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our dance with history

Posted Jan 22 2009 4:01pm

I'm so glad I went down to DC!   (pictures tomorrow, I swear!)

I really had second & third thoughts but just decided to be along for the ride & be OK with it being a huge series of crowded bummers, but also made room for the possibility that it might just be great.  At the very least, it would be a lark with dear friends.  In the end, I really did feel like we were a part of something big and historic.  It felt important to me to be there and I know that feeling was shared by all, friends and strangers alike.  I'm sad that my 11 year old couldn't come, but he had fun with his plans.

At first, there was some talk from my friends that we might not even try to get to the swearing in - that it might be too hard with kids.  I have to say that I was crushed - how could we not?!  I was thinking that I would have to just do it by myself or try to hook up with other friends to get a ride home.  Fortunately, everyone was made brave by how easily things were going.  We talked constantly about how we seemed to be in a bubble, where obstacles stayed far away.  We were a school of fish and the current was pushing us along in just the direction we wanted to go. In spite of snow, we had no traffic & got down there really easily.  We settled in (at my friend's BIL's house in Alexandria, VA - thanks Scott!) & then toured Old Town.  We had a fantastic meal & got sleep.  

On Monday, MLK day, we easily made our way in.  It was laughable how easy it was, actually - we would walk on a platform and the train would appear with seven seats.  We would walk into a restaurant and there would be one last table, just big enough for us.  It was pretty funny.

We hung out around the Mall, being amazed at all Obamania everywhere we looked.  We visited Yoko Ono's Wish Tree, writing out our wishes for the president, our country and our future and added them to the tree.  We then went to the American History part of the Smithsonian.  Thinking that we were out of luck for doing something meaningful for MLK Day, our main goal was to see Julia Child's kitchen (which was cool).  But as continued luck would have it, we happened upon a celebration at the museum where an actor was telling the story of Dr. King's journey, reciting portions of speeches and playing recordings.  It was very moving - especially at the end when he encouraged the large crowd to grab hands with our neighbors as we sang "We Shall Overcome".  Strangers were hugging with tears in our eyes.  At the very end, they played Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday To Ya" (listen to it if you have never heard it - a very happy song) & we joined some women who were dancing - it was a beautiful moment - our own little love fest.  We turned to leave and happened upon the Greensboro Lunch Counter - a critical place for ending Jim Crow laws.  So it turned out to be just about the most perfect MLK Day imaginable...we ended our day with nighttime walking tour of some of the monuments. When I called home to check in, my 4 year old asked, "Did you see him?"  I didn't understand & asked who he meant..."Barack Obama! - did you see him?!"

Tuesday morning came early - time to pack up our sleeping bags and say goodbye to our not so youthful hostel.  We had seven people to get packed and up and out by 6am and we did it.  We stopped for coffee and bought the Washington Post for a keepsake.  We (amazingly) found parking (we had backup plans that were thankfully needless) at the train station.  We had gotten train passes the day before and walked past the crowds and onto a train with seats for us.  We had our walkie talkies ready in case the rumor about cell phones not working were true (cell phones did work after all).  We left all but essentials that we could carry in pockets or hip packs.  The two youngest kids (both 12 - not mine) decided that the best way not to get lost was to hang onto the belt of my hip pack (as they had been doing for the whole trip), so my job as sled dog continued!  They joking yelled "mush" as we trudged along.  As soon as we stepped onto the platform in DC the crowd was overwhelming but elated.  There were spontaneous chants and songs.  When a new train would unload, people would just make room.  We joked about ads for anxiety meds and social anxiety disorder until we all decided not to focus on talks of claustrophobia (given that the subway stations there are basically cement bunkers)...we took some Rescue Remedy & lots of deep breaths...but soon enough (maybe 40 minutes up and out of the station?) there was daylight ahead and we all felt relief.  It was controlled madness on the streets...we just started walking, going where the flow of humanity was heading, hearing which entrances to the Mall were already closed off.  We finally made our way in at 14th street (on the Independence Street side - the parade route was on the other side of the Mall).  The energy was happy and joyful.  There sure were a lot of fur coats (real and faux) around us - many that looked like polar bears...we saw one such polar bear who was quite tall & just followed him.

Once we found our spot, with a good jumbo-tron view, we settled in.  Most of the crowd was lovely, but of course there were some folks who pushed their way in front.  I had a chat with one guy, who was a bit of a jerk but ultimately understanding, asking him to move a bit since he was very tall and chose to push in front of us, cutting us off from the kids.  Other than that, people were great & there was a spirit of cooperation.  I held up one older woman while she tried to put warmers in her shoes.  My friend encouraged an older lady who was sitting on the ground (another polar bear!) with a bad leg to get up, joining others to physically help her, when it was time for Obama to be sworn in.  There was singing and joking and fun. Although it was really cold, body heat kept all but our feet warm.  Obsessive tow wiggling was not enough to stave off loss of feeling.  Some booed Bush 43 though most did not.  Many sang "Hit the road, George and don't ya come back no more" and " Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye..."

The bubble of ease burst right after Obama's speech, as people tried to leave.  Somehow, we were basically trapped in.  Human gridlock (or many barriers?) was preventing our area from being able to get out to the street.  I was so grateful not to have tiny kids with me and prayed there would be no panic or medical emergencies.  It was a little frightening a few times, as we were not able to choose our direction and were literally carried by the crowd.  I was afraid for the older folks with canes and such but people would shout back upcoming obstacles, "curb", "rope" and people seemed to be looking out for eachother...some people climbed on top of porta potties to get a better view and yelled instructions about where openings might be found. Someone lost a child but then found them, one young toddler was asleep on his dad's shoulders, draped dead weight on the guy's head.  We gave our kids snacks (it was a weekend of communal mothering) and chatted with people who had come from all over the country.  It had gotten a lot colder with cloud cover...we marched in place to keep warm, took more Rescue Remedy and just kept repeating, "We have a new president"!  The word awesome is used all the time, but this really was an awesome moment.

The irony was not lost on us that when we finally got to the street it was "Independence" and marked as an evacuation route.  One man, wrapped in a flag, jokingly said, "free at last, free at last".  We could not get back to the Metro (subway) so we just walked straight over the bridge across the frozen Potomac (with a great view of the Jefferson Memorial) all the way back to VA!  The highway was closed down and it seemed a little like something out of a disaster movie.  Eventually busses started using the road so we had to clime over the median barrier and were directed by soldiers away from the closer Metro near the Pentagon and diverted further in to VA to the Crystal City area of Arlington - it was only maybe 3 or 4 miles but we felt a bit like refugees.  The kids did not complain once - they were simply amazing - and only talked of being grateful to have been there.  We were so happy to get in out of the cold and get some food.  By the time we made it to the train, we got seats and had an easy time getting back to the car.  Like the trip down, the drive back was trouble-free and I again played iPod DJ, choosing songs of celebration.  We all sang along.
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