Tuesday, January 20, 2009

INAUGURATION FEVER

The public access points to the National Mall--about 12 blocks of downtown DC-- were slated to open at 7 am this morning. It was 18 degrees with a wind chill factor of 8. By 7:21, aerial shots of the area depicted at least as many people amassed as for Sunday's welcome celebration. They'd come on foot, bike, blade and Metro. The swearing-in ceremony isn't until noon. Check out liveblogging updates from dispersed Post reporters here.

On Sunday morning, we left the house about 8:30 to head to the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One Welcoming Celebration. We joined a good spirited mass of people walking down 23rd Street from the Foggy Bottom metro station to the Lincoln Memorial. At the security checkpoint, bodies, bags and gagdets were checked out, and thankfully, we go to keep the camp chairs slung on our backs! First stop, of course, the PortaJohn, which, due to the early hour, was still fresh smelling and relatively clean.

Despite the early hour, we were still relegated to a spot from which we could see the stage (at some distance) so we'd likely be watching the concert via JumboTron--(which didn't seem all that jumbo to me.) The celebration was slated to start at 2:30. We hunkered down in our chairs, amid people sitting and sprawling on blankets around us, tucked in our hand and toe warmers and began the wait. Around 10:30 we killed an hour and a half standing in the concession line, only to reach the front right as they ran out of hot chocolate. $31.00 later, we left with 3 Italian sausages, chips and sodas, only to turn around and be confronted by the teeming masses that had arrived while we stood in line! Our area hardly looked recognizable anymore! Finally, we reached our spot, nipping a few feet and possibly heads as we stumbled our way through the huddled throngs.

When the concert got under way, Garth Brooks pumped up the crowd and got us moving. Mary J. Blige sang "Lean on Me" and John Legend matched trills with Stevie Wonder while Shakira sang and strutted around. We were close enough that we could make pretty accurate guesses as to who's who. (Though at first I thought Shakira was Beyonce; you know, tall, with flowing blonde hair, belting out a song--who could tell?)

I led the pack out when U2 was performing. By the time we reached the exit we could hear the President-Elect speaking. I was surprised by the numbers still heading down 23rd street towards the Lincoln Memorial. The concert was supposed to end at 5:00; it was about 4:20 at the time. I suspected that people thought since it was airing on HBO at 7pm, that perhaps that's the time it was starting. We encountered more people heading down as we were leaving, than were heading to it when we originally went! They were due for a disappointment in fairly short order. The metro was crowded, but still bearable, since we left relatively early; we still found seats. At the end of the day, the official crowd estimate was 400,000; just a fraction of what's anticipated today. I was surer than ever that I'd spend Inauguration Day in front of the tele; and so I am, aside from the occasional blog post.

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