Thursday, January 22, 2009

Elizabeth Goes to the Inauguration FAQ:

Q1. Was it SUPER cold?

A1. Yes. And when I say "yes" I don't mean in that "OH MAH GAH I'm from California and anything below 60 degrees is FUH-REEEEZING!" kind of way. I mean it like "OH MAH GAH it was SO COLD that I have never been so ACTUALLY concerned for my physical wellbeing ever before in my life."

Seriously you guys, it was cold. The day before the inauguration, Danielle took CK and I on a tour of Baltimore (where I weenied out about taking a picture of myself in front of the Ace of Cakes bakery because I was embarrassed) and we spent about seven minutes walking along a path that looked out over the harbor, taking pictures, and walking back and that was pretty darn cold and I had trouble looking at the view because the wind was blowing the falling snow directly into my eyeballs, but it was only seven minutes and I knew the luxury of Danielle's Saturn was waiting to warm us at the end of our excursion into the elements.

So drop the temperature ten degrees and stand around outside for HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS without ANYWHERE to go for warmth and not only are you REALLY, REALLY, REALLY cold, but you're also starting to freak out a little bit. And then you think about how badly you want to give up and go home. Except you can't because there is LITERALLY no way for that to happen. Your phone doesn't work because of the couple other million cell phones out there so you can't even call your dad to come and rescue you, and even if you could call him, he wouldn't be able to help you, which is crazy because I've always known that my dad could save me from anything.

So you decide to sit down. Except you don't have anything to sit on and yes, you might not be thinking very clearly (confusion is a symptom of hypothermia, I've since learned) but you're wearing your mom's very fancy wool and cashmere coat and the ground is covered with dirt and dried grass and you have the clarity to know that sitting directly on the ground is not an option but then you remember that you have an emergency poncho in your bag so you unfold it and park your ass down on the frozen ground.

So now you're probably freezing yourself from the ass upwards but you don't care. You want it to be over. The only part of your body that is warm are the palms of your hands because HOLY COW those hand warmers work like a CHARM. So you sit there and try to wait it out while the crowd fills in around you and a few other people sitting on plastic bags or blankets around you.

While you're down there, willing time to pass so it could be time to go already, you try WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT not to start shivering because once you do, you know it's OVER so you get the great idea to put a spare set of toe warmers IN YOUR BRA. To warm your core, and all. Ignore the warnings about avoiding direct skin contact with the toe warmers and enjoy the warmth. (Note: The warnings had merit. I still have toe warmer shaped red marks on my boobs.)

They started playing the Sunday night Lincoln Memorial concert on the big screen right when we got there and eventually, high on the warmth of my chestular region, I decided to stand up and join the crowd in enjoying the show.

So I was up, people were dancing and rejoicing and having fun. Me? What was I doing? I was fading in and out of a standing sleep. I'd catch myself right before I'd fall over and I started thinking that maybe I wasn't sleeping. Was I fainting? I don't know. I've never come anywhere close to fainting before. I'm a battle axe. I'm my mother's daughter. But I do know that I had to hold onto consciousness like the lap bar on a roller coaster. What to do?? Don't freak anyone out. Eat something. OOh, CK is eating beef jerky. Maybe nitrates will do me good. Mmmm, beef jerky. So a few sips of water and a chunk of beef jerky later I was feeling better. Still totally cold and miserable, but better. Like, I was capable of standing up without nearly toppling over.

But I'll tell ya: It did occur to me that maybe I shouldn't try so hard NOT to faint because if I DID faint, at least I'd get my ass carried out of there and I'd be able to regroup in a warm ambulance. That sounds horrible, doesn't it? Except that later that night a couple other posse members admitted that they had the same thought: If they could get hurt, they'd at least be able to get warm.

So yes, it was cold.

Brian took this picture, which I think speaks volumes:

Q2: But was it awesome?

Yes. But also no. I'll be honest with you: I didn't feel the heart-swelling, goosebump-inducing pride I felt back in November when they called the election for Obama but really, dying of hypothermia is kind of distracting.

But yes, it was awesome. I was happy for all the people around me, happy for the country, looking forward to the future, etc. It kind of felt like Christmas and how how happy I am to be giving people I love presents that make them happy.

Also, it was pretty damn awesome to be a part of something so big. Big in terms of logistics, but mostly, big in terms of what it all means for America. I love that so many people have fallen back in love with their country.

Q3: Who did you go with?

My friends Mike & Danielle opened up their new house in the Baltimore suburbs to a whole gaggle of us for the weekend and we all attended the inauguration together and MAGICALLY, also managed to STAY together. So it was Mike & Danielle, Brian, Louise, their daughter Amelia and her friend Amanda -- all from West Virginia, my beloved CK from Texas and ME!

My friend Sonya was also in town for the big event and was due to take the same inbound train as the rest of my posse. I saw her for a split second as I was boarding the train and she looked happy and excited to be there and I hugged her but I had to continue moving and I thought I'd see her again when we got off the train. I didn't see her again and the fact that I assumed I would was just so mind-blowingly naieve. She was one in 1.8 million.

I am really happy I did see her for that moment though.

Q4: Did you watch the parade?

A4: No, but in retrospect, I wish we had. We kept trying to get back to Union Station so we could get out of the cold and find something to eat but every police man we (Danielle) asked sent us in a different direction and each time, we found ourselves at another dead end. We'd walked ONE MILLION MILES at this point and yeah, people were hungry and cranky and at their wits end, but we had somehow stumbled upon the verrrry beginning of the parade route (like, 20 feet from the gate to the capitol) where there were (gasp!) places to sit and the crowd was only one or two people deep. Our options appeared to be:

* Walk ONE MILLION MILES back and around, where we had no guarantee that we'd even be able to get to where we were going.

* Sit down and watch the parade. Heck, we still had nearly four hours before our train was supposed to leave and I'd certainly love to see Obama up close.

But just as I was convincing the posse that we should just make lemonade out of lemons, the police broke into the parade route and we made a run for it.

I can't decide if that was a good move or a bad move. If we had stayed, we'd have seen the Obamas with our own eyes but then we would have been MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH further back in the multiple thousand person line to get into the train station and we wouldn't have made it onto the first train after the station reopened (more on that later). On the other hand, heading straight over put us smack dab in the biggest FIASCO I'd ever been a part of, but we did get on the first train.

Q5: What is this Epic Train Fiasco of '09?

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh girrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrl. It was epic.

So, we got to the train station and found that the main entrance was closed (for an inaugural ball that was due to take place later that night) and the crowd to get into the side door was PACKED and NOT MOVING. Then it turned out that we WEREN'T going to move because the train station got shut down by the fire marshall because it was overcrowded but OH HEY the doors were blocked by thousands of people who were trying to get IN so the people inside couldn't get OUT.

EVERYBODY TURN AROUND, they said. Okay. Sure thing. Except that in order for all those people to TURN AROUND, they all have to be willing to cooperate and they have to UNDERSTAND, which was one of the main problems. I heard someone in the crowd comment that of ALL the cops standing around watching the crowd, NONE OF THEM had a megaphone?!?!?!

After like an hour of inching and shoving, we were out of the mob and LOOK! SOMEWHERE TO SIT!

But then it quickly turned into a big, confusing mess again and we ended up spending the next couple of hours standing in a crushing crowd of people who were generally pretty good natured, but annoyed because this guy doesn't know how to use a megaphone:

He kept pointing it up to the sky and the crowd would organize themselves to shout WE CAN'T HEAR YOU and the DHS guy would smirk and chew his gum and look cocky and then point his megaphone up in the air again and ug, it was frustrating, but EVENTUALLY they cleared the station (except for, as it turns out, my friend Sonya who was one of the people on the inside and who refused to leave because it was unsafe) and they let us back in and BY THE GRACE OF GOD, we got on the train and went back to Baltimore.

Despite my near meltdown earlier in the day, I was pretty okay during the whole train thing. All the bodies crushed against mine warmed me up enough and I was just going with the flow. The only answer was to just be cooperative. There was nowhere else to go -- no shelter, no food, no other answer than to just keep on keepin' on. So I did.

I mean, seriously, look at all the people behind me:

But then the next day we heard about all the people who never even made it to the mall because they got stuck in a tunnel and we decided that being stuck outside is A MILLION times better than being stuck in that tunnel. Plus, it sounds like just about everyone experienced the same HOW THE HELL DO I GET OUT OF HERE challenges that we did, so we weren't alone in our plight.

Q6: Would you go again?

NO. It was a really exciting life experience and I'm SO GLAD I was able to go and be a part of it and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but it was also one of the hardest days of my life and I can't imagine VOLUNTARILY being that cold ever again. And it's not like I was woefully underdressed or anything -- I was wearing two shirts, a fleece jacket, a big warm coat, hat, scarf, neck warmer, fleece gloves and jeans. If I could do it again, I'd have worn thicker socks and probably also my puffy vest that everyone makes fun of me for, but even then, I don't think I would have been warm enough.


Parking in Baltimore:

Pre-Dawn Capitol Building:

Totally fake looking, no?


Our Spot:

We were between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument:

The garbage people left was DISGUSTING:

I heard the term "post-apocolyptic" a few times throughout the course of the day:

Fun Fact: Of all the folks we saw at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was the HANDS DOWN FAVORITE:

I had no idea who she was until a couple of weeks ago but people of all ages and ethnicities kept coming up and going OH WOW! RACHEL MADDOW!

Sorry, Rachel Maddow, for that unflattering picture, btw. You're way cuter than that.

Getting closer to the Capitol Building:

The walk and the celebrity sightings warmed me up and my mood improved and I took 75 million self portraits of me and half of the Capitol Building:

But most of them turned out to be of me and the porta potties:

Other Fun Facts:

1. Did you know that people still wore fur coats? They're like THE choice in outerwear for the older black ladies. With coordinating head pieces and everything. I couldn't even tell you how many I saw -- thousands, easily. And underneath the fur, almost all of them were wearing sweatshirts with rhinestones on them. It was a fascinating fashion lesson for me, I tell you.

2. If you happen to be Facebook friends with Danielle or Brian you should go look at their pictures because HOLY COW those two take some fine ass pictures...unlike me with my EasyShot something-or-other.

3. My face is peeling from the cold. Give my scalp about a week or so and it'll follow suit, which will be AWESOME.

4. We saw Garrison Keillor! He was one of the people who managed to get across the parade route with us and when I got to the other side I stood there hoping to see seven familiar faces emerge from the crowd, I saw Garrison Keillor crossing. I was like "Hmmm. That sure does look like Garrison Keillor. Oh wait. That dude is asking him for an autograph. It IS Garrison Keillor." If I'd had my camera handy and if he hadn't been walking away from me I would have asked for a photo because I know my parents would get a kick out of it (they're big Lake Woebegone fans from way back) but instead I saw some members of my posse and pointed him out.

And seriously, if you needed more proof that we're a bunch of NERDS, Garrison Keillor might as well have been Beyonce.

5. If you haven't seen the satellite picture, you should go look at it. It's pretty damn amazing. I believe we were about here:

Bottom Line:

It was exceptional.


Kristy said...

Girl, the one thing you were missing in your cold weather getup was some type of thermal underwear. That probably would've made things a smidge less miserable!

Loved your story :) Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth said...

@Kristy, I probably wouldn't have worn long underwear if I had it because if I HAD, it would have been 20 degrees warmer and I'd have been too hot and stuck in too many layers. It's a balancing act that I have yet to master.

sally said...

Ahhh...I can't see the post to refer to the numbers! Kristy, I have to do the thermal underwear in that kind of cold. I FREEZE in jeans. But having to go to the bathroom wearing all of that is AWFUL.


I can't stand crowds and I have claustrophobia so I think I would have had a panic attack. (But that would have got me in the ambulance). I also have issues with "personal space" so I would have been freaking out.

You would have frozen waiting for the parade. Everything was REALLY delayed and it did not start even close to on time.

The commentary said they were using cell phone blockers in the area. It was interfering with some of the news communications.

I can never find Metro Stations when I am in the district. The NYC subway is so much easier to navigate to me.

Ummm NO ONE is going to think you are being so West Coast about the cold. It was FREEZING COLD. There is no doubt about it. You will not get people arguing with you about that. It was so cold outside that I was freezing in my house because of the windows. It never got above the low 20s I don't think here and it was snowing all day.

I can't imagine NOT getting excited by seeing Garrison Keillor!

Yes...Older black ladies wear furs..and hats. Lots of hats. Sundays are good days for checking this out with the church finery.

That trash makes me SOOOOOOOO mad. It really disgusts me.