Thursday, January 29, 2009
A Day Like No Other
We were up at 3am last Tuesday morning, determined to witness, and record, a remarkable and unique moment in American history, the
Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American so designated. We would be catching the Amtrak 6am Acela-Express out of Penn Station in Manhattan for scheduled arrival in Union Station, Washington, D.C. at 8:45am, with stops in Newark, Trenton,
Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore in between.
Seats were not pre-assigned, though only a limited number were available shortly after Obama’s election day triumph. My fare, $399
round trip, had been a most generous birthday present from a friend, who accompanied me, on my historic pilgrimage. I hadn’t been to
Washington in many years.
Shortly after we had taken our seats, an older gentlemen, well-dressed and accompanied by a boy about 11 or 12, took seats on the
opposite side of the aisle, one row ahead of us. It was Dan Rather and his grandson.
People seated directly ahead of him, and a young executive-type behind him, engaged Rather in conversation, and, in a brief phototaking
episode. We refrained out of respect for his privacy, though he had been very gracious with his neighbors. Once debarked at Union Station, however, I did take a picture of the television icon and his grandson in the company of two apparent aides who had also been on the train.
Upon walk-ing out of Union Station, we could see the Capitol in the not-too-far-off distance, and began walking toward it. As we emerged,
we were greeted by a circus of street vendors, some with elaborate trunks, others with easels display-ing their wares; Obama t-shirts, hats, calendars, buttons, you name it.
We determined that we would purchase whatever souvenirs we had promised upon returning to the train, rather than carrying them around all day, in the less-than-20˚ cold. Our train had been briefly stalled by some mechanical issue just short of our destination, causing us to arrive about 9:15, which meant we had a little less than three hours to find our way with, and into, the masses who were not one of the 240,000 with tickets to watch the swearing-in ceremony in the flesh.
No matter, there would be huge television screens, like at the ballpark, with great speakers when we reached the area out back behind the Washington Monument, below the Capitol, where perhaps a million and a half more, like us, would be gathering to watch and listen.
In our wanderings through the City of Washington, D.C., we would meet and chat with people from all over our great country, and the world. My friend would manage to be interviewed by a reporter from a Colombian radio station, complete with an English-to- Spanish translator.
Among the dozens of visitors we would strike up conversation with was a retired New York City transit worker, a Vietnam War veteran,
a giant of a man originally from South Carolina, now living in Peekskill, N.Y., named James Johnson and his nephew Jacob McKay, about 15, from Maryland.
Mr. Johnson was very familiar with The Guardian, and happily paused for a photo that I promised to include in our article. Yes, it was cold, and there was a lot of walking to do, if you weren’t one of the lucky ones. But, nobody seemed to mind; the mood was happy, festive, the people were grateful to witness and be a part of something wonderful, something historically significant; something we would remember for the rest of our lives.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a
short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.”
“As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington, whisper through the ages.”
“For as much as government can do, and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this
“This is the source of our confidence, the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”
“America: In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words: with hope and virtue, let us brave, once more, the icy currents and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that, when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon, and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of Freedom, and delivered it safely to future generations.”
“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit, to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
“And, so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father
was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And
that we are ready to lead once more.”
“We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week, or last month, or last year.”
“Let it be told to a future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the City and the Country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.
“We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waiver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat