I just got back from the inauguration in Washington, D.C., where I gathered with 1.8 million of my closest friends, and they all said to say “Hey.”
My wife, Brandy, and I and our two close friends Howard and Jennifer checked in to Hotel Harrington on the afternoon of Jan. 19, and we hit the ground running. After a quick trip to stock the mini-fridge with the bare essentials of water and beer, we took to the streets. The 88-year-old Hotel Harrington is just a half block from Pennsylvania Avenue, so we were in the heart of the action.
The streets were lined with vendors selling T-shirts, stickers, posters, calendars, and souvenir buttons. Trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange looks like nap time at a daycare center compared to the frenzy of commerce going down.
The electric feeling of anticipation wrapped itself around the crowd like a blanket. Smiles, nods, and eye contact — normally avoided in a setting like this — were embraced by the masses. This wasn’t a gathering of random strangers. This was a family reunion on a scale that made your head spin.
Sprinting from vendor to vendor, nobody thought twice about stopping someone and asking where he or she got a particular button they were wearing. With a grin you pointed up, down, or across the street, then moved back into the river of people. Loaded with a biblical amount of swag, we floated back to the hotel on a current of brotherly love.
By dawn’s early light on Tuesday morning, we cut around the corner of the hotel in a brisk 20 degrees to the closest security checkpoint. Dressed like we were about to embark on a polar expedition, we plunged into the crowd. The corner of 12th Street, where we attempted our crossing, looked like something out of March of the Penguins.
Shoulder to shoulder, we packed in tight as a deranged teenage girl stood on top of a stack of concrete dividers arbitrarily shouting for us to move forward. People tried and failed to move so we just stood, giving new meaning to the words “huddled masses yearning to be free.” We all swayed back and forth until finally a cop showed up with a megaphone. He directed us to 18th and K Streets. We happily trotted out of the mosh pit down to 18th Street, which was closed, so we hit 19th Street and made our way into the Mall and settled in the World War II Memorial.
If you’re not familiar with the layout of the Capitol, it’s located between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. We were way back there, but we felt like we had a front row seat. There were plenty of jumbotrons and speakers. It was a lot like Movies in the Park at Marion Square, that is if it was 20 degrees and nearly 2 million people showed up. Some stood, some sat on blankets, but all of us, I’m sure, were wrapped in the promise of American hope.
We spoke with a black family from Ohio who was sitting with us. We talked with folks from California, Georgia, and Colorado. We all smiled as strangers engaged in an easy conversation. The many became one as we watched the introductions on the screen. Black, white, Asian, and all of the combinations these races have created watched in joyous awe, as Barack Obama was sworn in as our commander in chief. Tears rolled down faces that had waited a lifetime for this day.
We lifted our hearts as President Obama asked us if we could rise above our differences for the common good. He asked us if we could make this country the land where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are available to every man, woman, and child that call this place home.
From what I saw on Jan. 20, the answer is “Yes We Can.”
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City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.