Our Man in Washington: ‘My Day at the Inaugural’

By: Charles Geraci

Geraci, a former E&P intern, has been covering Inaugural week for us this year. He wrote for us from the 2004 GOP convention and the 2008 Democratic confab.

From the moment I arrived at the Metro, something felt different.

The station workers greeted passengers with smiles and shouts of the day’s significance. Commuters called out Obama’s name on the ride downtown. And when they arrived, people walked frenetically trying to find their color-coded entrance, if they had tickets, or, if they didn’t, crammed into the National Mall maneuvering carefully to get close to a Jumbo-tron.

In the morning at Union Station, I spotted NBA basketball center Dikembe Mutombo, who told me he was only in D.C. for the day, fresh from a Houston Rockets game.

He was gathering his family together to go watch Barack Obama’s swearing-in.

“This is a dream for all of us,” Mutombo said. “We never thought that this day was going to happen in our lifetime. I’m as happy as I can be.”

I left Union Station to find myself on the opposite end of where I needed to be with respect to the Capitol.

After a half hour walk in the bitter cold — my fingers are still numb as I type this — I finally made it through security and arrived at section 1, seat 59, close to the “stage,” for the swearing-in ceremony.

As security ushered me past the Marine Corps Band — part of the official program — I knew I’d be close. Amazingly, though, my reserved seat was in the third row, and I walked past Beyonce, Jay-Z, Diddy and Denzel in the process. So you see where E&P rates!

To my right was a magazine writer for Ebony, and to my left, a reporter from The Daily Beast. We sat about 40 feet below and away from the podium.

When Obama was introduced, the throng of people — spanning from the Capitol to the Washington Monument — behind me began to chant, ‘O-BA-MA, O-BA-MA!'”

And after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath of office, while stumbling slightly, to Obama, the crowd applauded strongly. When I glanced back, the seemingly tiny heads and bodies looked like bursts of color swerving quickly in every direction. I read later that Steven Spielberg had turned to another famous fellow in the next seat and said, “And it’s not even computer-generated.”

Kemi Tunrarebi, 55, of Las Vegas, Nev., witnessed the inauguration from the Washington Monument.

“When he was finally sworn in, there was jubilation,” she told me later.

As Obama gave his inaugural address Tuesday, the American flag above him moved majestically with the wind, as his voice echoed across the National Mall.

His speech, already solemn, took on a more somber tone when he referred to his father in the context of previous racial inequalities that pervaded American society.

“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath,” Obama said, his voice noticeably trailing off as the significance of the moment began to set in.

After the program concluded, outgoing President George W. Bush flew away in a Marine helicopter, to vigorous applause — you could take that any way you wanted — from the crowd.

People who did not have stellar seats for the inauguration came up to the platform to see where Obama spoke.

About a dozen people asked me to take their photos with the inaugural setting in the background, and many did not want to leave the site where history had been made moments earlier.

Amid the litter that had filled the streets during the course of the day, the vendors sold Obama programs, calendars and sweatshirts, to name a few.

When I finally got back to Greenbelt, Md., special “inauguration editions” of The Washington Post were being sold for $2 outside the Metro station.

People were crowding around the newspapers like they were Obama himself, and large stacks of them were quickly disappearing.

History was already being written, and, I must say, it was exciting to observe. Then I went to find a hand warmer.

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