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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.

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January 21, 2009 10:51 AM

Seen. Heard. Said

Posted by seattletimes.com staff

Submitted by Kevin D. Boze

We all got up to the alarm clock's call at 4:00 am. The train leaves the station at 6:23, but getting five adults showered, dressed, caffeinated and out the door does require a certain degree of orchestration.

Polly, Bookbag, Blueboy, Native Guide and myself find ourselves on the train platform at Monocacy Station, and we are immediately face-to-face with the media. A local television station interviews us about where we're from and why we're here. Polly and I feel every bit of the morning chill (6 degrees F), but our hardy Midwesterners and East Coaster shrug it off as just another day in January. The train shows up and all dire predictions about the trains being overcrowded are utterly unfounded. The train is full, to be sure, but everyone has a seat and we are comfortable.

We arrive at Union Station without incident, and it would appear the incidents have decided to wait until we got there. We have been directed to walk down a street that proves impassable when a man has a medical emergency in the intersection and requires immediate treatment. It apparently hadn't occured to the organizers that emergency vehicles might have to actually negotiate ther way through these crowds. The media reports two million people were in attendance today, a record. If one one-hundredth of one percent of those people encounter a serious health problem such as a heart attack or a seizure, that still adds up to 200 ambulance calls, and the Law of Averages appeared to be in force. There literally wasn't a single moment where we weren't aware of an ambulance trying to go from one place to another, crawling through a sea of humanity as they go.

Realizing we aren't going to get down this particular street, we are redirected around another street, through a sixteen-lane tunnel that has been closed to vehicles (a surreal sight), and emerge within a few blocks of the Silver Gate entrance.

Those few blocks, however, appear to be a bigger challenge than we thought. It takes us 90 minutes to walk three city blocks, and another 90 to walk the fourth block. The crowd was in a good mood and high spirits. I often heard people spontaneously break out in patriotic songs and hymns, most notably "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "Amazing Grace" and "America the Beautiful." Our progress is at a snail's pace, and then it stopped altogether. Our "moat" in this situation is Pennsylvania Avenue. The Metropolitan Police keep "thanking us for our patience," but they only rarely let anyone actually cross the street. We watch 10:30 come and go, which was the announced time that the security gates would be closed. When we finally are allowed to cross to the entrance, disappointed attendees are trudging back in the opposite direction, and they confirm the worst. The security gates are closed. No one else is getting in, even with tickets. Thousands of people have been left out in the cold, literally. It is a little bittersweet, to be holding a ticket and so close to the action, but allowed to get in.

Here's a note to Ms. Feinstein, the inauguration chair, et al. - if you can't handle 250,000 guests, don't invite them. The "crowd experts" that have been featured in the media have long predicted that the security checkpoints simply would not be able to process the numbers of people in the time allowed, and they were right. This was especially galling because we could see that the Silver Area that we were supposed to be occupying was half-empty.

Then, at 11:25 a.m., just minutes before the launch of the ceremony, the crowd decided matters for themselves. I'm not sure who started it, but the ticket-holding crowd stormed the security fences and went running in to fill the spaces in the Silver Area. The gang and I all rushed forward. Into the breach, dear friends! Hey, they can't arrest all of us. Besides, we do have tickets.

We get ourselves situated next to the Capitol reflecting pond in just enough time to hear the dignitaries being introduced and seated. When George Bush was introduced, it inspired a wave of loud booing and cat-calling that I heard all the way back to the Washington Monument (the media may have suppressed this a bit ... I checked with people watching on television and they said they heard no such outburst).

Frankly, we all missed most of what was actually said. Our particular spot was in an acoustic "dead zone" and the words from the far-off speakers often reverberated off the limestone walls, were carried away by the stiff winds, or were drowned out by the ever-present wails of emergency vehicles. We caught Obama's oath and his address in bits and pieces. We're looking forward to getting back home and hearing the whole thing in one piece.

We witnessed one particularly touching moment. An African-American woman tapped the shoulder of the man in front of her and said, "Excuse me, but can I give you a few dollars to lift up my son so he can see Obama speak? I don't want him to miss this." The man very obligingly lifted the 5-year-old boy up for a few moments so the young man could see better. When the woman offered to pay the man, he declined, saying, "It's no problem." The woman then hugged her son and told him, "You'll be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you saw Obama become president!"

This whole quest has often been surreal for me. Even though I am right in the middle of these events, I keep waiting for the reality of it to sink in. I never got close enough to see Obama in person. For me, my reality check was when I saw the Marine Corps helicopter fly away with the former president inside it. That's when it all came together for me, and I felt the change was real.

The helicopter's departure was hailed by cheers, and I saw a forest of hands go up in one-fingered salutes as George Bush flew off into the horizon. The crowd in my section was not too shy about where their sentiments lie.

Now, as I write this, I am resting my tired feet, and I'm thinking many thoughts. I'm sore. I'm exhausted. This probably was better on TV. And I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I saw huge crowds of people being courteous and helpful to each other. I saw exactly one protester, and I saw exactly one person get arrested. Out of 2 million.

This is my first, and likely will be my last, inauguration, but going to a presidential inauguration is a lot like getting married. If you plan ahead, do it right, and pick the right person, once is all you really need.

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