Wind: 5 mph
My inaugural adventure began with a non-stop flight from Burlington to Dulles Airport on Saturday morning, January 17, 2009, waking up at 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. departure. An hour and a half after take-off, I found my way to a bus that brought me to the Metro, continuing on to Union Station where I met my daughter, Sally (arriving via Amtrak from NYC), at around noon. We took a stroll around the Capitol and partway down the Mall before finding a Metro stop and headed to Falls Church, Virginia, to connect with friends, Fritz and Jane Gilbert, where we spent night number one.
The next morning we met Susanna McIlwaine (formerly from Warren,
currently from Arlington, Virginia), and transferred Sally's one
suitcase and my backpack to her car's trunk. Susanna had been sending
us continuous updates to prepare us for our visit, and the local press
kept residents well informed of what the worst possible scenarios might
look like. One notice in the Arlington newspaper said:
"Arlington is proud to be an important part of the Presidential Inauguration and celebrations. Arlington is expecting record crowds during the entire inaugural weekend January 17-20. Crowds and events during this weekend will affect all residents. To prepare for this event, pretend a hurricane is coming during that weekend and expect large crowds, congestion, traffic and many delays. Getting around will be difficult at best so a common sense approach will be important. Be informed, make a plan, be prepared."
We unloaded our bags at Susanna's and then drove to and parked on one side of the Potomac, and walked across a bridge so we could attend the Concert at Lincoln Memorial. A huge crowd awaited us (estimated at 400,000). The lines were disorganized and every now and then people would break out of one line, join another one, and the whole crowd would follow. By 2 p.m. the main area near the memorial was full and we were directed to go towards the Washington Monument where we comfortably saw the concert by viewing all of the performers, and special guests Barack Obama and family and Jill and Joe Biden, on a huge screen -- the "jumbo-tron." If you were not able to see this amazing event, you can watch it at www.hbo.com/weareone. After the concert we walked around the tidal pool surrounded by dormant cherry trees, towards the Jefferson Memorial, past the Roosevelt Memorial, over another bridge, along a bike path and back to our car.
Monday we headed back into the city to get our three silver tickets at Bernie Sanders' office. After waiting in a line for an hour, going through security and picking up our envelope which included a list of "what not to bring to the Inauguration" and a welcoming letter from Sanders, Welch and Leahy, we walked to the spot in front of the Capitol where we hoped to be standing during the ceremony -- in an area with a clear view of the Capitol, close to one of the big screens and speakers, with an ample supply of porta-potties nearby!
Tuesday morning we woke up at 5:30 a.m., and packed cameras, binoculars, water bottles and bags of food, including foot and hand warmers. We put on many layers of fleece, long underwear, wool socks, neck gaiters, hats and scarves. We walked two blocks to the end of Susanna's road, got on a nearly empty (and free) bus at 6:15 a.m., which filled up after a couple of stops. At the Pentagon, we exited the bus and boarded another bus that took us over the Potomac and brought us to within a couple of blocks of our ultimate destination. An hour later we had seen the sun rise, found ourselves in a well-behaved line, and made it through 1 of the 20 security stations for the silver ticket holders. By 7:30 a.m. we were situated at the spot (about one-quarter mile from the Capitol) where we would spend the next five hours -- with the 1.8 million others who watched the miracle unfold that led to Barack Obama becoming the 44th president of the United States.
Once the festivities were over and we watched (and cheered) as the green Air Force One helicopter flew overhead holding the former president and first lady, we joined the masses and headed for the bridge that would take us back to Arlington. Since the bridges to Virginia were closed to regular vehicular traffic, our ability to walk long distances made all of the difference in the ease in which we entered and exited the city. An hour later we were in front of Susanna's TV, enjoying the warm comfort of her living room, and were able to see the inaugural parade and later watch President Obama and first lady Michelle as they danced their first dance at the Community Ball.
My first real awareness of the new environment of hope occurred when I was driving through Waterbury on my way home from the airport on Thursday. Upon seeing the flags on the telephone poles along the main street, I felt truly proud, for the first time in many years, to be an American.
Thompson lives in Warren.