly appointed and hotly contested Senator from Illinois) was actually at the reception (don't know what the connection is) and made a little speech about how great it was that Idaho had elected a Democrat, and how we need to make sure to re-elect him in 2010.We went to dinner after this, and didn't get to bed until 11:30.Big mistake when you need to wake up at 3:45 the next day.UGH.I couldn't sleep at all, and probably only managed about 2 hours of shuteye.What is it about couches, street lights, and noise?Living in Boise has made me weak!I was up already when the boys' alarm went off at 3:45.We had plans to meet Lauren and Scott McLean at 4:45.I boiled the water for our newly purchased thermoses, put on my many layers (it was supposed to be about 20 degrees or so in the morning), and waited for the boys to get their stuff together. We finally made it out the door into the frigid air, and started making our way to the Metro station, when suddenly, an open cab drove by!No, we HAD NOT LEARNED OUR LESSON!We jumped in the cab and told him to take us where we were meeting the McLeans.Of course all the streets were blocked and we had to take a completely roundabout way, but we actually made it.There were already people EVERYWHERE, and it was only 4:40 a.m. I couldn't believe when Lauren yelled my name across the park.Our plan had worked!We began walking to the Purple gate entrance.There were masses of people everywhere and no one seemed to know where anything was.Many of these people did not have tickets, and were trying to find access to the mall.When we got to the corner of First street, where we thought we were supposed to go for our entrance, we were blocked by a barricade.None of the people monitoring the barricade had the same story.Everyone told us something different.We listened to the person who sounded most accurate, and made our way over one street.Miraculously, we found the purple gate, and we found the line…which only had about 150 people in it so far!We settled into our line space, right near another barricade.You know when you are in line for a ride at an amusement park, and you just happen to be in the spot that EVERYONE and their brother crosses through?Well, that's pretty much what happened to us for the next 3 hours.Thousands of people trying to access the mall came to exactly where we were standing.I can't count how many times we told people, "There's no public access here.You need to go back up to D Street, turn left, and head back down 3rd St."We were just trying to intercept them before they got to the Secret Service agent, who told them the same thing.We had a nine-year old with us, who at times attempted to sleep on the ground, and were just trying to keep people away.We had, by this point, spread out our blankets, and gotten out the food.The gay Michigan guy next to us got a kick out of the folks (us) from the northwest who had brought smoked salmon and bagels.That was Lauren's idea.We also had packets of oatmeal, 3 thermoses of hot water, and cups and cups of noodles.Christian wouldn't eat because he was scared he'd have to go to the bathroom.Everyone else just watched us in envy.A little picnic on the ground in 20 degree pitch black waiting for our new president to be sworn in.Hey, what could be better?We had a couple of Republicans standing near us, to whom some others were quite rude.I was actually fairly impressed that they'd bother to wake up so early to come see their candidate's opponent get sworn in.Plus, maybe it says something about how things will be now.Better.I hope.As time went on in the line, things got a little tense.More and more people came, and some of them were even purple ticket holders.The formation in which we were standing, it was entirely possible that our orderly line could become a mob of people with newcomers butting in.So a group of people began chanting, "No LINE CUTTING" over and over and over, and began to form an actual person-barricade so that people couldn't get through.There was quite a bit of tension.Then, some folks began to sing, "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, Good bye" to George Bush.The same folks, I imagine, were the ones booing when Bush was introduced by the Emcee of ceremonies.My feeling was that this wasn't a ballgame, and that this should be a dignified event that represents the best of our country.Trust me, I'm no Bush fan, but I was disappointed that we couldn't rally around Obama and portray the same kind of class and dignity that HE has displayed.There was quite a bit of discussion about these things, with everyone weighing in on different sides.Alas, when the gates finally opened at 8, the sun had risen, we had done some street yoga, had full bellies, and were ready to SPRINT inside to get the best standing seats possible.We went fast, and managed to get right on the barricade at the front of our section.Everyone in front of us was seated, so we had a fantastic view of the entire podium.With binoculars, I could see everything, despite the leafless trees that obscured the view of both the podium and the evergreen that obscured the jumbotron.And it was a gorgeous day.The sky, just brightening, was a pale yellow and pink.You could see the hordes of people on the jumbotrons with their flags waving, and in my deepest patriotic place, I felt incredibly proud to be a citizen of this country.Gradually, people filled in, and it got squished, but it was never terrible.In the place we stood, we had a view across 5 feet of open space to the aisle where yellow ticket holders walked to get to their seats.It was like being next to the red carpet.We saw Ashley Judd, Common (I admit someone had to tell me who this was), Evander Holyfield, Mariah Carey, Val Kilmer, Tim McGraw, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Alicia Keys, Fran Drescher, and countless others walk in to take their seats.No Oprah, much to my disappointment.The music began and my tears started.The boys and girls choir from San Francisco was truly magnificent.Even though we didn't have TV access, we knew when the motorcade was coming, because the crowd behind us was cheering, and hollering, and going crazy.We could sort of see what was happening on the jumbotron, so we knew, after 6 hours of waiting, that the time was getting close.And then, listening to them announce all these dignitaries walking in was pretty cool.I already said what I thought of the "boos" for Bush, and it was equally interesting to see who the crowd cheered the loudest for.Colin Powell got a lot of noise, and then, the loudest before Obama, were the Clintons.Wonder if people were cheering for Hillary or Bill?Hm… Carter got a lot of cheers, too.Obviously, we were in a crowd of Democrats!!I thought (Michael disagreed) that Aretha Franklin did a beautiful job singing God Bless America.Michael thought she just "doesn't have it anymore."Well!If you were watching on TV, Obama took the oath, and immediately there were cannons going off.Suffice to say, people in the crowd were Very startled and afraid.There was a common fear among attendees that something awful might happen during the inauguration, and it took a minute for everyone to realize that the cannons were a planned celebration.His speech, following the oath, was met by a lot of "amens" and "hallelujahs" from the folks around us.For Michael and me personally, it was not Obama's most moving or emotional speech.But I guess it wasn't supposed to be, and I personally am glad for our new president's call for sacrifice from us all.While we drive our SUVs, consume a disproportionate amount of resources, and fail to do much-needed service, our planet faces great peril.But I digress.It took about 45 minutes to make our way to Union Station where we were going to allow Christian's feet to "thaw out," but couldn't stay there long because, as we soon discovered, they were planning to evacuate the entire place for a security sweep.We didn't stay to see how that would turn out.Disastrous, I'm sure.On our way out to our lengthy walk back to the apartment, we stopped at some of the vendors' stands on the streets.Swag ranged from really hideous hats and t-shirts to cool looking buttons, calendars, and funny posters.Again, entrepreneurship in America is thriving.Prices were anywhere from $5 for 2 buttons to $10 for a single button.Over the next few days, the prices dropped dramatically!!Just yesterday I saw a stand where you could get 5 buttons for $10.I guess they were trying to get rid of them.I looked in vain for a patch for my dad, to no avail.I guess those are "out."We headed home for a brief 2 hour rest, where we discovered thanks to CNN that Edward Kennedy had collapsed at the inaugural lunch, and got to see some of the inauguration re-plays up close before showering and starting to get ready for the Western/Southwestern States Ball.The boys put their tuxes on and I, my "gown," and we headed out for dinner ahead of time at 5:30.We had heard through numerous reports that the balls are not all they're cracked up to be.1) Don't expect food.This is NOT a dinner party.If there IS food, there will be a line a mile long, it will be cold, and it may even seem inedible.Gee!All this for $150!!2) Don't expect either free or many drinks.Lines will be a mile long, the bartenders pour poorly, and they actually have the gall to charge you!So, we had a fabulous dinner at Zytania (I'm sure I've spelled that wrong) ahead of time, during which Christian received his email on the ubiquitous Blackberry informing him that his three poems had been accepted for publication in Ocho, which is publishing a special issue on young gay writers in February.There were cheers and tears all around, and of course, a call for more champagne, which is all I'd been drinking already for days (actually, it's all I've been drinking for MONTHS, ever since my birthday in September when I was on the East Coast celebrating my birthday, my 10-year wedding anniversary, and the completion of my Ph.d.)Now, with the election of Obama and Christian's acceptance, there were just more reasons than ever.See, good things DID happen in 2008, despite all the naysayers and the rotten economy, which has affected me as much as it's affected anyone.Where was I?Dinner.So we walked to the ball a few blocks away.I was still in my silly Merrill boots, which I'd been wearing nonstop all weekend, both for comfort and warmth (rated to -25 degrees!), as well as carrying my equally silly loud yellow bag that contained my much nicer and more sophisticated heels.The line wasn't too bad getting in at all.We checked our coats (and my bag with the boots inside, the heels having by now been liberated by my disappointed feet), and headed down the escalator with the thousands of other people, snapped a few pictures in front of the banners, and walked inside.Now, you need to understand that this "ball" (I'll use the term loosely, for while it is the official name for this event, the affair itself was as far from the glamorous, upper-crust soiree as you can possibly imagine) was being held in conjunction with five (5!) other official "balls" at this same convention center.There were truly masses of people.I think our "ball" alone probably had 6000 people at it.We descended into the cavernous convention center basement, which was decorated with large banners and replete with long lines to, yes, purchase drink tickets, and then, with your coveted tickets, stand in another line to actually obtain a drink.My co-attendees thought it made sense to double and triple fist it so as not to have to stand in line again.Warm drinks are better than no drinks??I guess so.Champagne in hand, we chose the opposite side of the room from the cover band (which was actually pretty good), because it was clear from the setup that Obama would be on this side.People had already begun crowding near this second stage, and we, true to form, joined them.And began the long anticipated wait.Met a nice couple from Conejo Valley, California.Stewart was a real estate/econ professor at UCLA in the business school there.His wife was Judith.Also met LaKeisha ("My mom got a little creative in the delivery room, so I just go by 'Keisha' since my sister is Ashley and my brother is Tom") and her companion Charles, who had an awesome zoom lens camera and was from Florida.Keisha was in constant contact via (you guessed it!) her Blackberry with her Secret Service friend who was on Obama's detail and gave us regular updates on where he (OBAMA!) was (9:30"OH!He's finally left the Neighborhood Ball and is on his way to the Convention Center!"10:00 "Now he's in the building!"11:30 "He's finally heading downstairs!"Etc. etc.)About 9:30 or so, Marc Antony came on stage and he was Really, Really good.Loved his music.Of course there was no room at all to dance, which was exceedingly frustrating.About 7 songs into his set, Keisha and I decided to brave going backwards through the crowd (we were only about 12 people deep away from the stage) to use the ladies' room.That was a mistake.We did, eventually, make our way back and re-found our people, but not without pissing a LOT of people off and encountering potentially violent Obama fans.It didn't help that J-Lo had emerged onto the stage while we were occupied in the bathroom, and had resulted in more people pushing to the front.Oh well, we did make it back.Unfortunately, Marc stopped playing after about 8 songs.And then the interminable wait resumed.In short order, Joe Biden and his wife Jill arrived.Joe reminds me of a giddy child in a candy store.He seems inordinately pleased to be where he is, and his sort of frontier-type casualty more than makes up for his lack of humility.I'm afraid Obama's going to have to rein him in a bit, but I don't doubt his ability to do so.After Joe and Jill left the stage, it was another long wait, while the stage was dissembled to make way for the marine band and the color guard and all of the pomp that accompanies the president wherever he goes.But before long, he did, in fact, arrive, and it was magnificent and worth every line, every crowd, every push that we endured.He and his wife Michelle are glamorous, impressive, humble, and inspiring.Everyone's hands were in the air, snapping digital pictures of the gorgeous duo.He said a few words, danced to "At Last," and parted with the words, "Let's go change AMERICA!"The excitement of the past few days finally caught up with me.I slumped into a corner on the floor upstairs and actually fell asleep while Michael kindly got our stuff from coat check, and I put the boots back on to make our way to the Metro station.We actually got on the train, got back to the apartment at about 1:30, and fell asleep.
My memories of the few days surrounding the inauguration will probably not include many of these details.The things that will remain with me are the intangibles.The awe that I felt looking up to the podium and seeing a black man assume this office.The pride I felt in this great country of ours, the inexplicable and perhaps blind patriotism that was so deep in my soul that it was untouchable, immutable, and perhaps slightly irrational.The excitement of the people around me, the feeling that for once in my life, I could stand next to an African American person and not think first and foremost of the historical color line that separated us and the pale whiteness of my own skin.The feeling that I know history, and I know what we've done to humans in this nation, and that we have surmounted it and moved beyond it.The sheer joy and thrill of being American and wanting to be nowhere else.The color of the sky.The curved shape of the banners that hung from the walls of the Capitol.The bareness of the trees.The woman's braces who stood next to me.Yoga in the streets to stay warm.The sprint to freedom.