By the time we got through the security tent and staked out our position on the mall, it was close to 8AM. Despite the number of people in line before us, we were quite happy with our view of the Capitol, though we of course wished we could have been closer. And so we waited. And waited. We enjoyed the pre-ceremony music while we ate our breakfast (granola bars), and then tried to amuse ourselves until the introductions and 11:30 start time. The crowd booed Paul Ryan. The crowd booed Newt Gingrich.
The ceremony itself was fine, though we couldn't really see much. We were pretty far away, the binoculars weren't all that helpful due to the people standing in front of us, and the closest jumbo screen to us was behind a tree. Oh well. During President Obama's speech we started walking around our section a bit, seeing things from different areas. As soon as the speech ended some people started to make their way to the exits, like when you know you're team is going to win and you want to beat the traffic. We decided to go as well, and to head toward one of the parade entrances.
It was now about 12:30PM, and getting into the parade took an additional 30-minute trip through security. Open your coat, empty your pockets, take off your gloves and hats. I was (that guy) carrying binoculars on my belt, so I took them out of the holder and was holding them, waiting to step into the security tent when a guy came up behind me and lifted my coat. "What have you got here?" he asked as he investigated what he must've thought looked like something I was trying to conceal. Once he was satisfied that it was just a holder for my binoculars, he stepped back to join the other numerous law enforcement officials at the checkpoint.
We walked up Pennsylvania Ave. and found a spot that we thought would have a good view of the parade, and then we waited. Again. The parade was supposed to start around 2:30PM, but really didn't start until closer to 3:15. And it was still cold, and we hadn't eaten or drank anything in hours. But then it started, and soon the presidential party was at the block before us. People started shouting that they were getting out of the car and walking. And sure enough they were, and they came and walked right past us. The crowd went nuts. It was amazing dumb luck that we happened to be standing at just the right part of the parade route to see President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice-President Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden out of their limos and walking down the street. Very cool. After that we ditched the rest of the parade and made our way to the Metro, got back to Virginia around 5:45, had dinner (our first food or drink in almost 8 hours), then drove back to New York. I got to bed at 2AM.
So here's my big takeaway: Most Americans will never see the president in person. We read about him, we see him on TV, we learn about his policies, and we judge and debate his actions. We study presidents in school, watch movies about them, and are taught about the things they did by our parents and teachers. Because of this, I would argue that to most people the president is not real, at least not in the way that the people, places, and things we encounter in our lives are real. Presidents are superhuman, larger than life, monumentally historic figures. But when you see him live in person, that changes. It did for me, anyway. Seeing President Obama in person really made it sink in that he's not superhuman - he's just this guy who happens to be trusted with incredible power and responsibility. I won't use the word "regular," but when it all comes down to it he's just this guy walking down the road. He's human, with strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. And so I'm kind of having this small realization that no matter how entrenched our government is and no matter how permanent it may seem to those on the outside, the only thing holding it together is us. People. And a mutual belief in this republic of ours.
It's not always obvious, but on Monday, for me, it was.