Everybody I know told me I was nuts, but I went to the inaugural. I simply had to be there. And it was 39 hours of chaos you can believe in.
My friend Ronni (who had flown in from Ft. Lauderdale) and I started out at 7:30 a.m. the day before, driving to my son Eric's house on the fringe of Capitol Hill in DC. He'd scared us with worries they'd close bridges and highways at a certain point and we'd be shut out - hence 7:30 a.m. departure, stoked with coffee, prepared for traffic.
Hardly. Although we did see numerous khaki-dressed men stopping all trucks, searching for terrorists in truck-bombs. But we arrived safely, without incident.
"Let's buy souvenirs today," I said, not wanting to carry crap in the Tuesday throng. The whole world had the same idea. At Union Station all the shops, no matter their regular stock, sold souvenirs and it was only marginally less lethal than Walmart on Black Friday. People, myself included, grabbed inaugural-branded pins, buttons, hats, shirts, mugs and golf balls (really) and stood in long cashier lines stretching into the massively crowded station mall. It would have looked like the bloody train station scene in Gone With The Wind but none of us had room to be laid out.
Schlepping our goodies, we endured the crammed Metro train and headed for Safeway to buy NASA-approved Depends diapers. You heard me. Eric and I, contemplating the equation of people divided by porta-potties, panicked. More on this later, like that's any reason to keep reading.
At 5 p.m., we headed for Dupont Circle, because Kate Clinton had announced she'd be at gay ground zero Monday evening saging (sage-ing?) the evil spirits out of Washington with this shaman-endorsed herb. There she was, waving a burning torch of sage, with a thousand people cheering. As far as I'm concerned there's not enough Lysol, never mind sage, to clean up the debris from the last eight years, but they tried. There was also a 30 ft high inflatable George Bush at this street party and we were urged to throw shoes at it. People lined up.
From Dupont we headed for dinner in Chinatown, dodging the flood of happy hometown entrepreneurs selling buttons, hats and shirts. At the Metro I had a goosebump moment, as a lone saxophone player stood by the exit, slowly wailing "America the Beautiful." The swarms applauded, smiled, tossed money. After the inaugural the horn player probably bought a Ferrari.
Later, friends took us to a gay bar featuring a Fabulous First Ladies Drag Show. The club's music throbbed while a huge video wall showed George Bush making unflattering faces, and superimposed words flashing "Bush's Last Day!!!!!"
The first ladies excelled, getting the costuming and lipsyc right, if not the gender or often the ethnicity. We drank Bye-Bye-Cheney shooters, so I can't tell you much about the rest of the night. I do know that Ronni and I were probably the oldest people in the room, but we didn't care.
6 a.m. came up pretty fast. Depends time. Eric and I opened the package and looked at the elastic-waisted, paper garments. Whoa. We discussed whether, if the need desperately arose, we would actually be able to just, um…let go along Pennsylvania Avenue. Didn't think so and relegated the Depends to "a good idea in theory." We'd take our chances.
Then we dressed for the weather, which was, at the moment 18 degrees out. Our anti-hypothermia system included long underwear, jeans; shirts, sweatshirts with hoodies, ear muffs, heavy coats; gloves with those shake-'em-up chemical hand warmers inside. My final armor: ski pants. We could hardly walk, looking like little round South Park cartoons, as we waddled toward the Capitol.
I have never, ever, seen so many people in one place in my life. And we weren't even to the Mall yet. The streets teemed with people, flowing towards the festivities like spawning salmon. Throng, mass, multitude, horde, all in a line 35 people wide, several city blocks long toward one of the security tents for entry to the Mall. It was bitter cold. And nobody moved. Not in front of us, not in back of us, and only occasionally someone fought their way side to side, either to get in or more likely get out. We stood chastising ourselves for not coming earlier until the woman in front us said she'd been standing in this same place since 5:30 a.m.
Then we began to hear that even ticket holders were being turned away because the Mall was full (full? It's not a stomach, it's the National Mall!). And of course, we were ticketless.
"I refuse to miss this thing!" I said to myself and anybody else who would hear, which would be nobody because of all the earmuffs. I know Ronni was thinking that she left 75 degree Florida to freeze her tush for nothing.
"Let's walk up to the other end of the Mall by the Lincoln Memorial," said Eric as he grabbed my hand and I grabbed Ronni's and we elbowed our way out of the crush.
So we walked and walked, feet freezing, teeth chattering, until we came upon a short line in front of the Green Turtle Sports Bar on 8th Street. "When does the restaurant open?" I asked the first person in line." "Eleven o'clock," she said. Glances were exchanged.
We cued up at 10:15 and waited 45 minutes while chatting up the gang, politely ignoring Inaugural schmutz peddlers, and ticking off the moments until toilet access. Didn't need diapers after all, although it was close. Between the ski pants, and the rest of my ensemble I felt like Gypsy Rose Lee, and worried I'd have heat stroke before I could disrobe.
Barack Obama took the oath of office as we watched the historic Inaugural from a table in front of five jumbo TV screens, all the while warming up, drinking beer, eating burgers and talking with the wonderful people around us. People chanted "Yes We Can!" We cheered, sang with Aretha (I'll leave it to others to discuss her hat) and enjoyed every single patriotic, tearful, joyous moment, in a deliciously diverse crowd.
When the helicopter lifted off with former President Bush (three of the best words in the English language) aboard, Eric led the whole restaurant in a chorus of "Shah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, good bye."
As for the parade, Anderson Cooper reported a crowd ten deep along the route, so we opted to walk another 28 blocks (!) to Dupont Circle to watch it with friends and thaw out in their cozy, toasty condo.
We bid a fond farewell to Eric around 7:30 p.m. and arrived back home at 10 p.m. Bonnie, who opted out of the trip because just seeing crowds on TV gives her claustrophobia, greeted us with relief and a barrage of questions.
"Well, how was it?" she asked.
"Indescribable," I said, "although I guess I'll have to try in my column."
Contact Fay at: FayJacobsrb@aol.com
Fay's website: www.FayJacobs.com
Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.
Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.
Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor of A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.
She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.