lessons from America

Inauguration morning – a view from the ground

Everyone I speak to back here in the UK say the same thing about the inauguration: “it looked cold”. Oh yes, it didn’t just look cold. It was cold. By my softy southerner standards, very cold. How did I survive? Whisky and chocolate. I enjoyed the excuse not only to start drinking before dawn, but also to eat as many Oreo cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels as I could manage. Hot drinks were out: not just because of the insane queues to get a cuppa, but because drinking tea or coffee increased the chances of having to use the porta-potties (more queues again, as well as the unpleasant experience).

My enthusiasm for getting a good spot on the Mall meant that I dragged out Meghan, Lewis and Tracy shortly after 5am and we were on the Mall by 6am – a full 6 hours before that magic swearing-in moment. Here is a satellite image from that morning, marked up with our location (click on the image for a larger version):


Seeing the sun rise over the Capitol was a definite plus and we hoped the temperature would rise appreciably too. That sadly wasn’t the case. The cold seeped from the ground, through the newspapers I was standing on, through my boots and into my feet – despite 3 pairs of socks, including one really thick woollen pair. No matter how wrapped up we were, the cold still got through.

There were some clever people next to us who had brought buckets to stand on: both to keep away from the cold ground and also to see better once proceedings started.

Equally, there were some people near me – I don’t know how they managed – who just curled up and slept on rugs and blankets. One was the ‘victim’ of a sketch by British comedian John Oliver: side-kick to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, but previously one half of the successful duo behind Political Animal and other political satire shows on radio and on the UK comedy circuit.

There was a ‘warming station’ somewhere for those in dire need. It turned out to be a heated coach which you had to queue (outside) for an hour for, and then get a strictly controlled 20 minutes of warming inside the coach. There were also a few grates channelling warm air from the subway ventilation system, and these were understandably some of the most crowded spaces around. Another way to stay warm was with some impromptu singing, though sadly no campfire:

But things really took off when, around 10.30am, the jumbotrons started screening highlights of the special concert held by the Lincoln Memorial on the Sunday afternoon. Suddenly the crowd began singing and dancing – as much I suspect to keep spirits up and keep the circulation going, as in appreciation for the music. There were some ol’ patriotic favourites though: American Pie, This Land is Our Land among them.

And then as the main inauguration ceremony got under way, the chants of “Obama, Obama” became more frequent.


January 28, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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