Reports show that groups of people were camping out around the National Mall area just after midnight if not before. People went above and beyond to get to the Inauguration and made arrangements down to the finest details so that they could get inside.
Around 5 am, the crowds picked up and started to become more amorphous. By 7 am, all Metro areas were swarming with people who were clamoring to get into the public area setup for the Inauguration.
Millions stood in weather that had to be in the teens with the wind chill. The wind would whip occasionally reminded people that this was a winter of our discontent.
No doubt, those in attendance asked themselves many times, “Why did I come here?” It probably took one or two conversations or a few minutes of reflection to realize why they desired to be here for this iconic moment in history.
The people came with their hand warmers, toe warmers, glove warmers, neck warmers, and body heat packets. They had three and four and five layers of clothing. Some had their entire body wrapped with only their eyes and mouth exposed to the cold.
When Obama came out to speak, the millions had been standing for four and five hours at least. Many of the older citizens in attendance were experiencing brutal pain---pain which comes with age---but they did not leave, they did not abort, they stood strong and hung around to see Obama deliver his speech.
The ceremony’s “pre-game” had its moments. Occasionally, something would come across the “jumbotron” that would pull one out of reality and make one forget they were suffering an arctic breeze. For example, each time a person appeared on screen like Newt Gingrich or George H.W. Bush people would boo, and when people like Muhammad Ali or Jimmy Carter would appear, people would cheer loudly.
The crowd’s behavior was animated like a crowd might be at a football game. It was impossible to ignore the fact that George W. Bush was going to get a barrage of booing when he emerged. Along with the booing, people sang “Na-Na-Na (Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye)” by Steam, which is a popular tune to chant after your team wins at a sporting event.
Dick Cheney didn’t receive much of an introduction at all and looked like Mr. Potter. Also, let’s suppose that when Obama walked with W. down the corridor to his seat, that was the biggest favor any incoming president has ever done for an outgoing president because it silenced the booing.
Let’s leave Rick Warren’s invocation, Barack Obama’s inaugural address, and Joseph Lowery’s benediction along with Chief Justice Roberts’ fumbling of the oath for tomorrow and the days thereafter. The bloggers and pundits will have many days to go over what was said and discuss the meaning and indeed, this author will do just that in the next few days.
Let’s instead focus on the story of millions braving the cold, of millions putting their bodies under duress, and of millions risking their health and wellness to see Barack Obama.
When the colors for the armed forces were being retired, public areas begin to rush out. At this time, Bush made his getaway and millions wildly cheered.
The crowd could not go anywhere. The streets could not handle the magnitude of people who had come out to the event. And, for what it’s worth, people were doing every little bit that they could to remain calm and not get angry with the fact that they could be in this mess for three or four more hours.
Federal Center Metro Center, to the southwest of the Capitol was gridlocked with thousands of Obamagoers. Small arguments were breaking out around Metro elevators and bystanders were offering words of joy and cheer which morphed into a singing of “Kumbaya” to calm the anxiety and tension resulting from this situation.
People leaving often walked one direction and back and then back the direction from whence they came and then again walked in a direction they had already been in because streets were being blocked for the parade, Metro stops were locked down, frostbitten citizens needed places to get warm in, and several were being picked up by ambulances because of the pain they were experiencing.
The situation may have reminded one of the Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath except there was no flooding. While the people were essentially “left for dead” because there were no taxis or buses to get into, while National Guard and other military officers as well as police could not help people leave the area, citizens were elated and doing their best to remain in the moment