Our Man in Washington: Inauguration Mania, Day One

By: Charles Geraci

Note: The writer, a daily newspaper reporter in Utah, is a former intern for E&P who has reported for us from the GOP convention in New York in 2004 and from the Democratic convention in Denver in 2008. He also reported for MTV on election-year politics in 2008.

No matter which way I looked, the view was remarkable. Behind me, thousands of people, stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, roared with excitement.

In front of me, Hollywood celebrities, sports stars and world-famous entertainers lined up to woo the crowd and President-elect Barack Obama, seated about 200 feet to my left behind a tall slab of bulletproof glass.

Above me, several members of the Secret Service stood on the rooftop of the Lincoln Memorial with their scopes.

I had a bird’s eye view to history: at the “We Are One” celebration — the first official inaugural event and by far the coolest concert I have ever attended, featuring Bruce, Bono, Beyonce, Bon Jovi and many more entertainers, beyond even the “Bs” (plus speakers ranging from Martin Luther King III to Jack Black and Steve Carell).

At times, I felt too fortunate, with my press credentials, being able to see the president-elect bob his head to the tunes or his wife constantly clapping to the music, while some stood far away, shoulder-to-shoulder with trees obstructing their view of the Jumbo-tron.

But what struck me the most, in talking to some people on the Metro ride back, was how little they cared about being close to the action; they just wanted to witness it firsthand, if only in some small way.

“It didn’t really matter that I wasn’t right next to [Obama],” said Eddie Williams, 55, who descended on D.C. from Boston this weekend. “I was just happy to be there.”

Even some members of the media, trained to be “objective” and to withhold their own emotions while reporting, were lip synching the lyrics as Bono wowed the crowd, on the day before MLK Day, with a rendition of U2’s “(Pride) In the Name of Love.”

People were incredibly friendly, except, of course, for the one photographer in the media section who brought a stepping stool so he could tower over the other journalists.

The fanfare of it all struck me immediately after I got off the Metro train in the morning. As some left the station, they chanted, O-BA-MA! And then there were the streets littered with Obama merchandise.

One woman quickly showed me the small selection of Obama candy bars that she was selling.

“You can’t eat them, though,” she said. “They’re a collector’s item.” (I did end up buying one for $2, but only because I was hungry.)

The list goes on: Obama buttons, picture frames, even a set of playing cards.

“Get your Obama playing cards — where George Bush is the joker in every deck!” shouted the street vendor.

Though the three-day period of Obama-mania is just beginning, one thing is clear: he won’t have to do much this week to please anyone.

One woman on the Metro, speaking to bystanders on the train after the show, said it best: “I don’t have a ticket to anything,” she said. “Just to be here with you all is a blessing.”

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