you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need

January 21st, 2009

So, yesterday was Barack Obama’s inauguration.

An event I’ve been fantasizing about since, oh, September.

Yes, September. The dark days of Sarah Palin. The Bridge to Nowhere. You Betcha. When I’d find myself getting anxious, imagining a worst-case scenario (it looked a lot like Matt Damon’s Disney scenario, McCain gets elected, dies and Hockey Mom Sarah takes over), I’d just picture myself at Obama’s inauguration, standing on the Washington Mall, freezing, crying, hugging strangers.

So, I was pretty pleased on Monday morning to be setting off for D.C. I wouldn’t be just on the Mall. My father, who’d flown in to join me and Nick for the big event, had managed to score tickets  just below the Capitol steps, was joining us. In fact, this little blue ticket was supposed to be the equivalent of Willa Wonka’s Golden Ticket, gaining access to unknown political sweetness:


Alas, twas not to be.

But we did not know that in the morning as we rode the boat into D.C. In fact,  I cried as I saw the Capitol dome looming. For eight years, that view has symbolized something menacing, and all at once that radically shifted. I’m a total crybaby so I felt all happy to be crying, imagining it to be the teary beginning to an emotionally cathartic day.

Well, there were tears, but they weren’t the kind I’d hoped for. We waited in line for close to three hours. It was complete chaos. Imagine like 20,000 people trying to get onto a ride at Disneyland, but with no metal barricades to snake the lines, oh, and no Disney employees to make sure people had tickets and get them on and off the rides. We didn’t see a single, not one, uno, een, uniformed personnel managing the line. All the people just kind of herded themselves. And when, at 11:30, the line stopped and thousands  of us got just left there, in the middle of office building land, with no way to experience the event many people had traveled thousands of miles and dozens of years for. But no one got mad. This was an Obama crowd, after all. People chanted “Let us in.” Me,  I didn’t want the floodgates to open. I want Obama to be kept safe. So I chanted. “Do a better job next time,” but somehow that lacked the same ring.

So, we never got in. It turned out that the people with blue and purple tickets were the unlucky bastards. About 5,000 of us got shut out in the cold, literally. The D.C. police screwed up. Congress screwed up. You can read about it here. Not only did we not see the President sworn it, we didn’t even get to hear the address, not via loudspeakers, on a Jumbotron, not at all. The area where we got stranded was a dead zone. No cafes, no audio. No TVs.

So, in a way, my fantasy came true. I was freezing. And I was crying. But not for the reason I thought I’d be.

Today I keep reminding myself that Obama is President. I got to vote for him, volunteer for him and get to work with him making this country better for the next eight (please!) years. I’ll take a thousand yesterdays for that. Still, I’m a little heart sick when I think of what I missed—not his speech, I can watch that whenever, but witnessing it on the Mall (where I should’ve been all along; not in any kind of VIP section) with the millions of weeping masses.

I finally heard his full Inaugural Address on the radio later on that night on the drive home. I’ve listened to it in pieces and in full since then. It was everything I’d hoped it would be even if I wasn’t everywhere I’d hoped I’d be.

  1. i’m so sorry. that just blows, having what should have been an unalloyedly great day sullied.

    the speech really was all that. my mom was all, “i wish there was more soaring lanaguage and beautiful metaphors!” and i’m all, dude, now is not the time. he gave the right speech for right now. and it was beautiful in its steely we’re-in-this-together (and-my-predecessor-blows) way.

  2. I love your mom and all but she is WRONG. It was the right speech for the time. Time for us all to remember or learn that there’s something ennobling in sacrifice. I am beginning to realize that Obama really will be our community organizer in chief, harnessing Americans’ formidable energy and do-gooder desire and putting it to work. We are like solar power. Harness us, baby!

  3. Gayle,

    I’ve never had the pleasure of reading any of your writing, but I am looking forward to reading your new book “If I Stay”. I just stumbled upon your site (isn’t the internet great?) and am thrilled to see you are an Obama fan. It’s so invigorating to come across people on a daily basis that have respect for the man who is now leading our nation on a path of light when we’ve been lingering in the darkness for the past eight years. I’m sad to see you were left out in the cold, but to have even been in 50 miles of the event is still extraordinary. When Obama accomplishes big feats in his first four years and gets re-elected, maybe you’ll have the opportunity to make up for it and get in then. :)

    Thanks for this great post and I can’t wait until your book hits the shelves!

  4. loved this reading about you and Barack amidst the masses. Since I sorta know you, I was there with you and could see and feel your upset. Thanks. See you tomorrow.
    Love, Mom

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