Thursday, March 5, 2009

Inaug Blog: DR at the Obama Inauguration!


Long before the bailouts, the stimulus package, the $3 trillion budget, the drawdown in Iraq, and the escalation in Afghanistan, there was a simpler time. There was an inauguration ceremony for one Barack Hussein Obama. Like most New Yorkers my age, I was an early supporter of Barack, hosting a Super Tuesday Concert with Obama Girl, and then another one at the Denver Convention. I was able to see his Convention Speech live at Invesco Field and even catch a glimpse of him from a few feet away at a private party I snuck my way into, shaking Joe Biden’s hand. (see “Danny at the DNC.”)

Wasn’t that enough? Not for this guy. I was on my way to the inauguration of our 44th President in Washington DC. And not only that, I’d be hosting a concert in New York City the same night.

Chapter 1: Take You Down to Chinatown

My colleague Nnennaya and I from Congressman Nadler’s Office took the 10AM bus Monday morning, January 19th. After tuning into Tin Hat Trio’s Helium and Elvis Costello’s Spike amongst other albums, I arrived at a packed Metro Station. Having lived in Washington in the Fall of 2004 for a semester abroad, it took a half hour to remind myself how the ticket machines worked.

Does this look reasonable to you?

But soon enough I was at Matt Volner’s 6 person apartment in Columbia Heights, a renowned neighborhood to receive a mugging. I know Matt from doing theater in our golden years at Cornell, and asked him for some floor space right after the election. My brother and him also share an ex. Yikes.

Our friend, actor-writer-dancer Brandt Adams, was also there working on a multimedia project/play about history, politics, and racism that took him all across the South, interviewing folks, gauging reactions to our first black president, and seeing touchstones of the civil rights movement. Really interesting stuff.

After a night of talking with new friends and old, and eating delicious Korean food (promptly followed by Pepto Bismol chewing tablets), I was ready for bed. But between having to wake up before dawn, and the hard floor taking a toll on the old back, I roiled in frustration that I had a full day ahead of me with no sleep.

Chapter 2: A Dark Morning

No one should wake before dawn except for fishermen. And ice fishermen. I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy. Okay, maybe a few people from 4th grade. And maybe Shredder. But that’s about it.

And yet, here I was putting on my 14 layers (thermals, 2 pants, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shirts, sweatshirt, winter coat, scarf, gloves, boots) before heading to the subway. And it was crazy. The streets were packed with people, some walking all the way to the Capital. Meanwhile, the Metro was a mob scene. When the first car came, we pushed our way through the doors, and had just enough room to stand and breathe. Don’t forget, there were 8 more stops, and we were all going to the same place. Worse yet, I had to make a transfer. Pummeling through L’Enfant Plaza, I prayed to not be trampled upon like that 1979 Who Concert in Cincinnati. Or that dude from Wal-Mart after Thanksgiving.

After an hour submerged underground, I gasped for air on the escalator ride up. I was on my way to the Congressman’s office in the Rayburn House Building to drop off my bag. Walking through the Halls of Congress, I arrived comfortably at the office, eating bagels and drinking juice, thinking that because I was a ticketed Congressional staffer, there was no need to rush. That would prove to be a fatal mistake…Maybe not fatal, but really, really not that good. Looking down from the window, my prospects didn't look so good:

Chapter 3: The Great Ticket Journey

This is the real steak and potatoes of the story (although I no longer eat red meat: Check out The Omnivore’s Dilemma). I was in possession of a blue ticket, giving me access to a standing section not far from the stage. Here’s a map:

But as I eased my way onto the Blue line, I found myself in a sea of people, with the Capital building nowhere in sight. Imagine my confusion. No one knew which line was which, where they started and ended, or how to get through security. There was no one of authority to give direction, and the others around me were even more perplexed. It was an absolute mess.

After 30 minutes of standing in the exact same place, I decided that, at this rate, I would miss the inauguration, standing just outside the theater of history. How would I face my peers back in New York? What would I tell my children someday? “Daddy faithfully stayed in line. I may have missed our nation’s greatest moment, but at least I followed the rules!” I couldn’t let it happen. And I had a plan.

Looking at the map, the plan was to use my Congressional ID to cut through the Rayburn House Office Building and find the gate at Independence Ave. I hurriedly emptied my pockets at the security gate re-entering the building, losing my money clip in the process (and it had my initials engraved!). But once back in the building, while fearing I might have lost a precious place in line, I charged toward that Independence Ave. gate. And there it was! The special Congressional entrance to the Inauguration ceremony, skipping the two million-person line! Could I really get away with this?

To my disappointment, the guards announced “Orange and Green tickets only!” I was blue. You see my dilemma. But I waited on line anyway, shyly hiding my blue ticket, praying I could figure something out. As we approached the front, I fearfully asked a guard if they’d be taking all colored tickets. And with a wink, he quietly told me “Yeah, don’t worry about it.” So when I was forced to show my blue ticket to the next guard, I had the confidence to say “I’m with the Congressman, the last guy told me it was OK.”

Which is how I ended up in the very front of the Orange section. Take a look again at the map:

Yeah. That’s right. Walking down a pathway, cops yelled “Hold up your ticket!” I blended quietly into the middle of the crowd, holding up the backside of my ticket. Preparing a speech for the guard that would catch me, and with my hand on a quarter to call Uncle Robbie for potential legal representation, I was suddenly being escorted into a seated section. Bewildered, in one final obstacle, the ushers were checking tickets before seating guests. I was screwed, I knew it. Yet tenaciously I waited in line, and before I knew it I was seated front and center. Was that it? Was I home free?


It seemed at a certain point the guards figured you couldn’t get this far without an orange ticket. Jay-Z, Jamie Fox and Halle Berry were floating in the section, as I looked behind to see the vast crowd of 2 million people. It was surreal.

Soon enough the crowd roared as a series of limousines made their way to Capital Hill. And you know how the rest of the ceremony turned out. Wheelchair Cheney lurking, Bush in denial, Justice Roberts fumbling, Obama speaking with grace.

After that, I just barely made the train and hosted a surprisingly packed show at the Bowery Poetry Club with my band, Reuben Chess of Quintus, comedians from Living Liberally, blogger Robert George and comedian Grant Gordon.


But how was it to be there? Emotionally? Physically? Danny tell me more!!

Well, here’s what I’ll say. All in all, it was a logistical nightmare. It was a battle getting down to DC, a battle spending the night, a battle getting into the ceremony, and a battle to get the hell out. That being said, I was a witness to American history. Like millions of others, I see the best parts of myself in Barack Obama: smart, confident, mature, relaxed, and of course, Kenyan.

Being in that crowd, I could sense the electricity, but to be perfectly honest, sitting in the front section took me out of the excitement a bit. As warm and comfortable as I was, I didn’t hear the roars or see the faces I would have liked to amongst the throngs of people. I felt perched and privileged. It was a feeling I didn’t like. Then again, as you know, I was lucky to get in at all, and I saw and heard the ceremony with such clarity. While I didn’t think it was Obama’s best speech, it was an elegant and beautiful moment, captivating the hearts and minds of Americans everywhere. And I now have an experience in common with 2 million people I’ve never met. Strangely enough, the only time I got particularly emotional was when Joe Biden took his oath. This was really happening. My kind of people were taking control of my country.

Meanwhile, I was right. All my colleagues had blue tickets, and I was the only one to get in. Days later, we learned that thousands didn’t get in. Like the old Yiddish expression (that doesn’t exist) says, “You don’t schmooze, you lose.” And to add icing on the cake, I went back and found my money clip. It was a great day for America.

Here's some more pics: (Gay Couple protesting Rick Warren)

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