Monday, January 26, 2009

Inauguration Week Running Diary I

Saturday, January 17th
7-9 pm - hit up a Gaza benefit concert at Bossa. Great turnout at this event (must have been at least 100+ people there). Lots of passion from people about the gravity of the situation. Emotional appeals from several speakers about the horrific nature of what is going on. Met up with a handful of old friends, met some new great people. The music was incredible...nothing like hearing someone play an oud live.
10 pm - get back home, and look at the "We Are One" concert lineup for the first time. Wasn't planning on going on Sunday (I thought it was just Beyonce and some other pop folks), but that is so not the case. Stevie, the Boss, U2, James Taylor...hell yeah, I'm there.

Sunday, January 18th
1 pm - leave the crib for the show. Get down to the Mall around 1:20 - already very crowded. Can't get into the Lincoln Memorial area (already too packed), manage to stand right by a Jumbotron right across from the WWII memorial. Trying to meet up w/ three different sets of friends, but there's no way in hell that's happening with this crowd - my guess is at least 500,000. Cell phones aren't really working either. Oh well. Enjoy an insane show while hanging out w/ "strangers", though we all feel like old friends pretty quickly. Springsteen opens with an inspiring version of "The Rising" - lots of people in tears.
Other highlights - Sheryl Crow, Herbie Hancock, and will.i.am do a solid cover of "One Love" - well, okay, it wasn't bad. Herbie playing the keys definitely helped, and generally speaking, so long as they do an okay job, I'm happy with any Marley cover. Stevie Wonder does "Higher Ground" - not happy they put Usher and Shakira on w/ him...I mean, it's Stevie f'ing Wonder, why would you put others on stage with him????? Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi do an incredible Sam Cooke cover - LaVette is unbelievably good and carries the performance, but Bon Jovi does just fine. Mary J Blige does a nice cover of the incomparable Bill Withers' "Lean on Me". Garth Brooks - wow...what a performance. And I don't like country! He has literally the entire crowd going nuts for "Shout", even me. Seriously...Garth Brooks + Shout = madness. U2 is U2...it was pretty obvious they were going to do "Pride", and they don't disappoint. Plus, they end the song with a clear, purposeful, and dramatic shout out to Palestine, which got some loud applause. Didn't really expect any political statements, and I'm not sure I'd qualify that as one in most settings, but considering the context, that was clearly intended as one. James Taylor is solid...not the best song for him, but the signature voice definitely helps. John Legend performs well with Taylor. Springsteen even brings out living legend Pete Seeger to do "This Land is Your Land", but with all the lyrics, even the overtly political ones about the Depression that almost never get sung . Subversive Pete...love it! Even with all the celebrities and musicians, the Obama's get the loudest applause every time they show up on a screen, especially when they're bobbing their heads and shaking to a song. I'll admit it, I'm a pure music fiend...a real-life version of the guys in "High Fidelity"...so this concert is so damn sweet for me. The music and artists alone make it great (though, yeah, some of the song selections were odd - I knew it wasn't going to be a Greatest Hits thing, but there were lots of far more relevent songs a lot of the artists could have sung, either covers or their own stuff. And, seriously, we could have had some more Motown/soul/blues/funk and less pop. Again, this is nitpicking, because I really enjoyed the performances in general, and am a big fan of lots of the artists). The comraderie, community, and positive energy of the thousands of people I'm hanging out with make it off the charts.
4:30 - show ends...leaving is nightmarish. Somehow, coordinate meeting my NYC crew before taking off. I'm not sure how this was even possible, considering the crowds and the spotty cell phone functionality. Takes us a good 45 minutes to walk 3 blocks. Congestion! The Metro stations look awful. I am so glad I bike!

Monday, January 19th
3 pm - after reading all morning (gotta love grad school), head downtown to meet friends from SF in town. We head out to Dupont Circle where there's a giant Dubya figure in the circle, with shoes surrounding it. Yes, that's right, hundreds of people in Dupont Circle are hurling shoes at Bush. Its a cheaper version of therapy. Seriously. We all feel MUCH better after throwing shoes at the blow-up Bush.
5 pm - they want to see some of the sites they haven't had a chance to view yet, so I d the standard tour. First stop, Lincoln Memorial, which is insanely crowded. There's a line wrapped around just to go up to the Memorial. No joke. A couple of musicians are jamming right by, and a big crowd has gathered and is dancing. The stage from the concert is being disassembled. Check out Korean War Memorial, and move down the Reflecting Pool towards the WWII Memorial. Btw, it's freezing. Big crowds are everywhere. We head back to the White House area...lot of tourists walking the streets. Head back to Dupont, where there are any number of gatherings of activists.
8 pm - after walking for miles and miles and miles, we finally, hit up a coffee shop, frozen and exhausted. Grab some dinner and make our way to Bossa, which is pretty packed (like everyplace in Adams Morgan) where they have live musicians plus a DJ and a video screen. Pretty nice atmosphere...plus they're sampling Obama speeches (these are primarily pre-2007 speeches, because he totally sounds like a bad-ass in all of them!) into the music. Everyone seems really excited to the point where I'm wondering if any of them will actually sleep tonight. Will we??? Finally head home by 1:30, figure out plans for meeting up people in the morning.

Tuesday, January 20th
5:30 am - up...and tired! Supposed to meet people downtown by now, but they're not supposed to open gates 'til 8 or 9 am, so I plan on heading down a little later. Get a hold of my people - so, yeah, they're letting people on the Mall already. What??? Dammit! Quickly shower, put on many layers, stuff some granola bars and fruit in my pockets, grab the camera, and hop on my bike.
7 am - get down to Chinatown...so freaking cold! Crowds were sparse before...more cops than people...but that changes now. Can't really ride any further, so I walk my bike to 7th and D, lock it up, and stand in with the crowd. There's supposedly a gate right around the corner.
7:30 am - no movement, no cops, no information.
8 am - no movement, no cops, no information. This is ridiculous. The crowd is already swelling. Why aren't there more cops down here to get people through???? This could turn unsafe very quickly. I hear there's another gate at 12th and E that's supposed to be better. This seems like a bad scene, so I bust out, call my friend who's somewhere behind me, and tell her to meet me at the other gate. While leaving, I notice Anderson Cooper is waiting behind me. Yeah...this is not looking like a well-managed operation at all!
8:30 am - get to the 12th and E gate. Crowded here as well. Rumor is, the gate will open at 9 am. Everything's a rumor at this point, because nobody's giving us any information. There are maybe 5 cops in the entire block. Seriously. An ambulance decides to drive down the road, which is chaos because hundreds of us have to move. Of course, it then decides it wants to reverse and go the other way. I couldn't make this stuff up. Even with 2 layers of socks, my toes are frozen by now.
9 am - still waiting...no information. Apparently they have begun letting people through...5 at a time. What???? This is going to take many hours...again, why does DC have tons of security personnel miles AWAY from where they need them???? The crowd is still very excited and friendly (it's like a big meet and greet), but we're getting annoyed by the incompetence. My friends on the Mall said they had no trouble getting in earlier, but they were at a different gate. Great. And apparently, the Mall is filling up quickly.
9:51 am - a cop gets on the bullhorn. Information...no way! He tells us this gate is now becoming a gate for the parade (instead of the Mall, which is what it was supposed to be), and that if we want to watch the inauguration, we'll have to walk to 18th and K. We want to riot. Badly. They wait several hours before telling us we have to walk at least 30 freaking minutes???? We may not even get there in time...this sucks. A huge chunk of the crowd goes. We're moving quickly.
10:25 am - after cursing every 20 seconds at DC for mismanaging this so royally, we finally get to 18th and K. Then we walk down many blocks and finally get to the Mall by the Washington Monument area. It's almost 11. Why did we get here early???? We could have rolled out late and still gotten here by now. Damn you DC....damn you to hell!
11 am - wow...talk about a crowd. The Lincoln Memorial area is already packed. And that's at the complete opposite end of the Mall. Tons of people walking to the Washington Monument. Guess this will be our spot.
11:15 am - finally get in our spot, just in front and to the right of the Monument. Can't see anything in terms of the Capitol. Just see a sea of people. Hard to describe the numbers. This completely dwarfs the concert size. I can't imagine what it looks like from up front...I think the entire Mall is packed. Holy crap! 2 million? 2.5 million? It's got to be. It is so freaking surreal just looking at the crowd, especially considering the weather.
11:30 - okay, it is much colder here. We basically have no protection from the wind by the Monument. Taking my camera out to take shots and record video is painful!! Everyone is happy to be here, but less talkative than the concert - probably because of the cold. Too bad...I really wanted to record people's thoughts. Another reason I wish we were further up - less wind chill = more active audience. We have a Jumbotron somewhat close to us, so we can see what's happening up front (since we sure as hell can't see it anything!). The guests are filling out the Capitol. The ex-presidents are starting to come out. The Carters get a huge cheer. We start wondering what happens to Dubya. One woman by me says it would be inappropriate to boo. I counter back that for what that criminal did, booing is a kind response, and this should be our parting shot to him. Others agree with me. As soon as I finish, George HW Bush comes out...to a lot of boos! And its not from the back...these are coming from way down in the front! Wow...loud as hell. Well, that answers it...the son is almost certainly going to get booed like nobody in history. The Clintons get a loud cheer. Hillary comes out with Bill, instead of with the Cabinet...weird. Okay, here we go...ok, maybe not. Lynne Cheney and Laura Bush together...wait, does that mean Bush and Cheney are going to come out...together? Are they insane??? Good god, that booing might not stop for minutes! Okay...Cheney comes out w/out an introduction...in a wheelchair? You've got to be kidding me...he's in that thing for sympathy. I'm sure of it. Everyone around me laughs a little...but I'm being serious! Bush comes out...and the booing is beautiful. You can hear it everywhere. Sweet. Good riddance. I wonder if they censor that out on TV...I realize its sort of not appropriate, but this man should have been impeached, in jail, and on trial for war crimes. Yet he goes around the country the last few weeks doing a legacy PR push. He goes into Iraq, a country where he is responsible for thousands of US deaths, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and has the nerve to act like things are going well. I wish we booed more. I wish he was led off stage in handcuffs. Okay...whatever...I am obviously happy he got booed. He absolutely deserved it. Biden comes out to loud applause. Michelle and the Obama girls get lots of applause. And here comes Obama. The crowd goes insane. Wow. I've never seen anything like this. Even where we are, where everyone is barely moving, working on hypothermia, they suddenly all jump up and down and clap. Aretha does her thing, soulful as always. Yo Yo Ma leads a group doing a really beautiful musical piece in dead silence. Very very cool moment...2 million plus, in complete silence for this haunting, beautiful music. Biden does his oath, crowd goes nuts. Obama steps up..."Barack Hussein Obama" from Chief Justice Roberts gets a loud cheer. Roberts messes up the oath...really? You couldn't write it down? The crowd by us cracks up. But everyone is silent in general...until the end of Obama's oath. At which point...bedlam! People jump up and down, hug each other...people are in tears, people are waving American flags up front like crazy...the crowd noise is absolutely insane. This goes on for a while. Bush is gone, Obama is in! Even a critical person like me can't help but smile about that. And you can't not smile seeing this kind of reaction. Obama starts up his speech. Not a bad one, not great, but not bad. The crowd is hanging on his every word. Lots of nods of approval. Huge applause at some key points. He ends it, and again, bedlam. We're all numb and sleep-deprived, but just to be here in this massive crowd for this madness is worth it. Seriously. Nothing like I've ever seen before.
2 pm - everything is basically done, people start filing out. We move up a little to the center. Hey, look, the Capitol building, like 2 miles in front of us, where everybody I know visiting for inauguration is! Seriously, how did I not find a way to get a ticket, but most everyone else I know did??? Oh well. Leaving is...my god...a nightmare. We move down from basically 14th and Madison, all the way down to 23rd St., where the cops finally let us cross over and head back downtown. It is so damn cold! On the way, we see the one Obama merchandise item I was waiting for, but hadn't seen yet...Obama shoes! For real. Obama kicks. Mel Brooks would've approved. Massive crowds down every street. At least 2-3 spontaneous celebrations of 20-50 people singing and dancing every block. I think they're all overjoyed AND trying to stay warm!
3 pm - finally get back to my bike. En route, I had to stop at the Macy's downtown to warm up. I sit down in the store and almost fall asleep while looking at a "on sale" sign for some Cashmere stuff. Ha! Okay, after a few minutes of defrosting, time to get moving again. I've probably walked a good 10 miles today thus far, and now I've got to bike a few more. Come on, endorphins, hook it up! Finally get connected to other groups of friends...looks like everyone is all over the place, and frozen/exhausted as well. Off to Dupont to meet up the SF crew.
4 pm - lunch (?) at one of my favorite restaurants in DC. Malaysian food never tasted so good! Its great food, anyway, but we were all beat, making it that much better. Looking at their photos and video, seems like they had an incredible experience much closer to the Capitol. I nearly fall asleep at the table. We head back to my place to decompress for a little bit before possibly heading out to a Moveon.org party on the Mall, though I have no clue what it's actually supposed to be. I'm not sure I'll even be able to stay awake for a few more hours.
7:30 pm - just make tea, and we get a text message telling us to come to the Inaugural Peace Ball. Wait...what??? This thing sold out weeks ago, tix were $165/head, and its a who's who among progressives. Double check and find out, yes, 3 free tickets for us if we want them. And I was thinking I'd get to sleep early tonight. This is a no-brainer...we're totally going. Amy Goodman, Michael Franti, Joan Baez, Alice Walker, and maybe most importantly, Howard Zinn, who me and my buddy are actually old friends with from college. If Howard's there, this will be an awesome reunion!
7:45 pm - quickly begin getting dressed for a ball, whatever that means. Kind of comical. We're all going to probably be a little underdressed, but who the hell cares? Free tickets to a progressive inaugural ball for 3 progressive people...what are the odds???? It's going to be strange to not wear boots, multiple socks, foot warmers, multiple sweaters, multiple jackets, face masks, industrial thick gloves, scarves, parkas, wool everything, down everything...I think you get the point, it was really cold the whole week, and everyone was wearing and extra 5-10 pounds just in layers.
8:30 pm - we take off, looking our finest. It's still freaking freezing! At least we're not standing outside for hours this time. After a 20 minute walk to the Metro, it only takes us 10 minutes to get there...Smithsonian Postal Museum, right next to Union Station.
9 pm - at the ball. Damn! A really nice place...while waiting for our tickets, we see legendary Dick Gregory on the mic. What???? Harry Belafonte walks by us. What???? Eve Ensler gets on stage to talk for a little while. What???? (Does this resemble a Lil' Jon sketch from Chappelle's Show yet?) A lot (not all, but a lot) of people are dressed in tuxes and really beautiful gowns. Somebody I definitely recognize just walked by me...journalist maybe? Who is it? Who is it???? This night is going to be ridiculous!
9:30 pm - we finally get our tickets and head in. This spot is sweet! Great set-up, lots of food and drinks, and hundreds of great, energetic people. What are we doing here????
10 pm - apparently Zinn wasn't able to make it. Oh well, too bad. What a great night, though. Lots of cool people are at this thing. Is that Joan Baez? What?????
10:30 pm - we're all having fun mingling, absorbing the atmosphere, listening to speakers, dancing to live music...I think I just saw Alice Walker. What????
11 pm - Amy Goodman gives an inspiring, optimistic speech. We're maybe 20 feet from the stage. Everyone is in the main hall now, which is packed. Lots of love and passion in the room. She's talking about independent media, Gaza, and the possibilities of Obama, if he's pushed. The crowd is electric!
11:20 pm - Amy introduces Michael Franti. This is going to be so much fun! He does a killer set for at least 45 minutes. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE is singing, dancing, jumping around...just a fun scene. The hall is jam packed - everyone's jamming out! We're pretty close to the stage...so much awesome energy! Again, how the hell are at this thing again???? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.
1:30 am - last act is on...we're dead tired, so we take off for the Metro, which stops running at 2 am. I see Andy Shallal, owner of Busboys and Poets (one of the main sponsors of the ball), who I know through various circles...say hi to him quickly, thank him for putting on this awesome event, and then we bust out. People who visit DC...go to Busboys and Poets!!!! The station is filled with people coming from balls...tuxes, gowns, monacles (okay, the last one was made up). And us...can't believe we went to a freaking inaugural ball, a great one, and for free on top of it! What a day.
2 am - back home...wait...I've got work tomorrow? Dear lord...

Wednesday, January 21
8:30 am - crawl out of bed, get ready, and head to the office. I think a lot of people left town yesterday after the inauguration. It feels strange to not see millions of people on our streets this morning. Everyone at work today looks just as dead-tired as me, too. I'm wondering why any of us came in! Anyway, damn...what an insane few days.

1 comment:

commandante said...

Fantastic entry. The boo-ing up where I was, 4th and Madison, was not as loud...maybe my eardrums were frozen. We too had similar discussions about whether to boo or to cheer (as in, thank God you're leaving). Decided on silence in my section. Cheering would have sent mixed messages and boo-ing, well I'll write more about that in my running diary. Oh and is it wrong that your "What???" "What's????" I was reading in my head not as Lil John but as Uncle Gee, "VAT???" "VAT???" :P