Monday, January 19 – Martin Luther King Day. We woke up to snow flurries. I had two things I wanted to do this day. One, go to the Martin Luther King Memorial, one of the three thousand things I missed when I was here November 2007. The second was go to Howard University where Spike Lee was giving a free all-day symposium. Natalie killed them both and not without reason. She didn’t want to be anywhere near the National Mall knowing anybody who would be in town for the Inauguration would be here by now and they’d all be trying to squeeze in all the attractions in the two or three days they’d be in town. The Martin Luther King Memorial on Martin Luther King Day on the eve of the Inauguration of the first black President… it’s kind of a no-brainer. As far as Spike Lee goes… we’ll I’m told Howard University is in the hood. Most of the hoods I am used to have pawn shops and cash advance stores but not universities. Must be some hood. I don’t fight her on this because I have seen Spike Lee lecture twice before, have his signature on his Making Of Malcolm X book and Natalie let me drag her across town just so I could get my picture taken on the steps from the ending of The Exorcist the last time I was here. Never call her a Killjoy.
Natalie has to make a judgment call because sometimes, left to my own devices I am like a small child. One of us has to be the adult. The last time we were in DC she put me on a tour bus for the day before she left for her conference so I could see the sites. She showed me where to buy my ticket and and like a child on his first day put me in a seat stepped outside as I sat there minding my business in my winter coat with a small map in my pocket and all my money in my front pocket so nobody could steal it. A moment she later she climbed back on the bus and asked:
NATALIE: Have you ever been on a bus before?
JIM: No. I’ve been in a bus.
George Carlin is a God.
NATALIE: Shut up. Seriously.
JIM: A school bus.
NATALIE: I’m coming with you.
She goes outside buys another ticket and escorted me to the stop to make sure I wouldn’t get lost.
Once she fell asleep letting me eat Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream ice cream from the container. She woke up to find me on the couch complaining about my stomach.
NATALIE: Did you eat something that disagreed with you?
JIM: I ate that ice cream.
She finds the empty container on the end table
NATALIE: Jim, did you eat this whole thing?
NATALIE: Are you crazy? That’s like two thousand calories. What were you thinking?
JIM: But it had waffle cone in it. What was I supposed to do? There was waffle cone, that sugary delicious temptress.
We decide to take it easy and conserve our strength. We start with lunch at the Open City Cafe. One of the things I like about big cities is the diversity of minorities, something you don’t see in small towns in the south. I smile as the girl at the table next to us announces to her girlfriends, “Welcome to the final day of the Bush administration.” One of the benefits of having a significant other is being able to eat of their plate. It’s one of those perks nobody talks about but it’s nice to have someone carve a chunk off their omelet and push it to the side specifically for you. We pass by several street vendors, all with bootleg Obama merchandise. It’s like someone forgot to lock the gate at the flea market and all these vendors escaped into the wild. My brother requested three hats for his family which I find fairly easy. Some things like the pimped-hat Obama with phrase “The World Is Mine” (from Scarface) or Obama in a Kangol hat with the Run DMC font that reads “We Run DC” kills me just a little inside. What should be the death blow is a pink shirt with Obama’s face completely bedazzled in shiny beads and I immediately think, “that may be the tackiest thing I have ever seen outside Rip Taylor’s house,” and then think of my friend Jon’s ten-year-old daughter Elizabeth who, like her stepmother, has a severe Commander-In-Chief crush. I consider buying it for her and the guy tells me it’s twenty-four dollars and I keep moving. I am not a fan of bootleg stuff. Don’t ask me why. Natalie buys her mother Obama mock nine dollar bills (don’t ask me why nine dollars) because they’re kitschy and her mom likes kitschy. We go to Union Station where where are people lined up to get their picture taken with cardboard Obama.
We buy a bunch more stuff at the B Dalton’s. The Time Person Of The Year issue. Newspapers. Whatever. I buy Yuri an Obama t-shirt by Alex Ross, the greatest comic illustrator alive at Fantom Comics.
And just because I can be a jerk these are some other pieces he did for The Village Voice which I assume is a fairly left periodical. I don’t know his politics or if he’s just a hired gun but in his non-comic stuff seems like a cross between Norman Rockwell and Che Guevera.
People are bombarding the clerk about getting the Spider-Man issue with Obama on the cover that somehow my pusher Ray didn’t have for me. What’s up with that?
And this is here because it’s just strikes me as funny. I picture ten minutes later Rush Limbaugh has a horrible accident, loses his hair and reveals himself as Obama nemesis Lex Luthor.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, we decide to go see Frost/Nixon which is excellent. On the way there I feel something crunch under my feet and stop to see what I stepped in. Natalie tells me that would be ice and it gets kinds of slick. It’s been almost twenty years since I have seen snow and it catches me off guard. The theatre was probably the best I have ever been in. One enormous house, a giant curved screen and I got to sit in the balcony which was a first for me.
We left with a quest to find a Ben & Jerry’s to buy a pint of their Obama bandwagon flavor, Yes Pecan.
No luck (although Natalie would find some in Gainesville and bring it home as a surprise for me). We go home to find an excellent dinner made by former cook-turner-lawyer turned host Jamey Cowden. Tomorrow is the Inauguration.
Inauguration Day. Everything federal in DC is close. We wake up to leave the apartment by 7:00a. With the wind-chill it’s twelve degrees. We’re all packed for any emergency. Hats, gloves, scarfs, cash, check cards, credit cards, subway passes, maps from the newspaper of security checkpoints, cameras, extra batteries, bags of almonds and beef jerky, tissues and I have two ponchos in my back pocket. We get to the elevator and there is a sign that reads, “If you want to walk to Inauguration with neighbors, meet us in the lobby at 8:00a.” Someone has vandalized the sign in Sharpie with the words, “If you leave at 8:00a you’ll never make it.”
We start walking. The plan is to avoid the Metro because everyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing will be in that concrete tube. We have several miles to walk. I find a trick regardless of the weather is always wear two pairs of socks for extra cushion and avoiding the bleeding heels I got from all the walking last time I was here. On the street, everyone looks like they are wearing all the clothes they own. Wrapped in this many clothes everyone looks like an idiot when they run across intersections. A woman exits her apartment with her dog and asks me to save her a spot. I tell her to look for me… I’ll be the black guy in the hat on the left. A girl in a miniskirt and three-inch spike heels is walking in front of us and Natalie looks at me and says, “Amateur. I’d rather be warm than cute. Those shoes aren’t going to worth a damn after the second mile and in the grass of the mall.”
We decide if you don’t have tickets you won’t be watching anything with the naked eye. The plan is to find a good place and watch it from one of the thirty jumbotrons strategically placed throughout the mall. We decide the Lincoln Memorial is the furthest point and will probably have the least amount of people. The idea of watching the first black President get inaugurated from the foot of Great Emancipator is kinda cool. We get there and we’re right. We take some seats along a chain link fence. Kristina and Jamey go to find some hot dogs and food. Natalie requests a hot dog with ketchup, mustard and relish ignoring the fact someone has to bring this to her in twelve degree weather.
I don’t like hot drinks so I request a Coke. This is what God does to you for being so stupid to order a Coke when it’s twelve degrees.
It boggles the mind to think of the logistics of getting through all the clothes to use the Porta-Potty. The picture on the jumbotron was lacking. Clearly not high-def or as nice as the world’s smallest jumbotron I own at home made by the good people at Sony.
Even celebrities like Elmo came all the way from Sesame Street.
Some guy sits next to me and tells me he’s glad he talked his teenage daughters into wearing hats? I ask why wouldn’t they want to wear hats. “Their hair,” he responds. Jamey gets the idea we should be closer. He says we don’t have to come but he wants to be in the thick of it. In the event it’s a bad idea we can always come back. The area has started to fill but there is still lots of space. We migrate forward. I pass a woman with a Scottish flag sewed on her jacket with a sign that reads “Scotland For Obama.” As the crowds get thicker, you can see grown people moving through the masses holding onto the hands and jackets of the person in front of them. Occasionally a group of four will pause and another larger group passes holding hands like children on a field trip. The buddy system works pretty well even when you’re thirty-seven.
We get to the World War II Memorial. What used to be a fountain in the center is drained and filled with people who also squeeze themselves on the walls of the structure.
In the memorial and within all the people the wind-chill is cut down substantially. I meet a woman standing next to me who drove in last night from one of the Carolinas. She had Obama earrings and it makes me wonder how many Reagan or Clinton earrings anybody would have ever bought.
The ceremony starts. Two million people shut up and we’re all staring giant televisions. Comments are made as people are brought out. Jimmy Carter gets cheers. My father would have liked that. Michelle Obama appears and man in the back shouts, “I love you, Michelle!” Dick Cheney who apparently threw is back out moving boxes is pushed out in wheelchair looking ominously like Mr Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life. I’m with DL Hughley in wondering what kind of multimillionaire moves his own boxes? I still say they were probably stuffed with the ballots from the 2000 election.
The jumbotron pans over the seemingly never-ending crowd and my first reaction is, “look at all those idiots,” having forgotten I am standing there in this surreal moment and then I see the helicopter fly overhead and remember I am one of the idiots. George W Bush appears and pockets of the crowd “boo” him. This is the one thing everybody asks me and I have to say it seemed much smaller than they made it seemed on television but you can’t put two million people together and expect them all to respect the office. A woman shouts, “Have some respect… he’s still our President for… twenty three more minutes.”
Barack Obama appears to overwhelming cheering. We’re told to take our seats and the crowds bursts into laughter since we’ve been standing for the better part of three hours. Aretha Franklin appears for the national anthem and there is a universal, “What the hell is she wearing?’ from the crowd. Natalie tells me these people obviously haven’t spent a lot of time in black churches. The one thing I learned is black women like big hats and have no problem wearing lots of fur… then again, I think black women live without the fear of having some twenty-year old college vegan throwing paint on their coats because they’re vegans, not stupid.
The Vice-Presidential Inauguration happens and I hope under my breath that Crazy Joe doesn’t do anything stupid. The Presidential Inauguration happens slightly after noon and people, including myself, start wondering is this legit. Several outlets reported the new President must be sworn in by noon. Will someone get Yo Yo Ma off the frickin’ stage?
Justice John Roberts swears in Barack Obama in as the 44th President of the United States and the crowd goes wild.
People I don’t know hugged me. Natalie kissed me. And like that we, America, had it’s first African American President and the Bush Administration ended. When we first got to DC the Super Shuttle driver was listening to talk radio and his guest was an older civil rights activist and when asked his opinion on the day he said he’d been working on the Barack Obama campaign since 1932. That made me smile and it was all I could think about as we walked back home. By the end of the day we’d walked seven miles. We skipped the parade (which we were told you could do one or the other but not to attempt both). We watched it from a couch and ate chili dogs and didn’t regret a moment of it.
We woke up the next day at 4:00a to be downstairs for the shuttle at 5:05a. Kristina and Jamey, the gracious hosts they are, woke too see us off. As soon as we were on the plane, Natalie and I were done with the Inauguration and ready for America to return to business as usual. I’m not one of the people who thinks the the man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the answer to all our hopes… he’s just a guy, but it doesn’t mean you can’t hope. We had a Washington and a Lincoln and a Roosevelt so we’re due for another leader. Someone who will inspire us. Someone who reminds us that America is an ideal and it’s okay to be idealistic, the audacity of hoping and all that. I feel good about things. It’s nice to see so many different types of people coming together for a common cause. Someone told me when the Election Night Celebration was held in Chicago, it could have been disastrous had Obama lost and there were 400,000 angry people in one place. I told him, “You know what, you would have had 400,000 white, black, Latino, Jewish, Middle-Easterns and Asians rioting together and brother, that’s progress. It feels good that I have a President that wants his Blackberry so he can keep in touch and knows what Rush Limbaugh is saying about him. A President that knows the Earth isn’t flat and science shouldn’t stop because it makes you uncomfortable. A President that isn’t afraid to say in an Inauguration address that “special rights” for gay people are the same rights all of us already have. I like seeing the American flag waved in other countries and it not be on fire.
I haven’t felt that way in a long time. America… I missed you. It’s been a long time. You look good.