Maybe it is the scarcity of the occasion. Not only does one rarely see such numeric splendor with the eyes, but it is not often that one experiences an instant aura of history, like the one that fell upon the National Mall around noon today. Moreover, it may be only once in my lifetime that I will so tangibly feel such unity radiating from a complex, often-disagreeing people.
It is notable that the Secret Service reported zero "inaugural-related arrests" by law enforcement.
Yes, beautiful is accurate. (See the image below from the Associated Press. All other images are from my "ground level" perspective.)
If anyone is controlling the weather, then they made it inordinately difficult to enjoy the long travel and waiting times associated with getting into the Mall. With windchill, it was 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit.
I met my friends Ashesh and Stephanie in line to get into the ticketed "blue section" -- about 100-200 yards from the steps of the Capitol building -- around 9 AM. The lines were huge, unwieldy, and poorly managed by event staff. I will save you the frustrating details, but suffice it to say that the staff lacked a lot of coordination with the crowd during the entrance stage. At one point near the gate to get into the blue section, we were being picked up and carried by the crowd because of poor line management.
Anyway, we entered the standing area for our section around 11:30 AM, just as Diane Feinstein began speaking. Although staff was noticeably lacking outside the barriers, there was plenty of security to go around in the open Mall area. But if the cold and boredom got to me outside the gates, then they were quickly forgotten inside. The momentous view melted all discomfort (at least for the next half hour).
It is hard to describe the feeling one gets amongst a group of this size. Maybe some of my photos will help. (And the Google satellite images taken during the event give a sense of magnitude as well.)
After Obama's delightful rhetoric -- expressing both poetry and principle -- we waited for another 45 minutes in the Mall to let the crowd begin to stream out before making our exit. Image below: my roommate and good friend, Ashesh, poses in front of the milling crowd.
Once in the streets, though, my friends and I were again reminded of the intensity of the occasion. Every street for miles in any direction was packed with people. And all of them were heading in seemingly disparate directions. Surely many were headed to the Metro (the city's subway system), but others were figuring out how to burn time before their buses (which lined every street) departed the city. Many were also figuring out how to make their way to the parade, all the way on the northern side of the Mall.
With the cold setting in again and the singular focus of the millions dissipating, we three tried to find a corner with food, warmth, and a seat. It took us another hour of walking all about the South Capitol area, but eventually, we found a sufficient restaurant in L'Enfant Plaza. (And by "sufficient", I mean a food establishment obviously over capacity, running out of every food in their buffet.)
After warming up and filling up, Steph, Ashesh, and I decided to skip the incredibly long lines (hours of lines) at every Metro station and take the 2-3 mile walk all the way across and through the Mall to the Key Bridge, which leads back into Virginia. Along the way, we saw the media booths of MSNBC and ABC. We also witnessed the surreal amount of open space in the Mall that had been full to the brim a short time before. Before leaving the Mall grounds, Steph and I captured one more photo in front of the Washington Monument. Though we were tired of walking and standing, though the day was frigid, we were happy (evidently).
When I arrived back at my cozy apartment in Arlington (around 5:30 PM), I was floating in the excitement of the day. I lay back in my recliner and rested my feet, pondering the experience.
DC had been transformed, almost bursting from the strain of millions. Yet it was a pleasant overcrowding, and it was hard to find a person who complained. The dominant feeling was one of camaraderie and shared identity. We could finally celebrate an ethnically and politically historic moment, sharing hope and anticipation.
But that anticipation also breeds expectation. Needless to say, after the parades, pomp, and pageants, President Obama -- after months of waiting, it feels good to say that -- needs to be in top gear tomorrow morning.
For today, though, I am taking a rare moment to indulge in the gravity of a grand social movement. It felt good to be part of today's mass gathering. And I am fortunate. Fortunate for the marvelous view.