Still, there was something to the idea of being there. I told Lidey we could try it, but that we weren’t going to wade into a huge mob and get stuck. We might not get close to the Mall and the jumbotrons. In short, we might not see a thing. And though she had finally agreed that maybe we shouldn’t go, I knew she still wanted to.
So we left at 6:30 p.m. the night before, reaching the Breezewood Best Western three hours later. Lidey, her friend Cassady and I planned to rise at 3 a.m. and drive to a Metro stop in Rockville, Md. I went right to bed at 10 p.m. When I awoke, I realized, as sometimes happens, that I was wide awake. “Please be close to 3 a.m.,” I thought, turning toward the hotel clock. It read 11:02 p.m.
We left at 3:30 a.m. and drove through the darkness, never hitting the traffic I’d expected. We had no trouble parking at the Metro lot and got on the train, reaching the Capitol just before 6 a.m. The sun wasn’t up, but in the pre-dawn light, the crowds were already huge. We walked and walked, trying to avoid the herd. But if you wanted to go to the Mall, you had to enter the funnel of an underground tunnel, which we did. It was a mile-long affair, with the throng going one way in a dense, slow tromp. Periodically, people in ones or twos hugged the left wall, trying to make their way back against the tide. “What’s it like at the other end?” I asked one. “Horrible,” the young man said. Though the tunnel’s end was out of sight, we continued.
As we entered the morning light with the sun coming up, it turned out the man was wrong. The crowd moved along with smiles and courtesy. An hour later, following a wide river of people through prescribed, cordoned avenues, we reached the Mall. “Congratulations, you made it,” women directing the human traffic said. The crowd ahead was huge but navigable. We found our own tree bordering the Mall and sat at its base, in easy view of a nearby jumbotron. We broke out the hand and foot warmers, and our nine hours in that 10-degree wind chill began crawling by. I spent an hour in a line for “hot” chocolate and hot dogs, talking with those around me and stepping from one foot to the other to warm my toes. When I delivered the food to the girls at 10 a.m., we agreed they were the best dogs we’d ever had.
The crowd teemed with African Americans from across the country, some alone, some with extended family. The parents carried children. The young people helped their grandparents. Some rode on shoulders, other in wheelchairs. One family huddled around an elder, their coats and torsos making a tepee to keep him warm as he sat on the frozen ground. Very young or very old, they all braved that cold and wind and, like the rest of us without tickets, they walked miles before and after through the maze of blocked-off streets.
As the ceremonies began, we moved into the Mall crowd to keep warm. A tall black man in his late 50s stood just in front and to the right of us. We would hear him responding to speeches on the jumbotron saying “uh-huh” and “that’s right.” And after President Obama took the oath of office, amid the cheers of that enormous throng, the tall man turned with tears running down his face and gave my daughter, and then me, a bear hug.
Regardless of one’s vote, it was that kind of day.
On the drive home, as the girls slept, I considered the many times when there were reasons aplenty not to do something. Trepidations and obligations. Reasons to say “no.” And many’s the time I haven’t done it, whatever it was. Yet, with the possible exception of a misadventure or two during college, I don’t recall a time when I decided to forge ahead that I’ve regretted it.
I hope you enjoy our spring issue. For me, spring will be most welcome — I hope to have thawed by then.