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The American(s) Dream(s)

As many of you know, I was in DC for the inauguration and associated events. I got a sweet flight down right after election night, but wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it. Work had been hectic for weeks, and things were looking grim. However, after whining about it for enough time, I decided to make a decision. I made the right one. As soon as I committed to going, one of my very close friends surprised me with the news that she could hook me up with a ticket. Someone close to her has a parent who worked with a Senator who blessed him with some tickets. Someone fell through at the last minute, leaving me in line for the sweetness.

Oh niiiiiiiiice.

What follows is an account of my weekend. If you don’t want to hear about all of the extra crap, scroll down to “Inauguration Day”. Otherwise, like to hear a story, then here it go…

Associated Events and Stories

I decided that attending a dinner party the night before my 8:30 AM flight was exactly what I needed to do. I showed up at 7:30PM on Friday night, expecting to be home by 10. Somehow, the dinner party turned into a “Holy crap it is 1:30 in the morning and I’m not done packing” party. I turned in around 2AM, had some Obamalicious dreams, and woke up at 6 AM to get ready and take the train to the airport. I managed about 15 minutes of sleep on the flight, so I was styling.

I arrived at BWI close to 10 AM, with the pilot’s last comment “Washington weather today is like Boston without white stuff on the ground” echoing in my head. It was 10 degrees as I stood outside, waiting for the bus that would take me to the train that would take me to the sidewalk that would take me 10 blocks to my friend’s house. The bus came, and went. Alas, without me. Buses were quite crowded, due to everyone else having the same idea as me, and showing up for inauguration. I did manage to get on the next bus, which showed up about 25 minutes later. I rode the bus/train/feet combo to my friend’s house, arriving just after noon.

“Hi!”, she exclaimed as walked in the door. “Put down your bags! I made you a sandwich. Let’s go!”. Let’s go…she (generously) was volunteering at the Food Bank for 3 hours, and had (generously) volunteered me as well. I was happy to go, but realized I had yet to eat since the dinner party, was rolling on 4 hours of sleep, and packed the worst shoes possible for a weekend of walking. Still…an hour later, we roll up to the food bank.

The rest of the weekend was much the same…dinner -> fun -> oh my crap it is ____ o’clock in the _____ morning, and I have to get up in [very few] hours!!! -> Joel’s brain no work well, but has much to think about and do.

On Sunday, we decided to attend the free concert on the mall. This was my first taste of what was to come…the day was nice, so we decided to walk from Adams Morgan to the Mall.

We saw throngs (I love that word) of people doing the same, and upon arriving, saw more people in once place than I have ever seen in my life. That record stood for 2 days. During our time there, we overhead some gems.

Two girls talking as Joe Biden took the stage: “Is that John McCain?” “I think that is the vice-president” “Oh…yeah, I think the vice-president is John McCain”

As Shakira took the stage: “Joel, that is Beyonce” “I’m pretty sure that isn’t Beyonce” “No, it definitely is Beyonce…trust me”

Overheard as we watched 5 people protesting with “Homosexuality is a SIN” signs”: “These people have too much time on their hands” “Someone should tell them about the Leather Parade” “Oh they did, honey, they did…”

Obama Merchandising

At this stage, I will digress to discuss one of the most interesting aspects of this weekend. Obama is personally responsible for millions of dollars in gray market revenues. People were literally selling his likeness on EVERY street corner (Shirts, hats, buttons, magnets, bags, calendars, posters, watches, wallets…). While I applaud the hustle, some people took it a bit too far. Of course, there were some items that made you sigh (e.g. the red, BLACK, and blue scarf), some that made you laugh (e.g. the couple selling hand warmers chanting, “Yes we can! Warm your hands!), some people sold Obama-items that were inappropriate, insane, or just plain disgusting. A short list of things I saw:

At El Tamarindo, a restaurant and former haunt in my undergraduate years:
Obama-ritas (2 dollars more than the regular margarita)

In a downtown pub:
Obama inaugural beer glasses

On a sign in a convenience store:
Official inaugural Obama-water: $3/12 oz. What makes it official? Yo no se.

In a man’s hand:
Obama shopping bag. 10 dollars. Yes. 10 dollars. After boasting about how well he was doing that day, and how stupid his wife was for suggesting he not sell them, when questioned about his prices by the SAME customer, responds, “I’m selling them at a loss. Mine cost more than the others cuz they got that…stuff in em. You know?”. No. I don’t.

In BWI airport:
Obama “honored” in chocolate. Yeah, that happened. I saw it. They made chocolate Obama heads for you to eat.

On a friend of a friend:
A t-shirt attempting to re-create Obama’s visage akin to the face on the novel “Things Fall Apart”, which ended up looking like Obama in blackface. She says, “This is my favorite shirt!” We respond, “Don’t EVER wear it!!!”

On a sign as we were leaving the inauguration, but still within the ticketed area:
“Will buy your OBAMA ticket stubs for $10!”. Seriously, dude? Classy…

And the worst thing I heard/saw the entire weekend:

An Obama…ummm…pleasuring device. Complete with Obama’s likeness on the pleasure end. Uhhhh…wow. Yup.

New Jersey State Gala

I went! For free! Strange, I know! It was fun…but a ball. As one guest put it, “This is like a wedding where you are marrying the State of New Jersey”. Bad dancing + bad dancers can be fun, but I was too tired to fully appreciate the situation. I won’t bore you with the details, but here are a few things of note:

Ketel One donated 15 cases of Vodka, as well as a $20,000 ice bar and ice luge contraption. Trucked down from Canada.

Cory Booker showed up…guys were wowed while women were nonplussed. Apparently, he is quite the looker, and is quite the interesting guy. He actually foiled a bank robbery on the day of his mayoral inauguration.

Inauguration Day 1.20.09

So, us purple ticket holders decided to meet at 7:30 AM to make our way to the inauguration. Yes, I went to bed after 2 AM again. Yes, I was tired. No, I did not drink coffee, as I couldn’t risk peeing during the swearing in.

The tickets said gates opened at 9AM, but I received an email telling me that they actually open at 8. It was about 20 degrees outside, and might warm to a balmy 30 degrees later that day. We decided that waiting outside too early would be death, and arriving any later than 8:30 would risk not making it in before 11:30 AM, when the swearing in begins, and the gates all close.

Team purple ended up meeting around 7:45, and risked the subway to get down to the Mall. We couldn’t fit on the first two trains that came, but managed to squeeze into the third. We arrived, and walked up to First Street to wait in line, and found…

Complete chaos.

A street packed full of people for blocks, leading up to the purple gate. People with children. People in wheelchairs. People without tickets. People with the wrong colored ticket. People of every race, creed, ethnicity, occupation.

The only thing we didn’t see were people who earn their paycheck by protecting people and serving them. Not a single police officer. Nowhere. In fact, no uniformed official of any kind, until the firemen showed up to save lives. No signs directing people where to go. Misinformation everywhere.

We jammed our way into the “line”, next to a shuttle bus spurting exhaust into the crowd…

We stood in place. For a long time. We moved 5 feet. We stood in place for a long time. Repeat…especially the standing in place part. Nothing was moving. We made it half a block in about an hour.

Our new position was at the intersection of first and D streets.

Those are the official coordinates of hell. We stood at 1st and D street for another hour. At this intersection, thousands of people were trying to move forward. Hundreds of people were crossing these thousands of people, trying to get to Union Station or the now closed Silver ticket gate. More people who were further up in the Purple ticket line realized that, yeah, if you don’t have a ticket you are NOT GETTING IN, and were trying to make it back.

While at this intersection, occasionally connected to the ground by a single toe, I witnessed some truly amazing human behavior. A man respond to a woman who warned her child was being crushed with, “You think I give a fuck? I DON’T CARE!”. People climbing signs and scaffolding to fill in for the police and try to restore order. People refusing to move for the firemen with the stretcher who needed to get through to the unconscious woman. A woman crawling on her knees to retrieve a stranger’s lost ticket. My favorites were the countless people who thought yelling, “WHY DON’T YOU PEOPLE JUST MOVE” at the top of their lungs (into my earhole) would remedy the situation. Or when two ambulances and one police truck drove through the intersection.

Quite interesting. I think we were sitting in the middle of a pre-riot…what prevented it from manifesting was the general good mood that people were in…

…given the nature of the event. Had it been a concert, food line, or evacuation route, people would have certainly died.

After that hour of madness, we realized that people were NOT getting in on the street we were on. Our only hope was to walk around the block and try to reach the gates from a different direction. Many people realized the same thing, and started walking/running/sprinting to the other street. We made it, and crowd swam until we were 75 feet or so from the actual gate, which was not under the sign saying PURPLE GATE. Of course. We stood in place.

We walked forward 2 feet. We stood in place. Sounds familiar, but this time we were making definite progress towards the gates, and had confirmation that people were actually getting in. Unfortunately, time was ticking, and we knew that the gates would close at 11:30.

We make friends with people around us, and continue our movement towards the gate. 10:45. 11:00. 11:15. We start getting really nervous. We are about 20 feet from the gate, and can finally hear the “announcements” being yelled by officials WITHOUT megaphones. Purple ticket holders only. Unbelievably, people STILL thought that they could sneak into the fricking inauguration. Everytime they tried this, they had to be escorted away from the gates by an official. Nice. 11:18. 11:20. We are 15 feet from the gate, and starting to get frantic. To miss it is one thing. To miss it when we are so close, after everything, would have been devastating. 11:25. Seriously, I am fricking dying…we are so close!! At 11:29, I step foot into the promised land. No lie. A few minutes later, they manage to close the gate. As I pass through the metal detectors, with pure glee dripping from my person, I see hundreds to thousands of people banging on the fence, waving their purple tickets in the air. Nothing compared to the problems most people face on this earth, but unbelievably sad. Not so sad that I stood there for long though…I had some inaugurating to do.

We ran/hustled over to the Purple section. What is the Purple section, you ask? Obama stood on a podium. In front of him were people in seats. Behind the seats was the Purple section.

Not so close that we could make out features with our naked eyes, but you could definitely see Obama when he walked out. With our binoculars, we were money. A large Jumbo-tron was on the side of the Capitol, which we could watch as well.

You all saw the inauguration, so I won’t go in to it. Let me just say that to be there for it was one of the most amazing and emotional experiences I have had in my life. I’m glad I went, and full of grate for the opportunity I was given.

As we left, we saw Bush leaving in the helicopter. People erupted into bye-bye waves, and a few renditions of “Hey hey now, goodbye…”. It is over. It has begun.

And now the obligatory “Joel messes up but still makes it okay” travel story

Joel’s Wow I Really Messed Up Story

So, despite my best intentions, I didn’t get home until close to 2 AM on the 20th. Knowing that my flight was due to leave at 10:30 AM, and having experienced the madness of the day, I set my alarm for early. And by early, I meant that I set my alarm for 6:30. PM. Oh yeah.

So I woke up at 8 in the morning, thinking, “Hmmm…it is pretty bright”. Oh crap. I freaked out, partially because I was definitely not going to make the walk/train/bus/security line combo in time, and partly because I hadn’t had enough sleep the past 5 nights in a row. I called my friend in town who has a car and mumbled,“omigodIoverslepta

ndnowiamgoingtomissmyflightandcanyougivemearide?” into the phone. She said, okay, and hung up. A few minutes later she called back and said, “Dude, did you try a cab?” Oh yeah. Cabs. For reasons I will discuss in another post, they never occur to me. I dragged my bag outside, after insufficiently thanking my friend who hosted me for the weekend, and began the hunt for a cab.
I had no luck for about half an hour, as I aimlessly wandered corner to corner based on my cab-dar system. Clearly I need to get that thing calibrated. Eventually, I ended up near the Hilton, and convinced the doorman guy to let me hop in the taxi stand line with the hotel guests. As I got to the front of the line, the doorman told the driver to get me there on time as a personal favor. I guess that did it…I rode in the cab with the most amazing (read: fricking crazy) cab driver I have ever had in the US of A. We rolled through DC, breaking traffic law after traffic law, earning quite a few well-deserved honks and fingers, until we finally made it to the BWI parkway. Some fancy maneuvers and mucho speeding later, he drops me off at the airport just in time to make the cutoff where they bump you from your flight. Sweet.

I got on the plane, managed to sit in the wrong seat twice in 3 minutes, and we took off. The plane arrived to Boston, I hopped in another cab (yes, I spent almost as much on cabs as I did on my plane flight), made it home, dropped off my bags, put on new clothes (kinda), hopped on my bike, and rolled into work just in time for lab meeting at 12:30. Still kinda amazed that you can be in a sleeping bag in DC at 8:00 AM, mess up as much as I did, and still be sitting at your desk in Boston by half past noon. Oh, brave new world…

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