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Thursday, January 20, 2005

Inaugurate This!

Yes, I'm still living, albeit rather harried of late. I do want to blog, really I do, and I will try to continue to do so.

Today was a little something they call the inauguration here in DC, as you might have heard. I was dumb in not planning ahead for how to get to go to things and I didn't quite get around into checking into details of the best way to approach the day. Even so, I had some mildly interesting experiences that I am chronicling in this blog post. It goes chronological, basically with the ceremony on the Mall in the AM and the parade in the PM, with unfortunate amounts of waiting in line discussed throughout. Enjoy.

9:30 am: I get up and get out the door--fortunately I live in the city and not all that far from the action. I definitely should've gotten myself out of bed earlier than this in retrospect, but this was a day off for me and I needed to get a little extra sleep. Plus, I was out commiserating with some fellow members of the vast left-wing conspiracy last night about what could've been and needed to sleep that off.

Most of my fellow Bush dissenters I asked about going to the inauguration last night scoffed at the notion. There was something in the Post last week about how lots of Democrats were getting out of town for the week, even. I still subscribe to the naive notion that this is a historical event worth witnessing, regardless of my feelings about the president. The president is still the president. While it would have been nice to see Kerry inaugurated instead, that's not my motivation in having gone to see the events.

One guy I met last night procured himself a ticket through Rep. Bob Matsui's office. Who would've thought to snatch up the remaining tickets that were allocated to the office of the congressman who just recently died? That was a stroke of genius on his part. I, on the other hand, didn't realize that senators and congressmen were the channels for getting such tickets until it was too late. I would have to submit to being herded along with the other peons.

10:00 am: Walking down through Northwest DC it's a little eerie how there are big military humvees sitting on every block. I get harassed by power-tripping security personnel for the first time on the day over by the White House, where I was simply walking down the sidewalk on Constitution Ave. Bad start, but I have to say I didn't encounter too many other power-drunk guys in uniform on my travels. Lots of buses fly by, led by vehicles with sirens, traffic lights notwithstanding. Finally, I get to cross.

10:15 am: The section of the Mall across the street from the Washington Monument is definitely closed off, as I'm told by a cop sitting in a van. I proceed further on south to Independence Avenue where there seem to be more people. Since Smithsonian Metro is closed, many people are coming in through L'Enfant Plaza I guess. There are some vendors with tacky-looking inaugural buttons and t-shirts, and I decline to make a purchase. The only protester I see bears a "Protect Your Fetus--We Need It For War" poster. I skipped the protests that were going on that morning in other parts of the city. Been there, done that (I had my fill at the DNC).

10:30 am: Whoa, big line of people at the corner of 7th Street and Independence. This, I'm told by a volunteer in a yellow vest, is a public entrance to a section of the Mall where the ceremony can be viewed from a distance. The people who get to be closer and really see stuff got tickets in advance--oh well. I get in line, but seeing it is immensely long and not moving so fast, I proceed to be a bastard and sneak up it (one might say that I "cut"), pretending to be a normal pedestrian. The line, I should add, was very free-form and unregulated by authorities. Had I not done this, I would have definitely missed the ceremony waiting to go through the security check.

11:00 am: Ah, getting closer, as I see the white tent where the patdowns occur ahead of me, with only a thousand or so of my closest friends packed between me and it. As the slow shuffle forward drags on, I am somewhat concerned that I'll miss the good stuff. By some act of God, an official asking for "men who are alone" calls this out near me, I excitedly raise my hand, and I'm plucked from the mass of humanity to be zipped through the side. It helped to be on my own since there were lots of school groups that had to stay together. Many of these people were from warmer states and about every other comment overheard in line was a complaint about how cold it was.

11:20 am: I get felt up by a security screener and then I'm let through to the Mall. I was hoping to get closer, but I quickly realize that there's a fence up along 4th Street. Add in the pool of water and the other stuff on the West End of the Capitol, that puts me the equivalent of about five or six city blocks from where Bush was going to be speaking. Yeah, not very close, I know. I could discern the speaking platform up there, though not anything more than a speck of a person standing on it. Some smart people brought binoculars (another tip for '09). There was also a camera stand obstructing a view of the speaking platform from that distance.

Fortunately, there are a few big screens set up and audio on loudspeakers. In effect, I'm watching the thing on TV while standing out in the cold and able to look at the Capitol Building in the distance. Whatever.

MSNBC has a setup on this stretch of the Mall, with the forms of Chris Matthews, Ron Reagan, and other pundits babbling on behind the glass. There's also a platform for the other TV types to do stand-ups with the backdrop.

The three-block piece of the Mall has plenty of people but is nowhere near full. If they didn't have such a bottleneck at the security gate, they could have let more of the poor SOBs in the line in to watch. I'm sure plenty of them missed it, including some school kids who probably have to write a paper about the experience for civics class.

11:30 am: You all watched the ceremony on TV or saw clips. Nice touch having Trent Lott emcee! Also, Hastert really should have practiced the oath before trying to go administer it. It was kinda embarrassing how Cheney had to correct him on the wording.

One thing I will say is that I was certainly not among my people out there. These are people who solemnly bowed their heads for the invocation and said "Amen" upon its conclusion. I, by contrast, lamented to myself the religious overtones to what I believe should be a secular event. Then when Bush arrives they all cheer like he's a rock star while I stand mute, observing. They really all do seem to be Bush supporters up from the Sun Belt where they've never had winter weather this bad. I don't think anyone from Washington, DC, was out there, and I was probably the only Democrat too, except for a few people who were up against the 4th street fence with some sign about stolen elections (then again, they may have been anarchists, I didn't ask).

12:00 pm: Wow, Bush really thinks he's the messiah or something.

12:30 pm: With the speech over, I'm taking off, now realizing I'll have to contend with big crowds to get lunch and get to the parade.

12:35 pm: Damn, I forgot how nasty port-o-potties are.

1:00 pm: After weaving through about a thousand school groups to get a slice of pizza at the Natural History Museum, I get in line at the 12th Street entrance to the parade route. The line is really long, but it will have to move, right?

2:00 pm: OK, across Constitution Avenue, tents in sight. The parade leaves 4th Street at 2:30, I should be in to see the motorcade pass, right?

3:00 pm: Dammit, I'm close enough to see through the tent a bit as other people lining the parade route clap for the passing motorcade. They must have one retarded person in that tent doing all of the security checks, Jesus. It's colder now than in the morning, and even though it's probably around 30 or so, I've been outside nearly six hours straight, mostly standing in place, and I'm getting rather numb.

That's correct, I never saw Bush's limo and the phalanx of security personnel/vehicles pass by in person. I don't know how exactly you are supposed to attend both the inauguration ceremony and parade--having one security perimeter for both would've been nice. The parade route opened at 9am, and I think there were some people who squatted in good parade positions all day long. I also could've skipped lunch, but then I would've been starving and that would've sucked. The best move would've been sticking a sandwich in my pocket before leaving home in the morning (another tip for '09) and running like hell from the ceremony to the parade gates.

3:50 pm: Finally I get through the screening tent. For some reason I was felt up by one guy, then I had to empty my pockets contents out onto a table for another guy, who flipped open my phone to see that it was on, and then I got felt up by yet another serious-looking gentleman. No gay marriage, guys, sorry!

4:00 pm-5:30 pm, The Parade: I ask one of the ubiquitous security guards how much of the parade I've missed. He tells me that the motorcade took a while but most of the state stuff is still to come. There are literally security personnel standing on both sides of the parade route every few feet, across the entire 1.8-mile route, presumably. That's a lot of security, good lord. If we could've only had a few more of them helping out at the entrance bottlenecks...

While missing the president's limo was disappointing, I was pleasantly surprised by the parade. I'm not sure how much of the random parade floats, bands, flag-wavers and baton-twirlers you would've seen on TV at this point. I do heartily recommend going to see them in person if you ever get a chance.

Whenever I see parades like this (Macy's Thanksgiving, Tournament of Roses, etc.), I'm reminded of just how enormous a country the United States is. There are all of these big bands and organizations marching along holding banners saying they are from towns I have never heard of in my life. It's rather amazing.

The unsung heroes of the parade are the horse poop collectors. There are lots of horses involved in this thing, and behind all of the sets of horses there are a few guys trailing, one wheeling a trash barrel and another one or two with shovels. I make a point of applauding all of the waste disposal workers who pass by.

For some reason, when I first get there I see there is some horse manure lying right on the edge of the parade path that hasn't been picked up yet. And here comes a marching band! Oh no! Many others in the crowd also notice the impending disaster, and we gasp in excitement as drummers and trombone players narrowly miss putting their foot in it. Then, some poor guy steps right in the crap, and the crowd lets out an "Ooh!"

But there's still some left over, and here come some girls twirling flags! The highlight of the day, which has me laughing again as I try to type this up, was one girl who had the misfortune of having to do her dance-and-twirl manuever right in the immediate vecinity of the horse feces. Understandably, she lost her concentration on the flag due to the additional concern about where she was steping--and she ends up dropping the flag right in the stuff! Oh, the humanity!

OK, enough crap stories, let's discuss skimpy outfits instead. There were some young women who did not plan for the January weather, you could say. There were a few groups of females with short skirts that I had some doubts would've passed muster with the moral values crowd. The Auburn and Tennessee bands also featured some pretty young things marching in what were basically one-piece bathing suits. I wasn't opposed, mind you, I was just happy that I was allowed to wear my winter coat, hat and gloves.

Auburn and Tennessee were among the several big marching bands I got to see. Ohio State was also represented, and Texas A&M was excellent. I think they must have had the entire student population of the Virginia Military Institute marching too. And did you know that the Coast Guard Academy has a marching band? And the Merchant Marine does too? You learn new things every day.

Is there a rule that marching bands all have to wear ridiculous-looking costumes? Again, I'm not opposed, I was just wondering as I saw the umpteenth funny-looking garish get-up with feathers and tassels pass me by. Also, am I the only one whose reaction to seeing baton tossers is to think "Drop it, drop it!"? In that context, I have to give a shout-out to the girl from some high school in New Mexico who dropped her baton not once, not twice, but three times while within my sight. I was watching her closely for #4, but by then she wasn't tossing the thing too high any more. Not that I have any real talents myself--I think if I'd been in a marching band in school, I would've been one of the people who carry the banner with the school name at the front. That must be the job they give the morons who can't do anything else.

I could write about this all night, but I'll cut it off by saying my favorite group in the parade was from Couer d'Alene, Idaho. For reasons I could not entirely figure out, there were women in these shiny dresses pushing shopping carts in a synchronized pattern. They were wearing gift baskets of food on their heads, and the foods in the bags included items like Ruffles potato chips. I think the point was that Idaho grows potatoes, yet they were also sporting items like boxes of cereal on their heads and affixed to the dresses. I was also so fixated on the food items and shopping carts, not to mention the peppy dance music, that only at the end did I realize there were a few men in drag. Not sure if there were more cross-dressers toward the front. As before, the moral-values crew may not have approved.

If you're still reading, I'm impressed. The bottom line from my day is that I dealt with the inconveniences to get some limited access to the pageantry. If I'm still in this city come '09, I will be much smarter about how I go about doing things, and if you're here then, try to remember some of what I wrote in planning your inaugural experience. Let's hope the authorities can spend the next four years figuring out a way to hold an event like this that is both secure and accessible to the general public too.