The second signal came at the final station, where enough people to fill a football stadium stood paralyzed by the Metro's insistence on swiping cards again to exit. The roar of the standstill grew until some frightened Metro employee finally made an executive decision and threw open the turnstiles so that the impassioned hordes could pour through. This was 5 AM.
We made it to the southern part of the mall where the ticketless were allowed to congregate, and after doing a lap to consider vantage points we committed to a location. Only then did we realize several key things:
- It was fucking freezing.
- We had almost a whole workday's length of time to kill
- No one had thought to bring a blanket
Kind, gentle man, he let Reb W. and me both into his lair which smelled like hot chocolate and which informed us, via several screens, that it was ten degrees outside. "Stay here," he said, leaving us alone to watch one TV count down the hours til the proceedings (4:40 to go ...) until he returning bearing hand and foot warmers. We blessed him and thanked him as we bowed our way out the door. For the first time in 2009, my boldness had won Reb W.'s respect.
Back with the posse, we danced to keep warm, played games for distraction, took pictures of the ever-expanding mass of people behind us, and watched the sun rise over the capitol. Never have I been so grateful to see that busy old fool, unruly sun, which almost immediately began to help us thaw. It wasn't doing the job fast enough so my friends ended up sacrificing belly warmth to tuck each other's bare feet under their shirts.
A few yards away from our camp I spotted John Oliver reporting live from the field for the Daily Show and snapped a few pictures. I have a huge TV crush on John Oliver but in person he looked depressingly normal, so I decided not to throw myself at him, even though I'll bet he too had a warm trailer that smelled like hot chocolate and could have given my feet a hot oil massage to bring them back to life.
After what felt like the entirety of Bush's presidency had flashed before our eyes again, the festivities began. The objectionable Rick Warren made a largely unobjectionable speech, forgoing any mention of hot topics like the gays. I had to laugh when he recited the "sh'ma" in English and said Jesus's name in Hebrew. I guess that's multiculturalism for you?
We cheered for everyone related to the Obamas and glared at folks who rudely booed Bush and his henchman Cheney, looking more diabolical than ever in a wheelchair. The lady behind me put it best as she chided the crowd: "People! What would Obama do?"
We shrieked when John Roberts fucked up the oath, laughed every time the booming announcer voice said "You may now be seated," and swayed in disbelief when the smart, calm, resolute, handsome, strong, thoughtful man I have every faith in came forward at last to assure us, over eighteen and a half minutes, that our years of wandering through the desert were over. The text was thrilling enough but the subtext was even better: It's all going to be okay. This is for real now. It's all going to be okay.
And then Bishop Lowry, possibly hopped up himself, had us all shouting Amen! to his fervent prayer for a time when "black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right." That's my kind of God talk.
Later, after the festivities finally ended around 12:30, we realized the city had left the millions of us on the mall no way to get home. The parade route had blocked off half of downtown, and the subway entrances were so swamped they looked like temples directly before stampedes. We holed up on the third floor of the Hirschorn, leaning on each other for strength, as we tried to wait out the masses. But, as it turned out, that was a bit like trying to wait for a bathtub full of molasses to drain through a narrow hole.
Despite the fact that we'd been up (and literally up on our feet) since the wee hours, battling soreness, sleepiness, and the beginnings of hypothermia, we decided our only option was to walk, and walk we did, around the police checkpoints and blocked off streets, through winter-savaged gardens and on curbs, over four miles, and some of it at the pace of molasses draining from the bathtub because we got caught up with the masses and could only walk as fast as the cops and traffic would let us. By the time I made it to Dupont Circle where my parents were, I decided I would never venture outside again.
But it was absolutely worth it.