It was hard to pull myself out of bed before 5am on Inauguration Day. My body felt battered. I have been walking all over DC since with a heavy bag of equipment since starting work on Saturday. Today will be a long one, at least 18 hours when all said and done.
I am staying at a friend’s house on Capitol Hill so I could avoid the massive crowds on the Metro. Had I stayed at the hotel in Alexandria, I would have had to be up and out the door by 3:30 to get on the first train at 4am. Every minute of sleep will help me get through this day.
After a mile walk, I arrived at the Capitol press check-in. There was supposed to be a point of entry that was open from 4-6am before being moved to another location. Of course, the cops claimed that didn't exist (even though it did) and the press would instead have to go through the Rayburn Building to be screened. So, me and a handful of other press folks went through there. When we tried to leave the building to go to the Capitol we were told that we could not go there. In the end, we all had to be re-screened to leave the building so we could go wait in another line to be screened again. I didn’t step foot on the Capitol grounds until after 7am.
I was in my position on the North riser by 8am. The program would begin a little after 11am. From my vantage point I could see the Mall filling in with people. The crowds were insane. There was also a ton of cops, hundreds lined the streets. The sun was out, which was great, but wind started to pick up and it got really cold. You really felt the chilly air being on top of that riser. We did our best to shield ourselves from the cold. People in crowd huddled together to keep warm.
We had 8 shooters for the swearing in. My position would look at Obama’s back as he was sworn in. In the end, this was fine since there was somewhat of a controversy about Justice Roberts’ flub when reciting the oath of office to Obama. Even some of the less desirable positions can often yield important and interesting photos. Every component of the team comes together for a solid final report.
The crowd started to get excited when the Presidential motorcade made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue to bring the incoming and outgoing presidents and VPs to the ceremony. I couldn’t wait to get this show on the road, it wasn’t getting any warmer. I’m so happy it wasn’t raining. That would have been bad.
The swearing in was quick and the speakers were limited. Cheney looked miserable in his wheelchair wearing his sinister black hat and puffy third grader gloves. I mean, he usually looks miserable but the wheelchair made him look even more so. After Obama was sworn in and gave his speech, Bush gave his a big hug and that was all she wrote. When it was over, still photographers had to hustle to an awaiting shuttle that would drop us off at spots along the parade route while others would be in front of the motorcade on a flatbed truck. As we assembled on the steps of the Capitol, a Marine helicopter flew overhead carrying the now former President George Bush. It was no longer called Marine One for his quick trip Andrew’s Air Force base and then home to Texas. I overheard a few unkind words as the chopper passed.
As we rode the shuttle down Pennsylvania Avenue, we all noticed the bleachers that lined the street were practically empty. It was like a ghost town. Where’d all those people go? Even as we approached my position in front of the White House, the seats were more than half empty. Apparently there was some kind of problem with the security checkpoints. I think people were just frozen from standing out on the Mall all day that they said screw it and went back to their hotel.
A small group of us waited on the roof of the press stand across the street from the White House. It was still breezy and getting colder by the minute. The parade was supposed to start at 2pm but ended up starting close to 2 hours late. We all watched the really nice light slowly disappear. When Obama finally made his way down the street on foot, we were for the most part blocked by the press trucks. It was a lot of waiting for very little.
I was able to choke down a hamburger before putting my suit on and heading to the Home States Ball - one of the 10 plus balls that the Obamas would attend. It was a mile or so trek to the convention center. My legs were holding up, but they were definitely tired. While walking, we passed Richard Branson on the street. He appeared to be struggling with his luggage. It was pretty random to see him there y himself. I later saw Ron Howard walking along by himself. Equally as random.
A cheesy cover band entertained us with Journey and Kool and the Gang songs as we waited for over two hours for the President and the First Lady to arrive at the ball. Shortly after 9, the President arrived. He and Michelle greeted the crowd, had a quick dance and were out the door in about 5 minutes. After filing, I was wiped, but needed a drink. I headed to a Burning Man type party with my pal Allison Shelley from the Washington Times. The party was fun. There were fire dancers (which we missed) belly dancers, a little mini rave room and plenty of art. It was an interesting end to a long and tiring day.
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