One of the main reasons I live in La Quinta is that I really don't like to be cold. My sense has always been that it's easier to cool down than it is to warm up, which is why I don't really mind when it's 120 here in the dead of August, because my house is kept at a cool 72 degrees, I'm not outside cutting crops, and my cars all have really good air conditioning. That's not to say it doesn't cool down here in the desert -- for about 31days (called December) the evening tends to dip into the low 40s and 30s -- but the idea of negative degrees is just, well, fucked up. The fact is, prior to last January, I'd never been in negative temperatures, but then I went to Bennington for ten days and learned that -17 is, in fact, quite cold. Fortunately it was only -17 one day last year, whereas this year it was in negative degrees in Bennington almost every day we were there.
Which is to say, it was absurdly fucking cold. The upside was that while it was absurdly fucking cold, it wasn't as if I was spending much time outside. While at Bennington, my outside time was spent thusly:
1. Walking to class.
2. Walking to meals.
3. Walking to alcohol.
So, essentially, about fifteen minutes a shot. I thought therefore that I would be prepared to spend 12 hours outside with temps hovering around 10 degrees in order to watch Barack Obama inaugurated into office last week. And, as it happens, I wasn't prepared. I froze my nuts off. Literally. I no longer have nuts. I look like a Ken doll. I am officially a Smoothie. That being said, it was absolutely worth it.
Wendy and I drove to DC from Vermont with our friends Rider and Alex and stayed with our friend Todd in his very cool loft in Adams Morgan. On Monday night we were supposed to go to the MoveOn party, but while waiting outside to get in, Wendy had the following conversation with me:
Wendy: I'm fucking freezing. It will be two hours before we get into this party.
Me: Yeah, but Moby and De La Soul are playing.
Wendy: Do you like Moby and De La Soul?
Me: Well, you know, I don't dislike them.
Wendy: It's fucking freezing. We're waiting outside surrounded by fucking morons [We were surrounded by fucking morons, it's true. There was a group of people behind us talking about their office politics as if it were equal to the Who Shot JR? episode of Dallas]. For what?
Me: You know. Music. Drinking. It'll be fun.
Wendy: We can have music and alcohol anywhere. I'm freezing.
Me: It's all about the hope, Wendy.
Wendy: I'm freezing.
Me: It's all going to be better when Obama is in office.
Me: So we should wait a little longer. See if the line moves. For Obama.
Wendy: You're an idiot and I'm getting a cab.
So, we ended up going back to Adams Morgan while Rider and Alex partied the night away with Moby and De La Soul. We woke up on inauguration day at 6am and began walking towards the mall 30 minutes later. 18th street was filled with people walking towards the inauguration so the four of us essentially followed the crowd, winding through the streets surrounding the mall as the sun rose. The closer we got to the mall, the more vendors there were selling trinkets and clothes and hand warmers (which we should have purchased ahead of time) and just about anything you can imagine baring Obama's face, including fragrances. It was a little bit like a combination of Coachella, Burning Man, Lollapalooza and a protest march, except that no one was protesting anything. The vibe was incredibly positive, which was good since we kept getting rerouted down different streets. There were thousands and thousands of people on the street as we crossed into the mall just behind the monument. There were already a good million people in front of the monument up in front of the capitol and we decided to try to get somewhere in the middle between the monument and the capitol. As we walked, there was plenty of people running up and hugging each other, everyone slapped hands with the numerous military personnel and police (which was uniformly one of the coolest things I've ever seen) and spontaneous cheers kept erupting. There was a group of people from Atlanta wearing red hats who kept hugging everyone.
We ended up positioning ourselves right in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History; or, well, just across from it as we stood on the mall. At first, we sat on the dirt because between the four of us no one was smart enough to think about bringing a blanket to sit on. We eventually bought three 26 dollar blankets from the Smithsonian schwag tent which, at first, we sat on but then, as it got progressively more fucking freezing, we wrapped around ourselves.
We spent the next several hours on the mall watching highlights from the previous day's concerts, talking to people, standing in line for food, investigating the port-a-potty situation (bleak) and shivering.
By the time the festivities began, I felt a little bit like a prisoner of war. I was there. I wasn't leaving. I knew I had a purpose, but fuck if I just didn't want to die. It was that cold. I couldn't feel my feet. I couldn't feel my nose. My ears felt like blocks of wood. I'd forgotten my scarf, so I was wearing Wendy's pink scarf, so, in addition to being cold, I felt like a looked slightly unfashionable as well. But then the sun came out and everything warmed up. To, like, 22 degrees, which comparatively felt like 90. A couple interesting things:
1. There was an intense amount of booing for Bush. The day before, we'd seen a huge blow up effigy of Bush on Dupont Circle andwatched while people threw shoes at it, so this was no surprise. But Cheney in a wheelchair was. He looked like a Bond-villain. It was truly frightening. People cheered that.
2. When Obama was speaking, it was stone silent on the mall. 2 million people and no one was speaking.
3. An impromptu "Na-Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Hey-Goodbye" chant to Bush turned into a chant of "Obama!"
4. Best meal I've ever had in my entire life was the hot dog and hot cocoa we ate around 11am.
5. Everyone was being incredibly patient.
I'd like to say that I didn't get teary eyed and remained a stoic man of letters, but, well, I cried like a baby during the speech. Everyone was crying. Old women. Young men. Black. White. Asian. It didn't matter. I'm not even sure what I was crying about, but sure enough there were tears.
After the inauguration, we tried to make our way back across Pennsylvania and towards home, but it was truly a clusterfuck trying to get out of the mall. We roamed about Day of the Dead style for hours along with about a million other people, before we finally realized we could go up to the capitol and sit right under the inauguration platform, which we did for quite a while. Then we realized we were right at the start of the parade route, so we headed down to the corner and waited for the President. About 20 minutes later, he came rolling down the street in his pimped out limo replete with scary looking secret service types. Wendy swears Obama waved right at her, whereas I'm pretty sure Michelle made eyes at me. For sure Joe Biden's hot ass wife looked my way.
After the parade went past us, we snuck across the street and made our way towards Chinatown for dinner. It was 6pm by the time we finally sat down to eat. We were exhausted, cold, excited and couldn't stop talking. We finally made it back to Adams Morgan around 8. I fell asleep on the floor. Rider fell asleep on the couch. Alex fell asleep on the air bed. Wendy fell asleep in the shower.
It was, of course, a remarkable experience. I'd give you all of the emotional details, but suffice it to say that we went to DC because we wanted to see Obama inaugurated and because we wanted to be a part of history, but in the end it was more about being there together with our friends and with each other for that one frozen moment when we realized we were part of something much larger than ourselves; a feeling that does not happen very often. It was wonderful, it was dreadful, it was a day I hope I'll remember forever.