Our plane touched down in Baltimore around 11:00a on Saturday. Natalie’s plan is to get a shuttle that will take us to the train that will take us to Washington DC. At the AmTrak station we’re greeted by cab drivers telling us what the woman behind the window will confirm a few minutes later: all seats into Washington are sold until 6:00p. Natalie attempts to buy a ticket for Wednesday coming back to the airport. The woman behind the window tells her every ticket before 6:00p is sold for the rest of the week.
Back to the bus. The bus takes us to the airport and we get tickets on the Super Shuttle which will take us to DC. Natalie is smart and buys tickets for Wednesday now. It’s an hour ride through DC. Periodically we receive phone calls from our host, Kristina, checking our ETA and asking what we want for lunch. They want Indian but since I have never had Indian Natalie plays it safe and they get Thai which is pretty much like Chinese with more peanutty flavor.
Kristina lives with her fiance Jamey. Kristina looks like this:
Jamey looks something like this:
My bad. That’s Ethan Hawke. Jamey actually looks like this:
Crap. I keep doing that. That’s Ethan Hawke, again.
This is Jamey. Which is pretty much what I think Ethan Hawke would look like if he lived in a one-bedroom apartment in DC and was picking out sweatshirts for the next day. Except Jamey looks like he showers and isn’t one bad day from being homeless which is what Ethan Hawke always looks like to me. That, and Jamey would never be mean to Uma Thurman.
They’re both attorneys and know Natalie from her college days at American Law when she lived in DC. Their apartment is in a renovated hotel complete with doorman (okay, not so much a doorman like Ralph on The Jeffersons as much as a person who sits behind a desk and hands you your mail when you ask for it). It is one bedroom with every corner maximized Ikea-style for space and decorated in early American primate adding to Kristina’s surely unhealthy monkey obsession.
The kitchen can fit two people unless someone decides to open the oven or the refrigerator in which case someone has to step outside. Natalie’s first words when she enters are, “Wow… this place is much bigger than your last place.”
I realize in DC my shitbox of a townhouse would be the Playboy Mansion. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
We relax and enjoy our food. Natalie and Kristina get caught up. I thaw and watch Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer on Cinemax, which I have at the house and have never watched all the way through. I make a mental note to throw it out when I get home. Common sense says you shouldn’t trust anyone who wears a metal mask, a cloak in 2009 and has the last name “Doom.” Blonde Jessica Alba creeps me out.
Sunday is the concert. Kristina makes us a large breakfast and we develop our plan of attack. The concert starts at 2:30p, no ticket necessary. Performing are Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Beyonce Knowles, Shakira, Stevie Wonder, Usher, U2, Cheryl Crow and whoever the hell Josh Groban is. There are special appearances by Denzel Washington, Jack Black, Laura Linney, George Lopez, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L Jackson and Kal Penn… yes, Kal Penn. The audience collectively shouts “Kumar!” when he appears and wonders how he got this gig. Seriously, he’s biggest claims to fame are playing a stoner, replacing Ryan Reynolds in the Van Wilder sequel that doesn’t have Van Wilder in it and starring has Henchman #2 in Superman Returns where he has no dialogue. I wonder what are the chances of Samuel L Jackson dropping an F-Bomb. Natalie is convinced the concert is a dry run for the inauguration. She would be right.
We brave the cold and march to the Metro, DC’s subway system. it’s a little crowded but not too bad. All the Metro cards have Barack Obama’s and Inauguration information. DC does this neat thing and shows commercials on the tunnel walls so for a few seconds you see a Target ad or a trailer for Coraline. We exit the Metro and when we’re streetside we merge with a mass of people. Thousands. All moving in one direction. I am reminded of those scenes in War Of The Worlds (2005) where thousands of displaced Americans are migrating somewhere. There, it was for safety. Here, it was for Beyonce.
On every intersection is a humvee and at least two National Guardsmen. On occasion I would see a humvee parked on a manhole and know that manhole wasn’t welded close (a typical practice when a President is in the open). Any place that didn’t have soldiers, had a police presence.
Natalie doesn’t like cops. This comes from her interaction with cops as a protester, legal observer and general rabble-rouser. I comment the police are very friendly and she comments, “That’s because nobody is protesting anything.” And then we come across this:
My favorite sign was the reverse side of the white one which read “Real Change Comes With Jesus, Not Obama.” Kristina ran into the crowd to shout obscenities at them. I just dismissed them as assholes and reigned her in so we could keep moving. I’m a black guy… if I yelled at everything that pissed me off I’d be as annoying as William Donahue and unable to accept the fact that not everybody is going to like me and you convert them by being nice, doing the Christian thing and turning the other cheek and not calling them douches.
The concert was to be performed in the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. There are four security checkpoints each checking two people at a time. Again, there are thousands of us. We’re in line for an hour when an ambulance siren makes us make room so they can pass. We step to the sides to clear the street, maybe a hundred of us, an as soon as the ambulance passes everyone behind us fills the open space leaving us on the sidewalk. Nobody picks a fight. People just ease their way back into the crowd.
The girl in front of me won’t stop talking about Beyonce. She won’t shut up. To make matters worse, some of the people she’s with are behind us so her conversations are shouted through us. Kristina asks how did we get saddled with the annoying and unattractive people? This excludes Miss Arlington who was behind us, a very attractive young woman who felt the need to wear her sash and tiara.
Imagine the above picture with a snow jacket and boots (keeping the sash and tiara) and you get the idea. I imagine she was trying to get hit on (or just generally attract attention) which is difficult in scarf, parka and some boots Quinn The Eskimo would’ve harpooned you for. Nothing says, “I’m a hottie,” more than literally wearing a sign that said you won a beauty pageant and a tiara. It also says, “I’m a little full of myself and very proud of being born pretty… would you like to see me perform “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” on the flute for the talent portion of the competition.”
I look down and see a woman’s Barack Obama sneakers and notice they have a Nike swish and are authentic Air Force Ones…
…and I’m a little sad to see the first black President marketed like a Batman movie…
…and even sadder that black people spend their money on complete bullshit.
We start talking about the performers and Natalie is confident they’ll end with Beyonce.
JIM: I doubt it.
NATALIE: What’s a better closer than Beyonce? Really, what do you follow that with?
JIM: Bruce Springsteen. “Born In The USA.”
NATALIE: I didn’t think about that.
JIM: John Mellencamp. “Pink Houses.”
NATALIE: Which one is that?
JIM: (Singing) “Ain’t that America, you and me? Ain’t that America, something to see, baby? Ain’t that America, home of the free… Little Pink Houses for you and me.”
NATALIE: Yeah. Maybe.
JIM: Well, I sure don’t want to see her at the foot of the Great Emancipator singing “Upgrade U” to the future President.
Then this happens:
Washington DC has very limited airspace. Three times I have seen helicopters flying low in DC and twice it was this copter. That is Marine One, the President’s helicopter heading in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial.
After an hour or so in line I can hear Denzel Washington speaking. Kristina starts freaking out because that’s her future husband… keep in mind, she already has one fiance. I think she just likes to exercise the fantasy.
The crowd starts to get anxious and people from the front of the line begin moving in the wrong direction. Someone says the gates are closed. I am not moving until someone in a uniform tells me this. A moment later two National Guardsmen walk the line telling us they’ve reached maximum capacity and we have to watch the show from one of the thirty jumbotrons. The closest is at the Washington Monument. Jumbotrons aren’t too bad because I have the world’s smallest jumbotron made by the good people at Sony and enjoy it very much. I call my friend Yuri and tell him they’re testing the jumbotrons with Halo 3. He screams like an eight year old girl. None of this is true but I love messing with his head.
A few hundred of us start moving in the direction of the monument which is pretty easy to find. We cross the small hill the monument sits on to find this:
Kids started climbing trees and the Army told them they’d have to get down. After awhile it was pointless and they let them stay. I am pretty sure the obvious snipers on the surrounding rooftops kept an eye on them.
Granted, the ground was frozen but people insisted on standing which is fine if you’re six foot. I am not. Natalie is even shorter. She complained about what inconsiderate bastards tall people are. I told her she’s preaching to the choir. I am little surprised at the number of people who brought small children. Natalie and I decided if our kids are small enough and needed to be carried there is no way I would have them out in 30 degree weather.
Next to Natalie is Kristina in her red hat. She explained the significance of the red hat which is she’d easy to find in a crowd. She was right in that we lost her a few times only to find her thirty seconds later because of her red hat. This is also Natalie’s theory in luggage which is never buy black, gray or navy luggage. Always buy something shockingly ugly that you can live with. Natalie’s luggage is all red and green. She’s is in a constant quest for something in a paisley. She draws the line at floral prints but admires people able to pull it off.
We watched the concert with the Washington Monument in the background with half a million of our closest friends. There is something about 500,000 people singing “Pink Houses” or “This Land Is Your Land” that send a little chill through your spine. My favorite line was George Lopez asking, “How many of you are from out of town? Well, you’re home now.” Michelle Malkin would later call the event a Kumbaya love fest and I will call Michelle Malkin a mean, nasty bitch. This is that “Audacity Of Hope” Obama was talking about.
Then the concert ended and a half million people decided to leave, at once, and find something to eat.
The further we walked the more the crowd thinned and eventually found Mark & Orlando’s which must have just opened for the evening since we were the first ones in the door. We wanted burgers and a beer. I got the fanciest cheesesteak sandwich I have ever eaten and Natalie ordered Crème brûlée in her effort to expose me to things finer than peanut butter ice cream. We got home and decided Monday would be a day of rest to reserve our strength for Tuesday.
Part Two will appear Friday January 30.