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We'll bring you first-hand accounts of local Seattle-area residents and their journey to D.C. and generally all things inauguration. If you're going to the inauguration and would like to contribute, contact us here.
• Teresa Scribner
• Kevin D. Boze
• Richard Ruochen Li
• Debra J. Markert
• Ron Jones
January 21, 2009 12:12 PM
Posted by seattletimes.com staff
Submitted by Ashley Howard
It was a cold, but spectacular day from the parade route. After leaving my dorm room at 3:03 am and walking the 3.2 miles to the parade route, we arrived at 12th & G Streets shortly before 4am. In the four hours between then and the time the gates opened a not so surprising 55 minutes late the crowd behind us swelled from fifty into the tens of thousands. We got prime spots along the barricade overlooking Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th & 14th Streets and settled in for the long cold wait.
The sound of a multitude of cell-phones ringing, would alert the crowd that something was happening. It happened for the first time at 11:00, when CNN showed the motorcade departing from the White House. Minutes later President Bush and President-elect Obama passed by us on their way to the swearing in ceremony. I tucked my phone into my knit cap. I would stay on the phone with my father for the next hour and twelve minutes. He talked us through everything that was happening, I would relay it to the crowd around me. "They've arrived. Cheney's in a wheel chair. They are now seating President Bush... they are playing Hail to the Chief for Bush for the last time... now, the girls are coming out. " A cheer echoed from the National Mall. From the speakers two blocks away, we could hear Michelle be announced. "She's got on a gold dress," I heard my father say. "Ask him who the designer is?" My best friend asked. My dad, Mr. Fashion Clueless, wouldn't have known if it was Vera Wang, Oscar De Larenta, or Isabel Toledo. It was Toledo, we later learned. Then Biden stepped out into the 25 degree air. Soon only Obama was left inside the capital. "Obama looks nervous, he's not smiling," my dad narrated.
Solders walked along the parade route, carrying signs that said Quiet Please. When Obama was announced, the sign holders just smiled. No one had stayed quiet. People listened intensely from the speakers set up along the parade route. We listened to Aretha Franklin sing America the Beautiful. Mr. Fashion Clueless said, "She's wearing the ugliest of hats." I would see it later and think it was very Aretha-like, I personally loved it. As we listened to Yo-Yo Ma play the most beautiful piece of music, the minute hand on the Old Post Office's clock rising 12 blocks above Pennsylvania Avenue swept closer to twelve o'clock. "CNN is announcing that we officially have a new President." I remember my dad saying. The look of awe on people's faces when I relayed the news was inspiring. A women from Michigan who had brought her 9 year old son and 7 year old daughter for this event, looked down at her children then up at the heavens.
Minutes later we could hear Justice Roberts leading Obama in the Oath. I wouldn't know until later, that they had tripped up, because the words had come in stereo – up Pennsylvania Avenue, from the mall, behind us in the stands. You could hear it echoed on the speakers in front of us on 12th Street, behind us on 14th. It came across the portable shower radio that someone in the crowd had brought. I could hear the television in the background on the phone. The words swelled around in the air, rising higher and higher until it crescendoed it the euphemism of the crowd. It was hopeful, it was historic, it was intense, I wish I could have bottled that moment as hope surged forth. A perfume I would simply call, "Amazing!"
As Obama delivered his first address to the nation as President, I didn't think once about how cold it was. Eleven degrees with wind chill, if you were wondering. Like me the crowd stood silently in awe, listening to Obama's oration. You could have heard a pin drop. You could feel the tide of this country changing. It felt like the world was righting itself.
Then it was over, we hunkered down under the blankets. We pulled our scarves tighter. We were all smiling. As the cold seeped back into our bones smiles began to falter, teeth began to chatter. I began to shake. Someone shared one of their hand warmers with me. I tied the blanket I had brought around my friend like a backward cape. The women from Michigan's phone rang, it was her sister. "Bush is climbing into a helicopter; the Obama's are waving goodbye." Moments later, flying above Pennsylvania Avenue I spotted it briefly, before it turned out of our view and over the mall. Less than a minute later, someone in the crowd yelled there it is, pointing towards the Potomac. I found myself waving as it crossed the horizon, others did too. Someone asked what Bush must be feeling. "Relief." I said. I think everyone was feeling relief.
The same six songs played over the loudspeakers, it seemed like every time I stopped to listen Wynonna Judd was signing. Pulling out my iPod and speakers, our group took control of the music. The crowd perked up when I played U2's Beautiful Day. The DC police officer on the other side of the barricade bopped his head in time to the music. I jumped up and down hoping to warm my toes. I would be lying if I said that the day was all grins and giggles. As Obama and his family ate at the Inaugural Luncheon, those gathered along the parade route felt a bit slighted. For most of the people in our area, we had been going on ten hours out in the cold, and we were cold. Inside, congressional leaders were eating pheasant and duck, sipping wine. I ate half a frozen turkey sandwich. It was 2:30, the parade was scheduled to have already begun. Couldn't they schedule this luncheon for tomorrow, when there weren't hundreds of thousands of citizens waiting to congratulation the President. There was still no start time in sight. Then the phones began ringing again. Everyone perked up, hoping that the Obama's were leaving the Capital. That was not the case. Reid had collapsed. Kennedy had a seizure. I tried to announce it quietly so the kids nearby wouldn't hear. It rippled through the crowd everyone was palpably concerned.
Time began to pass slower. The cold became more intense. The hand warmers stopped working. My teeth were chattering again. I balled my fingers inside my gloves. The little boy from Michigan wanted to leave. He was cold. I took my blanket and wrapped it around him. Someone else did as well. The Marines began to redeploy along the parade route. Precisely every 10 feet they stood at parade rest. In trench coats and leather gloves, they stood unmoving for over an hour. A couple of them were cute. They had to have been cold. Phones began ringing again. "Obama's exiting the capital," my dad told me. Our spirits began to lift. "Now he's reviewing troops." Again, can't that wait for tomorrow, I thought selfishly. "He's in the car," I heard my father say. The commentator on the speakers was talking about how there were 90 groups participating in the parade. I asked my dad for an update on Obama's position. We decided that we couldn't take much more of the cold; we'd be leaving after Obama came through. My dad thought that was a good idea. The presidential motorcade still hadn't moved.
Slow as snails it began working its way up the parade route. Four blocks from us Obama and Michelle got out of the car. We couldn't see them, but the media viewing platform was two blocks before us. Politics we thought, but we were glad we would see him in person. People were excited. I was still shivering. My dad told me that Obama had told Al Rocker that "it's warm." It made Obama seem somehow unsympathetic. As if he was ridiculing the crowds for shivering. He should have said something like "stay warm" instead. A block from us, he climbed back into the motorcade, that's right back into his heated car. It really wasn't that warm, was it Obama? But he climbed in on our side of the car.
Then we saw the motorcade, the distinctive, shinny grill of the Caddy. It was a beautiful sight. The Marines' boots clicked together as they went from parade rest to a salute. The police officers all removed their hands from their pockets. The kids no longer cared about their blankets as they stood on the barricade craning their necks. I put a foot on the barricade and got yelled at by the police officer. Finally, the limo pulled in front of us. It was so loud, I couldn't hear my father on the phone "It's Malia," I thought I heard the little girl say. Sure enough she was sitting across from her father in the limousine. Obama was smiling and waving out the window. People reacted like he was a rock star instead of the president. The exhilaration that he brings, swept past us and then he turned down 15th street and was gone. So were the crowds. People began packing up, eager to get somewhere warm.
We stayed and waited for the Vice President. Although the crowd had thinned there was a roar amongst the crowd when he was introduced over the speakers. Biden practically skipped down Pennsylvania Avenue. Pointing, waving, and making eye contact with every person in the crowd. It was as if every person poured out their love to Obama, and Biden returned it. He made you feel important and loved.
We gathered our belongings. Stuffing blankets into bags. We said goodbye to our newly made friends, swapping email addresses, and wishing everyone safe travels home. We started walking towards the exits, I lost our friends from Michigan in the crowd. "Ashley, you there?" I heard looking around. It took me a second to realize that my dad was still on the line, my cell phone still tucked under my hat. "Yeah Dad. We're leaving now, I'll call you when we get home. "Okay be safe, stay warm," he wished.
Before we hung up my dad said, "I wish I had been there with you today." Daddy, I want you to know that you were here – you'll always be the narrator in my head when I think of this historic day.
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