The Mall was packed. As far as the camera could see, there were people. Big people and little people of all colors and genders and sexual orientations were huddled together, standing in front of the Capitol, watching our government transition.
The poet spoke Spanish. The old white guy only sang one verse and a chorus. The young blonde raised chills as she hit the high notes and filled the air with song. The gorgeous superstar, followed everywhere by her equally famous superstar husband, filled our national anthem with meaning.
The President spoke briefly, pointedly, inclusively. He reminded us that we are all in this together, that big projects take big visions, that we still have work to do. His girls, adorned in shades of purple, listened carefully. His mother-in-law, in the only orange coat I've ever wanted to wear myself, and his wife, stylish in black, nodded sagely.
The Vice President could barely contain his glee, and his wife's smiles were filled with pride and joy. Former presidents, losing candidates, resigning cabinet officers all shared the seats on the podium. The hoi poloi were relegated to standing room only, but no one seemed to mind.
There were no tanks. There were no machine guns trained on the crowd. The panoramic shots revealed snipers on the roof of the Capitol, but the rest of the security was camouflaged, blending in with the crowd. There were soldiers on horseback and police on horseback and guards in bright green helmets, but they looked like they were there for show more than for enforcement.
Small American flags were waving in every hand. Children in parkas and ski caps and furry ear muffs were atop shoulders, smiling for the camera, the crowd, themselves. Everyone was buttoned up, but few looked as if they were shivering. It was an overcast Monday in the nation's capital in January; a bit of a chill was to be expected.
I've never thought of The Battle Hymn of the Republic as a sing-along tune, but apparently I was oblivious. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir moved the crowd, literally. Swaying, eyes tearing, voices mounting, it was a moment.
We went to lunch while the President and 200 of his closest friends were dining on bison and sour cream ice cream and got home just in time to hear the interviews along the parade route. Louisianans and District of Columbians were decked out in fancy hats and giant smiles. The reporters didn't know what to ask, but it didn't matter. The interviewees could barely contain their glee and they were happy to share.
I never knew that the President reviewed the troops before the Inaugural Parade. One uniformed officer stood with the Obamas and the Bidens as fifers fifed with white cotton gloves, salutes were exchanged, and flags lowered in tribute. Those four are so filled with brains and talent and potential; it was nice to be unembarrassed as I looked at the leadership of our country.
They traveled to the parade route in a Cadillac super limo, with No Taxation Without Representation license plates, as befits a District registered vehicle. It's a first for presidential transportation. It's an impressive piece of machinery, but less so than the following car, the one carrying shoulder to shoulder Secret Service agents. There's a triple row of motorcycle cops, flashing red and blue lights reflecting on their shiny white bodies. As a person who checks the security around her on a regular basis, I can assure you that this is an impressive display.
Eric Cantor spoke generously, the band from the President's high school played, Don Lemon mangled the language on CNN, and David Plouffe harangued the committed to stay involved. The crowds were thick and moving along with the motorcade, hoping to get a glimpse of the leader of the free world walking to work.
POTUS and FLOTUS walked part of the route, her Crayola red violet leather gloves pointing to friends in the crowd. She's in spike heeled boots; why do I wish she'd changed into matching Converse for the stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue? Al Roker and Brian Williams had me laughing out loud and then the Secret Service agents began gritting their teeth and herding Joe Biden back onto the median strip and away from all those annoying supporters and friends and family.
G'ma and Daddooooo received tickets to President Nixon's second inauguration, and they attended. Freezing, able to see tops of heads, unable to hear much of the speechifying or swearing in, they still thought it was one of their most memorable trips. Senator D'Amato had rewarded my dad's hectoring letters and annual $25 donations with bleacher seats. In mid-January, as G'ma reminded me every time the topic arose, bleacher seats were a mixed blessing.... up until they saw the President roll by. They weren't fans of the man, but the office was up close and personal, right there in front of them, and they were impressed.
I get it. Two years ago last Wednesday, my hospital room grew silent. A photographer slipped in through the door, Amster and I were alone for an instant, and then the President of the United States was there....there... in front of me. Time stopped.
There's a different kind of wonderfulness when you are part of something bigger than yourself. When that something is part of what makes the USA the USA, it's even better.