In 30 degree weather I stood amongst thousands. Thousands of men, women, and children of all races and ethnicities gathered across the DC Mall to watch our 44th president place his left hand on a historic bible and officially (or unofficially as he’d taken the real oath on the 20) be sworn in.
In my own little corner, at least a quarter mile from the Capital Building but right next to a giant screen, I watched in a bubble of excitement. The day had been insane, completely fanatical, but watching President Obama address the crowd with his minister voice gave me actual chills. It made everything, all the craziness of the morning and the weekend-long drive, worth it.
The morning of the 21 had started miserably enough, my mother rousing me into complete darkness at the much-too-early six am. By seven, we had hopped in a shuttle with four incredibly excited morning people from Tennessee, chatting in the front seats as I slept in the back.
We didn’t get to DC until a quarter to eight, and with the sun still dipped below the horizon, the air was frigged, disgustingly cold. Even with my sweater, t-shirt, coat, scarf, boots, hat and gloves I could feel the wind directly on my skin, and from there on out I was frozen. Basically numb.
Then the first inauguration miracle happened. The Starbucks right next to our Metro stop, on a corner jammed with people and street vendors, had no line. It wasn’t like I had ran into Michelle Obama, my idol, or even had gotten within 20 feet of my hero Anderson Cooper (that would come later), but at the time it was the pick me up I needed. With my Chai tea in hand, I could be slightly less frozen and much more awake.
Walking to the mall, after our stereotypical Birmingham Starbucks stop, was like participating in the annual penguin migration in the month of March. At eight am, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the media documented- luckily for us the huge crowds didn’t appear until a couple hours later. I had enough room to zig-zag on the streets if I had wanted to do so, or swing my arms back and forth without accidently hitting anyone. But there were enough people to have a sense of community, to look like a major event, perhaps a presidential inauguration, was about to happen.
The hundreds that walked the streets with my mother and I were a lively crowd. Vendors shouted their selling points over and over and over, people donned Obama hats, pins, gloves, shirts, sweat-shirts, even Michelle Obama earrings. They held signs, shouted cheers, told anyone who could hear about how much they loved, loved, loved Obama.
Surrounded by such a group, I forgot how numb I actually was. Taking everything in, seeing how excited these people were to even be in the same city as their beloved president, was honestly breathtaking. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, and I’m not sure I will again.
By the time we got to the mall, the crowd had begun to thicken. We were surrounded by security from every police possible (National Guard, Marines, Coast Guard, DC police, sharp shooters), Inaugural volunteers and ordinary citizens like us. In a game to pass time, my mother and I guessed which “ordinary people” were secretly trained assassins. The old lady giving high fives to everyone she passed, the young man with his face painted as an American flag, the child holding her mother’s hand were all prime suspects.
Around nine or so, the second inauguration miracle happened. We stopped by the CNN booth, and there, sitting less than 20 feet from where I stood, was a man I’ve looked up to for years. Anderson Cooper. I couldn’t see his face- just the back of his head, his silver hair- but I was utterly star struck. I can’t imagine how I would’ve acted if I had had the chance to speak with him. I probably would’ve ended up on the floor, passed out.
By ten we had to push through a thick of people to get a spot to stand during the actual event. Next to us on the right a family of three women lay on the floor sleeping, they had gotten there at five in the morning, had woken up at four. To the left of us were two sisters, who were smart enough to bring chairs, and who proudly proclaimed they were oh so in love with Barack. Directly behind me, two men stood, my own Statler and Waldorf, who made snarky, hilariously sarcastic comments as time went on.
At 10:30, I stuffed hand warmers into my socks, sat on the ground and waited. For the next two hours that’s all we really did: wait. We occasionally chatted with our friendly neighbors, ate awful, and yes cold Chinese food and watched the looping video on the giant screen mere feet from us. I wasn’t really bored though, the feeling of being at such a historic event was electric and we were all jittery with anticipation. Watching Jimmy Fallon address the crowd remotely from New York for the fourth time wasn’t so bad when the crowd reacted in such a strong way.
And then it was time. Miniature American flags were being passed around the crowd, thousands and thousands of them, and at once we all stood up, unable to hold in our smiles, our glee. The President took the stage; around me people chanted “four more years”, or “Barack Obama” or just “Obama”, and the words jumbled together becoming loud and indistinguishable.
That’s when the third and final Inauguration miracle happened. The cameras panned out, showing a sea of hundreds of thousands of people wildly screaming, waving their American flags. And I swore, when I looked incredibly closely, I could see the speck that was me screaming along with them: one of thousands.