Being There: One Man’s Perspective on Obama’s Inauguration

To answer the overwhelming question: Yes it was totally worth it. Every fucking second of it.

But let us begin from the beginning. I had been working ever since Sunday, when my company brought in some 30 guests from out of town for all the inaugural activities and the big event itself. I was tasked to coordinate all the guests’ logistics, getting them in cars, taking them to where they needed to be, kept them in check, and basically attended to their every need. It is probably the most stressful thing that I’ve ever had to do, as these guests are high-level corporate people, and if they were not happy with their experiences, my ass would have been on the line.

So on Tuesday, I wake up at 4AM, getting ready. Then at 4:45, I start to make wake-up calls so that all the guests will be able to leave by 5:30 sharp for their breakfast. Afterwards I’m to accompany them to the inauguration itself. Of course, like all planning, nothing goes according to plan. First, the cars the company arranged for the guests are stuck in traffic, delaying the departure a good 15 minutes, and 15 minutes on Tuesday might as well have been two hours in traffic.

To cut a long story short, by the time we are all seated, it was 11:30AM, by which time we had been standing in line for a good three and half hours in the freezing cold: temperature in the mid-20s, WITH wind-chill. The breakfast I had was long gone, and my hands and toes were numb, and I felt like I was nailed frozen to the ground. To exaggerate just a tiny bit: I was ready to die at that point: hungry, freezing, sleep-deprived, and stressing out big time because I can’t communicate with the office or my bosses because no cell phone calls or texts could go through due to the sheer number of people gathered on The Mall.

But at some point, I decided to simply not give a fuck about the job and just try to sit back and appreciate what an utterly historical moment that was.

And Obama did not fail to deliver. His speech, though not his best, and certainly not his most transcendental and inspirational, nevertheless impressed me with its just right balance of gravitas and optimism. I was getting chills, not from the cold, but from the realization that there I was, sitting on some freezing folded chair, participating in probably the defining social phenomenon of our generation.

Sure, it’s really easy, especially for me, to be very cynical about such a large crowd gathering just for one single person. And I will be lying if I said those cynical thoughts did not cross my mind. But at some point, and this is something that approaches religious faith almost, I just decided to not think about those cynical thoughts and just take it all in.

The one particular, most striking thing about the inauguration that occured to me, as I was sitting there listening to Obama speak, is the visual symbolism. The Capitol sits directly across from the Lincoln Memorial, and as one stands on the steps of the Capital, one can get a direct, unobstructed view of the Lincoln Memorial. And I couldn’t help but think that only 36 years ago, Dr. King spoke from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking across the Capitol, talking about the possibility of true equality. Could he have imagined that a mere 36 years later, Obama would be standing at where Dr. King was looking, himself looking at the Lincoln Memorial, giving the inaugural speech? If Dr. King was looking forward to the future, in which one day an African American could give the inaugural speech, then surely Obama was looking back towards the past, in which men like Dr. King made this inaugural even possible.

A mere 1.9 miles separate the Capitol steps from the Lincoln Memorial, but those Tuesday’s Inauguration surely bridged a distance far greater: the distance across time, the gap between a dream conceived and a dream fulfilled.

It really didn’t sink in for me until today, when all the guests have gone, and then it just hit me like a ton of bricks. People far more eloquent than I am have surely said and written things much more poetic and much more original than this drivel, but this is all that I can say, given my limited abilities.

I would not have chosen to be anywhere else yesterday, and that is the goddamned honest truth.


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