Memories from a presidential inauguration

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Curtis Miller is a a student at the University of Utah who is serving an internship with a law firm in Washington, D.C., for the next few months.  In the three weeks that he’s been in our nation’s capital city, he’s already been making some memories to last a lifetime.  Among them, the experience of standing among the throng of those watching President Obama’s public inauguration ceremony last Monday, following the official ceremony at the White House the day before.  Here is Curtis’ account of his experience.

By Curtis Miller

I went to the presidential inauguration ceremony last Monday with reasonably low expectations, on the advice of many who’ve “been there, done that.”  Apparently, though, those expectations weren’t low enough.

English: Crowds walking down 18th Street, NW t...
English: Crowds walking down 18th Street, NW towards the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to attend Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The President wasn’t the reason why my expectations were low.  In the end, he was what kept me there (well, that and all the media attention the inauguration subsequently got and my being able to say “I was there!”).  I probably would have enjoyed watching the inauguration … at home, on a couch, with heat. But being there in person was highly overrated.

I woke up at 5 a.m. that morning (I sleep later on work days), got groomed, ate Pop Tarts, and headed to the lobby of my apartment building at 6 a.m. to meet up with the other interns, having decided to go as a group.  Most of us had yellow tickets, which could be considered second-to-worse in terms of distance from the capitol, though a couple did have orange tickets (the jerks). At around 6:15, we got on MetroRail, Washington’s subway system (dated, but superb). We didn’t regret it. There were a good number of people on the train as we headed out to the Mall, and the closer we got, the larger the crowds grew.

A couple of my roommates and I got off and headed down 3rd Street to the yellow ticket entrance. The crowd, at about 6:45, extended as far down the street as one could see, and we were nowhere near the Mall!  So we just into the back of the crowd, and inched along as they did, slowly making our way through the mass, enjoying the collective body heat that made the cold not quite so cold.  After about 20 minutes, we passed through the gate, holding up our tickets, and entered the second leg of the entrance: the line to the screening area.

What was that like?  Imagine going to an airport in Alaska with a broken heating system, and you won’t be too far off.  Even the TSA was there!  You can’t blame them, of course, for wanting to screen all 600,000-some people entering the Mall to be present at the inauguration.  After all, it only takes one nut with a gun ready to go down in history to make the party a national disaster.  The natural outcome for any one person, of course, is standing in line for nearly two hours in a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd (and that’s not hyperbole) at 7:00 in the morning in frigid cold conditions.  It was miserable.  As one of my roommates quoted from “Band of Brothers,” “I’m shaking so … much, I feel like I’m dancing.”  (With him being a Mormon, he left out the “g*****n” part).  Of course, we laughed and joked even with the strangers to distract us from our own misery, and that made the situation slightly better.  But never before had passing through a metal detector been so glorious.  A cry of “Hallelujah!” seemed appropriate. But we still had hours to go before the inauguration even began.

After a pit stop at the porta-potties (disgusting, as expected), my roommates and I found where we would stay for the rest of the ceremony.  The Capitol looked magnificent, with people all over the steps, but its grandeur had been fully appreciated after about five minutes, and after those five minutes there was little to be interested in.  We were in Union Square, a good distance from the Capitol, therefore we couldn’t make out any figures on the steps.  There were Jumbotrons from which we could see the Inauguration, but the video wasn’t even in sync with the audio (I felt they owed me at least that much)!  And finding a spot that wasn’t blocked by trees or some other intermediate structures was just about impossible.  In the end, the view of the President was blocked by a camera tower.

But the two ingredients that ultimately made the day utterly miserable was the cold and the length of time needed to see the ceremony.  We spent hours sitting there in temperature below 40 degrees, the sun blocked by a cloud that enjoys human misery.  The “preliminaries” leading up to the President’s speech were well and good, but I was too cold to really enjoy them.  In fact, the speech was the only thing worthwhile that entire day.  I did enjoy it, and the more leftist tone he was taking, but once he was finished I wanted to leave.

Easier said than done.  Long story short, we got lost, wandering around the streets following people who we hoped were headed in the right direction.  One “joker” of a cop had us pause our journey to sing “Happy Birthday” to a young female soldier (we sang so awfully I couldn’t finish the song because I broke out in the giggles; my roommates still haven’t forgiven me for that).  Another sent us in the wrong direction, sending us into Anacostia, the neighborhood where 90% of D.C.’s shootings take place.  But the walk at least got blood flowing to my feet and I could feel them again.

We did find a Metro station, but more importantly a nearby Five Guys burger joint (“Praise the Lord!”).  My roommates and I discussed our experience over fries and fat cheeseburgers in that warm little restaurant, and we all reached the same agreement:  while we were glad to have the opportunity to go, and we could now say we’d been there, we would never go to one again. Unless, of course, we got better tickets.