1/20/09 Inauguration Day – Part 5
According to Jane’s, the British outfit that publishes yearbooks of military equipment and is looked upon as some sort of expert in the counting game – usually numbers of casualties, collateral damage, range of blood splatter and limbs lost per artillery shell/mine – 1.8 million of us were on the Mall in D.C. for the inauguration on 1/20/09. Nice of Jane’s to enter the “counting the living” business. Hopefully they weren’t just looking at photographs in their posh London offices thinking about which weapons would kill the most of those 1.8 mil most effectively.
I would think some sort of airborne pathogen but I’m no expert. As it was, on the Mall with 1.8 mil, even though it was cold, we were a living, breathing, hacking, spitting, sneezing Petri dish of
disease. I figure if I can make it through that day, in a weakened condition (no sleep, outdoors exposed to microbes and elements for far too long, etc.) then I can advertise myself in a Craigslist personal as having a gene pool to die for. Or to live for. I’d once read that people descended from folks who’d survived the Black Death had a gene mutation that left them immune to the AIDS virus. I think surviving the Mall on 1/20/09 is a close second – medically, biologically, and maybe even genetically. Among the hearty crew that day on what used to be grass were some remarkable folks. Sadly, I have lost their names and email addresses and I apologize for not getting the pictures I took of them and their loved ones to them, but I seem to remember taking it out of my fifth layer of pants, the XL blue (always representing liberalism) sweatpants as I made my way to the Metro on my way to 2AMYS, a great great Neapolitan pizza place in DC out in the NW near American University. Truly great pizza. And sorry for the lack of pictures sent right to your homes, fellow citizens, but here’s a quick rundown of who you were and what you meant to me:
Most meaningful was the black woman in her eighties (?) from Indiana known as Doctor J.
She’d been a teacher for years, all the way up to the university level, and she was there with I think 4 generations of her family to bear witness and bask in the light of history. She was feisty,
learned and battle-tested. She’d had a cross burned in her front yard years ago and figured that the true test of time being on her side was this day and this place. She was straightforward in her thinking and her speech and her gaze. Her voice neither trembled nor wavered. She was strong. She had to be. She was there for the millions who couldn’t be. Her teeth had those thick metal bands holding them tightly to the next, the sign of old-time dentistry. Her lower lip stuck out when she spoke and she looked you straight in the eye. She was mighty impressive. I told her how proud it made me to meet her and to be there with her. She very matter-of-factly said that it was equally important that people who looked like me be there as well. I quoted Sam Cooke, one of my all-time favorite singers – “It’s been a long time comin’, but I know, a change gonna come.” She gave me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek and I felt like a million bucks. I was hugged by history.
Met a young Hispanic single mother from California. She was in her early thirties with an 11 year old daughter. She was there filming with a crew from her media studies dept. from Pitzer College. She was the future. She was getting a B.A. and then going on for a Master’s and then law school to fight for father’s rights in child custody cases. Didn’t ask what her personal connection was but I was convinced by her drive and determination that she would succeed and make a difference. And her daughter would learn from her example and make a difference as well in her life. Again, it’s always in the eyes. Her eyes were clear and smart and strong and had that flash of the always learning, always questioning. She would ask a question of someone, point the camera, and then just let them talk. She let people be people. And she had a permanent smile on her face through the cold and through the hours we spent together in that small space. Terrific. When I taught in LA I always told the Mexican American girls that they were the future. Nicole Aragon, you are the future. You are also the present and I salute you.
Met a young, 25ish, South Carolina woman who’d swum competitively in college and wasn’t bothered by the cold since she’d been getting up at 5 in the pre-dawn dark for years to plunge into freezing pools of water. South Carolina is as Republican as it gets. South Carolina is the only Southern state that SENT NO SOLDIERS WHATSOEVER to fight for the Union in the Civil War. South Carolina is a tough place to be a progressive Democrat. But she is. Not so sure her boyfriend is as he’s pursuing the dollar. Within minutes I was telling her to leave him, that his soulless pursuit of Mammon would always be an obstacle in their impending marriage but she laughed and said no, he was a good person. But hey, at least her blue vote cancels out his red one. She’d lost her job teaching swimming at a YWCA somewhere in SC but she also had a perpetual smile on. The cold, the hours, the closeness, none of it mattered. We were there, we were together and Obama was our President. To quote the Cube, “It was a good day.” Jamie Adamson and the very lucky Taylor McFadden, do great things and stay progressively liberal and liberally progressive.
Met two military wives who driven up from one of the many military bases in and around DC. Could’ve been SC, NC, VA, MD, anywhere. They’d brought their 3 kids, all boys, all restless on the dirt half the time boys, up to witness history. They were late 20s, hot and lively. They bounced from foot to foot to fight the cold and they wore matching red ski parkas. Baseball caps, hair in pony-tails. They were MILFS and they knew it. They talked about how the people back at the base thought they were crazy for coming up to this. They knew tons of folks who’d voted for McCain. But they also knew how dangerous Palin was- they said they were smarter than her and they shouldn’t be President! They also said that keeping one’s own house in order should be a top priority for anyone seeking the Presidency and with Palin’s daughter getting knocked up that alone should disqualify Mom. They loved Obamas’s family unit and remarked just how happy they all were. Not seemed to be. Were. In reality. They were Moms, they could tell.
Family of 5 who’d come up from Georgia. Mom, dad, 3 kids – 2 girls 6 aand 10 and a boy about 12. All bundled up, never complained once about the cold. The dad and I talked about being there. He was black and he knew the south. He’d heard all the stories growing up from parents and grandparents about the way it used to be. Said it was lot different now and LOTS DIFFERENT TODAY. He couldn’t stop smiling either. The two girls weren’t all that interested but the boy was upset that he couldn’t see anything so during Obama’s swearing in I looked to the dad, he kind of nodded and I told the boy to hold his arms stiff at his sides with his elbows tucked. I lifted him up and told him to put his feet on my thighs and lean out like those carvings on the front of old sailing ships. He did so and I was able to hold him like that for about 15 seconds. Maybe. Kids are all muscle and muscle weighs more than fat and it was not easy. But he lit up and yelled out “WOW, I can see everything.” And for those 15 seconds (maybe) everything was right with his world. I put him down (dropped him is more like it, but he landed on his feet) and his Dad gave me the most real, true best handshake I’ve had in years. Not dap, not a high five but a real man’s handshake. I know it sounds silly but I will never forget that handshake at that Inauguration.
There were others. There were the seeming dozens of older black women dressed up in their fur coats. This was not a day for PETA protests. This was a day to strut, to show off and to be noticed and those black women in their fur coats were doing the job! There were the folks waving American and Canadian flags. There were the people who broke out the big plastic garbage bags as soon as Obama’s speech was over and started collecting trash. There was the mother and son who smiled so nicely for my camera. There were older white lefties who still believed in America. There were 1.8 million of us, dressed like the crowd at a January playoff game for the Steelers at Heinz Field, crying and smiling, smiling and crying, overjoyed and joyous, singing through the tears and knowing we were part of something magical that had actually happened in our lifetime. And we were there and we were going to tell everyone and we were never going to forget it.