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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Being there...


 Now that the bloom is off and the reactionaries, in Congress and elsewhere, are attempting to stave off their status as living dead, you'll be moved again by my daughter-in-law's first-person account of that day in January. Here it is:

I  must share the adventure of January 20, as Dan, Addison, Stephanie, my friend Dodie Moquin, and I traveled to Washington DC for the inauguration. Dodie called me on January 5. "How far are you from Washington?" she wanted to know, “I want to experience history.” So Dodie flew to New Jersey and we went. Dan, of course, was ready from the get-go and began planning.  How could  we actually arrive in DC along with millions of other people? Hotels and trains had long since been booked. It turned out to be an RV rental. Once all five of us were inside it, none of us could actually move unless everyone else stood still.
We drove down January 18 and stayed at Cherry Hill Park, about 25 miles from the city.The park was full ofinauguralists, many of whom, confusingly, had rented RVs identical to ours. The management hired express coaches to shuttle us to the metro. We spent Martin Luther King Day in the city, moving slowly down the mall, where the crowds had already started to gather. Because it took five people who woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning longer than one hour to make it out of our tiny RV space, the morning of January 20th  we didn’t board the shuttle until 6:30am.
The ride proved hairy, as promised, every car packed to the hilt. I hung on by the door, claustrophobic and in a state of panic. The trains in front of us had backed up, like planes waiting to take off on a runway. As ours frequently stopped and started, jolting us along, Addy clung to a bag I luckily packed, “losing her cookies,” as she put it. We got off with profound relief at the Chinatown stop. 
The city used buses to block streets and direct foot traffic. So instead of a three-block walk, we had to hike about a mile to enter near the Washington Monument. It took us about an hour but the march to the mall turned out to be pure joy. We walked along with over a million people in a state of complete happiness, asking police officers and assistance people which way and how far and is it okay to go up this street or that one.
We joked with strangers and exchanged travel tales. Vendors screamed "T-shirts for Obama" and "Barack buttons here." Chants started and everyone joined in. Spontaneous cheers erupted. On and on we walked with the same destination: the mall and a new start. One woman said, “We've crossed a bridge.” I thought, yes, but we also built it. We could look back and see it, but it is behind us now for the first time in history. 
Another million people greeted us at the mall. We screamed in disbelief at the numbers.  Then we were standing next to the World War II Memorial, in the shadow of the Washington Monument, and Aretha appeared in that amazing hat. We watched the Supertrons, we cheered. Occasionally, Addy asked someone to move over a bit so we could see. They obliged. 
When Bush appeared, people started softly singing, "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Good-bye." Someone behind me said, “Well, he brought us to Obama.”
When it was over, the crowd dispersed quickly, still smiling and pretty cold. As I tried to get the numbness out of my toes, a woman handed me some footwarmers that saved the rest of the day and the long walk back to the metro. All two million of us shuffled along, a little less giddy than before. We stopped at a So Ho buffet, got warm and ate soup and drank tea. At the metro, we let lots of packed trains go by until one pulled up that had a bit of breathing space. We weren't in such a hurry now. We made it back to Cherry Hill about 4:45. The parade was still going on, so, along with some fellow RVers, we watched it on a big-screen TV in the lobby next to a roaring fire. Then, despite the 10,000 chartered buses and the millions of people, the traffic home along the northeast corridor just hummed along.
The crowd made the day. I have to say that in my life, as with most lives, there have been few peak moments. But on January 20, 2009, no matter the age, the color, the ethnicity, the cold, we had stood together, united in purpose and mind. That's as good as it gets.
Thanks to Dodie and Dan for making it happen.

Love to all, Anita

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