I was (Ahem) much too young to attend the Woodstock Festival, one of the greatest events in music history that changed the scene of Rock and Roll, probably forever. So, when I received an invitation to attend the Inauguration of Barack Obama, our 44th President, I just could not pass it up. I believed that this would be MY Woodstock; my chance to experience an incredible social gathering. A gathering filled with harmony and idealistic hopes among masses of other Americans who, like me, believed that this was the beginning of a journey that would change our world, probably forever.
Before I left St. Augustine, I jotted down my expectations of the event. I knew it would be cold. Even without a ticket I knew that I would make it to the National Mall. I knew it would be crowded. I knew it would be safe. Lastly, I knew that many of the people attending would be there specifically to witness the start of a new generation, a generation of hope and of change.
Weather reports indicated that the temperatures would be below freezing, with wind chills in the teens. The media warned about the risks of prolonged exposure to the cold, but this Florida Gal would not be dissuaded by a little cold weather, I would be prepared. Armed with long underwear and other warm gear saved from ski adventures, I was ready for my journey to the frozen north. Even though the only ticket I had in hand was from US Airways, I was confident that my "Inaugural Goddess" would get me to the swearing in ceremony.
My first Huge Crowd Indication of how big this event would be occurred when I drove into the city on Monday. I passed dozens of flat bed trucks carrying metal crowd control barriers. Little did I know that in less than 24 hours I would be the one to encourage mobs of people to "jump the fence" until stopped by the police.
It was tough to sleep that Monday night, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, so excited about what I was going to encounter the next morning. When I awoke at 6:30am I turned on CNN. There were already throngs of people downtown. This was my Huge Crowd Indication number two. No time for coffee, I rushed to get dressed and get out there.
The plan was to hit the Metro at Ballston Commons and take the short 10 minute ride to the Federal Triangle. When I turned the corner to enter the station I ran into a host of people waiting to get to the trains below. Huge Crowd Indicator number three.
Living in New York City, I was familiar with crowds. However this group traveling on the Metro was much different. Everyone was happy. They were friendly and chatty, and polite, a very unusual camaraderie existed. Now, keep in mind, I am a Real Estate Broker, selling homes in St. Augustine Florida, one of the friendliest towns in this country. I've been accused of being able to carry on a conversation with a stump but, on this day, making small talk was a piece of cake. I met a couple from Boston, and a woman from Notre Dame, a mother and daughter from New York City and even some fellow Floridians. Everyone was eager to share their stories; the sense of their joy was abundant.
Exiting above I noticed that it was quiet, no street noise, no loud voices, it was almost reverent. As I walked to the mall with thousands of smiling faces, I was in awe of my surroundings. I have never seen so many people, they were simply everywhere. I looked around and saw the Secret Service Snipers on top of the buildings that surrounded us and I felt safe.
Mission accomplished, I entered the Mall, passing hundreds of porta-potties, thankful that I did not have any coffee that morning. I marked my territory with the patriotic Budweiser blanket, won at a 2000 Super Bowl party, (I knew that thing would come in handy one day) it was 9:20am. Close to one of the many JumboTrons and the CNN camera, I thought I was in a great spot. I was situated about half way between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. There were people as far as I could see; people with smiles frozen on their faces; people taking pictures, trying to make phone calls and text messaging.
It was a party atmosphere. Although I was not sure if people were dancing to the previous night's concert replaying on the JumboTrons or just dancing to keep warm. My guess was probably both. I met a woman from Atlanta, who worked on the Obama Campaign in Duval County. She was instrumental in putting Florida over the top for the Democrats. I met two girls from New York City who tried to camp out on the mall the night before, only to be booted when it was closed for the security sweep. They were up all night long, waiting in line to return. They were freezing, but did not care, they were witnessing history.
As noon approached the excitement grew. The official Inaugural guests arrived and were shown on our TV screens. President Clinton received huge cheers, hoots and hollers, while Chaney and Bush drew disrespectful Boos. Some around me even sang "Sha Na Na Goodbye". When Michelle, Malia and Sasha were introduced the crowd went wild! Chants of O-Ba-Ma filled the air and I was one in a million-point-four to proudly raise my voice as he was sworn in. Strangers hugged, just about all there cried as there was a tangible feeling of hope, happiness and accomplishment.
Exiting the Mall proved to be quite the task as streets were blocked and Metro stations closed. Throngs of people herded here and there, trying to find escape from those metal crowd barriers, only to hit dead ends. I really felt like a rat in a maze. Stuck in an unmoving crowd of hundreds, if not more, I told the people in front of me to move on and climb the fence. I thought if we could get back to the Mall we would be able to find another exit. Just as I swung my second foot over the barrier, the police stopped the climbing. Unfortunately my friend was left behind me, on the other side. Instead of chastising the climbers (me), the police and my friend worked on unhooking the fencing to allow others to walk through safely. After a few more dead ends we were able to find a way out. Again the crowd amazed me with their attitudes, polite and helpful, simply joyful.
Leaving the city with hundreds of others I walked in silence across the 14th Street Bridge. Crossing the Potomac, I made my way towards the Pentagon and on to Arlington. Looking back to the Capitol I felt an enormous sense of pride. I did it! Not only did I witness the inauguration of the first Afro-American President, I witnessed a unity of people, ageless and colorless Americans, a new generation filled with admiration, with hope and determination that we will work together to change our world.
Marjorie Taylor is a licensed Real Estate Broker and community leader representing Homes in St. Augustine. She is passionate about helping clients buy and sell Homes in St. Augustine and Homes in St. Augustine Beach, Florida.