Issue: April, 2009
Author: Sleeter C. Dover, Esq.
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An Insider's View
A lot of time has passed since I have ventured off into the great unknown, and even more time since I felt compelled to invite and organize a crew of sidekicks to venture forth with me. Alas, after considering the defining moment the election of an African American as President of the United States represented to me and my family, I early on started to put out feelers to members of our Congressional Delegation trying to determine the process, timing, and particulars of receiving invitations to the Inauguration to be held on January 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C. As best as I and our delegation could figure, final processes and instructions on what, when and where those most cherished ducats would be distributed would probably not be disseminated until after the New Year. Accordingly, I took every opportunity to pester the folks assigned the task of dealing with requests from their constituents in Wyoming. Of course, as you might expect, some things kind of got lost in translation from one office to another. Some of the confusion, no doubt, emanating from the fact that my initial intent was to pursue four tickets for myself, my wife Cathy, my son Greg and my daughter-in-law Stacy (note: in our family we usually make a point of discarding the “in-law” designation because if you are IN, then you are IN whole hog!). Of course, as matters developed, it turns out that a co-worker of my wife at McCormick Jr. High was just as committed to making the trip as we, and considering that all available hotel space was filling up rapidly, we invited this fellow traveler, Ms. Hailey Ellingham, to come along with us and share the quarters at the home of Cathy’s Uncle Winfort and Vera Brackett across the Potomac in Virginia.
This of course, resulted in another pestering effort with the various congressional offices about the number of tickets possible, and of course we could not impose upon relatives without seeking to obtain two more tickets for them. (Are you beginning to pick up on how some confusion may be developing now?) Now, being relatively assured of the task before me, my assurance had not counted on my wife, in attending a Cowgirl basketball game with Dave and Cathy Lee Montgomery and just mentioning in passing that we intended to attend the Inauguration, their daughter, home for Christmas break from Grinnel College in Iowa, made it known to all that she wanted to go also. I don’t think we could have faced ourselves in the mirror had we not acceded to a college student’s expressed desire to accompany our little band of happy campers off on this great and historical adventure. Always room for one more, you know.
In case you are wondering just what poor Uncle Winfort and Aunt Vera were beginning to think of all of these cowboys and cowgirls descending upon their happy abode, miraculously, they seemed to be even more excited about the prospects than we were to make the trip. So, with airline coordinating complete, off we went to DIA at 4:00 a.m. for a 10:00 a.m. departure to Washington Dulles. It had been a while since I had seen 4:00 a.m. (how about Air Force basic training many, many years ago), but as you will see, that was not the last time that week that we would see 4:00 a.m.; actually once we saw 3:00 a.m.
Before you ask, “Why in the world would our little band subject ourselves to such trying times?” let me advise that this one was personal. Growing up in rural South Carolina during the late 40s, 50s and 60s, I remember distinctly as a young child, the unnerving appearance of hooded “pillars of the community” marching in front of our home and the alarm that filled our home upon learning that my sister, while away at college, had been arrested for participating in a sit-in demonstration in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in an effort to integrate a “whites only” bowling alley. I will refrain from excessive “war stories” about my childhood and the environment present at the time, but it is of importance that you understand and appreciate the significance of this particular inauguration. Our attendance, and dare I say a hefty majority of all in attendance at this event, was more than a chance to see and be seen. No, upon reflection I believe our attendance was almost ordained as a salute to, and in reverence of, those who have gone before us over the years, and ultimately made this trip possible. Suffice it to say that if you have ever tried to put a face on both the song and the circumstances resulting in the notion and factual state of “amazing grace,” I report to you that I have not only felt it, I have seen it and experienced it in the multitudes gathered in single purpose and devotion throughout our nation’s capitol on the days leading up to, and the actual formal inauguration ceremony itself. How else to explain the congregation of two million people in the heart of our nation’s capitol at once, without one single arrest being made. And trust me, there were ample opportunity for not only arrests, but full blown riots considering the packed Metro trains, the packed Mall, the packed parade route, the packed restaurants, and the long and appearing-to-never-end lines into the congressional offices to pick up tickets. On and on it goes, but to have witnessed the camaraderie, the shared excitement and cooperative spirit of attendees from each and every state of the Union; to have the offices of our Wyoming Delegations provide warm coffee and fattening doughnuts as we all moved inexorably towards inauguration day; these experiences themselves made the trip not only worthwhile, but one of kinship. (Wyoming note: upon leaving the offices of Senator Barrasso while sporting a Wyoming jacket, I heard from a distance in the incoming line someone yell out “WYOMING,” and of course I answered with the universal acknowledgment of “Powder River,” which was immediately answered from someone way in the back of the line with “Let ‘er Buck!” If opportunity ever presents itself, try it when out of town; just to see the perplexed look of non-Wyomingites is worth going out of state for.)
Okay, perhaps it is time to get to the heart of the matter—Inauguration Day. You had to be there to appreciate the way the day unfolded for us and I would venture half a million others. As I mentioned, being out in Virginia, the only available transportation was the Metro Rail System. All bridges leading into the city were closed, and of course, private vehicles were persona non grata. The rail lines were scheduled to open at 4:00 a.m. (there’s that time again) so being the crafty travelers we were, we decided to arise at 3:00 a.m.! This in order to travel the six miles to the nearest Metro station in order to get there on time to be on time at our assigned inauguration viewing spots. I will cut to the chase. After spending three hours on the freeway exit to go two miles to our Metro station (not to mention the stop-start motion of the car creating despair and motion sickness for our claustrophobic and motion averse daughter),
Amazing Grace, we then arrive at the station to find the line of people backing out of the station onto the ramps. Aside from having to avoid the “red umbrella” leader of the Frankfort, Kentucky, High School Panther Cheerleader Team, along with the team itself, I got in plenty of ducking and dodging exercise to avoid that cursed red umbrella. If nothing else from this trip, I will never, ever, forget the Frankfort, Kentucky Panthers!
After about another two hours in lines and finally boarding the train, we arrive downtown with about 30 minutes to go before the program begins. Just our luck, we disembark the train some ten blocks from our entry point. Being as light on my feet and with the stamina of a newly minted marine (yeah, right!), off we go headed to 2nd Street. Alas, upon reaching 4th Street we come upon what surely had to be the mobilization for the second D-Day invasion. So much for getting to 2nd Street; actually, we could not even cross 4th Street—“Secret Service Orders,” we are told. So there we are, boys and girls, stuck somewhere between 4th and 2nd Street N.W., and Normandy! What to do, what to do? Finally, a gift from on high. An actual police officer who knew SOMETHING that would be of benefit to us. He made the simple but inspired suggestion that we enter the security station at 4th Street with the possibility of maybe being able to traverse on to 2nd street. Of course, after going through security, all access into or out of the area we found ourselves in was prohibited until the new President had passed during the parade. So being the crafty travelers we were, we took a look around and noticed that we ended up right smack dab in the middle of all of the action for the parade, with audio of all of the proceedings right across the street from the Canadian Embassy (even the Mounties were there providing security) and the CNN Headquarters on top of the Newseum. Even better, my son and I were able to pass the time spotting “snipers” on the various buildings surrounding the parade route. I should say I suppose, that they were likewise watching us watching them. Also, treasure of treasures, we found ourselves with access to some 20 available and operational Porta-Potties! You laugh now, but wait a few years and see who gets the last laugh.
Notwithstanding all of the confusion, frustration, and consternation, we all did finally manage to reconnect back at the initial Metro departure point, and after settling in with about enough pizza to sustain that D-Day mobilization crowd back at 4th Street, we did what everyone else did; we watched all of the Inaugural Balls on TV along with much laughter and sharing of stories of the day’s adventures.
To wrap this up, I can assure you that this whirlwind tour of the Nation’s Capitol and all of the attendant mishaps and memories was not only worth it, but will live in the annals of our family as one of the most unique, educational, and endearing family and newly adopted family members’ treasured adventures. So now, up at 3:00 a.m. again to beat the crowds at Dulles to start the return trip home. Amazing Grace indeed!
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