I came back from the inauguration fully expecting to write a recap as I do my shows and events. For some reason, I haven’t been able to. I’ve been unable to put what I’ve been feeling into words. My thoughts are scattered, so I won’t even try to organize them. I’ll just put them down as they come to me while I attempt to reflect on my experience.
Initially, I did not plan to attend the inauguration. I’ve never been to New Year’s Eve at Times Square, and that was about the atmosphere I was expecting: standing outside in the freezing cold for hours on end surrounded by millions of strangers. Not exactly my kind of fun. Then, something hit me two days prior. I think it may have been watching the pre-inaugural “We Are One” concert and feeling the electricity of all those in attendance. This is history. That’s a phrase I’m sure we’ve all used at some point during the election season, but a concept I personally didn’t completely grasp until the moment was upon us. Maybe, even after the election was over, I still didn’t believe it was actually happening. Was Barack Obama really about to become my president? After suffering through the Kerry defeat and four more years of Bush, surviving the ensuing downfall of all things American, following the subsequent two-year campaign with a watchful eye from the beginning, protesting injustices outside a racist news network, speaking and performing at voter rallies, volunteering my services and money for the cause, participating in the democratic process, and watching my fellow citizens declare the need for change, I decided there was no way in hell I was going to be anywhere but there when it finally happened. So I went.
EJ said, “You do know you’ll be freezing and watching it from a TV screen two miles away?” I didn’t care. I dressed warm.
As it turned out, despite the 20-something-degree weather, I wasn’t cold on the National Mall. I had on a t-shirt under my hoodie, under my winter coat which itself has a hood, with gloves and a winter hat, and ear warmers just in case. Being surrounded by over a million people (and being somewhat claustrophobic), I actually started to sweat and had to remove one or both hoods at various times. The ear warmers stayed in my pocket. Standing on a 45-degree incline on a hill near the base of the Washington Monument, it was a struggle to maintain solid footing, much less see anything besides other people, but none of that mattered. I was within earshot of it all, hearing the speeches as they were delivered. Hearing the entire crowd boo when the now ex-President Bush was announced, with one guy commenting that it was like being at a wrestling match. Hearing the first African American president being sworn in, and hearing his inaugural address as everyone stood silent and listened intently to every word.
Never before in my life had I shared a moment with so many people, and never again in my life will I see so many people unified — at that time, we really were one. There were no strangers. Could you believe it’s even possible for 1.5 million people to be in one place and none of them arrested? No major incidents. Everyone was polite to one another. There was plenty Obama memorabilia, but it wasn’t the flea market I thought it was going to be. No one tried to sell me a rap CD. Even the cops and soldiers on task were being courteous and not abusing their authority. This truly was history in the making, and I was never before more proud of my country.
History. It’s a word that gets thrown around so often that it’s a platitude. Come out to my next show; I’m going to make history on stage. My album will take its rightful place in the history of music. Never before in history has anyone been as great as me. I’m numb to it by now. This, however, is the type of history that will still be history generations from now. Where were you when Barack Obama became president? I was there. I was a part of history.
The journey wasn’t easy. Timid, who had just gotten back from rocking some shows in Seattle, decided to roll to DC alongside my female friend and I. I wish we had taken footage of him arguing with the hotel clerks, whose establishments had tried raising the prices of their rooms by 200% and higher to take advantage of the influx of visitors to the area that weekend. “I was just there like three months ago and paid half that,” “Does that price include in-room massage therapy and spa treatment,” “This isn’t very patriotic of you,” “These aren’t inauguration rates — this is called price gauging and it’s highly illegal,” “What is the name of your supervisor,” and the simple yet effective “Excuse me?” were just some of his responses. In the end, we stayed at a Travel Lodge for about $100 a night — less than what I usually pay for hotels on days when the first black president isn’t being inaugurated. Of course, you get what you pay for: the room was a smoking room that smelled like cigarettes, the pictures were falling off the walls, and the headboards were broken. There was no iron, so I had to press my pants with my girl’s blowdryer. A sharp contrast from the Mondrian in Los Angeles a few weeks back.
Staying on the Virginia side of DC, we actually got the better end of the bargain because the Metro station in Alexandria wasn’t too crowded on Tuesday morning. Some friends of ours were on the Maryland side, and they gave up trying to board a train. They woke up at 4:00 in the morning and couldn’t make it in; we got up at 8:30 and had no trouble getting into the city. Once we were there, it took us close to two hours to walk three blocks to the Mall. There were fences to jump and medians to climb. Upon encountering one, a dude humorously proclaimed, “No one told me there would be obstacles involved!” Some fainted and required medical attention. But getting out of the train station and making it up to the street was the hardest part. The DC Metro requires passengers to swipe their cards before and after riding the train, to calculate the appropriate fare. Having a million people exit the train station in single file just wasn’t happening, so they eventually decided to open the flood gates and let everyone make out with a free ride. This brought about cheers from the flock, but it was still no cake walk trying to get out of there.
A young woman on the train who was apparently from Sweden said, “I wish all citizens of the world could vote in American elections.” If that was allowed, I thought to myself, we’d never have a Republican president again. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea afterall.
Getting back after the ceremony also proved difficult. It seemed all 1.5 million people intended to board the Metro at L’Enfont Plaza. After seeing how ignorant the length of the line was, I concluded that I’d rather walk back across the Potomac River than wait. Others had the same feeling, as the pedestrians ruled the streets all afternoon. We marched through DC, passing an empty I-395 overpass with the Capitol on the horizon, and as I looked down onto the vehicle-free highway, I felt like I was living inside some sort of movie, or perhaps an episode of the Twilight Zone. A highway in DC without cars on it is unfathomable. My logic was that the farther away from the action we walked, the less crowded the train stations would become. Along the way, we tried picking up some food in a 7-11 that contained a queue of customers wrapped around the interior of the store and frustrated would-be patrons walking out with unpurchased pretzels and Slurpees. So much confusion. Better to wait till we got to the Chipotle back in Virginia. After approximately three hours of walking, we entered a Metro in an altogether different quadrant of DC than the one in which we started. We had to ride the train back to ground zero, but instead of getting off at L’Enfont and changing to the proper train line, we rode it out and took the long route to avoid the chaos that awaited the others.
Some strategic decisions and some dumb luck ensured that we made it to and from our destinations adequately. We were all back home in New York by midnight, and there was a new president in the White House. That night, one of my boys wrote on Facebook: “I’m so glad that I was on the right side of history. I’d hate to have to tell my grandchildren that I opposed this day.” I could not agree more with that sentiment. What a glorious time to be an American.
Since then, my whole perspective on life has changed. It might sound corny, but it’s the truth. Certain things just don’t seem to bother me anymore. Time will tell if that change is longlasting, or if I’m just on a temporary high. I can say for sure that I now have a clearer view of the big picture than I’d enjoyed in a long while. That this man is sitting in the Oval Office is tangible proof that all our dreams are within reach, that our setbacks do not endure. As of January 20, 2009, it’s no longer a cliché to assert that all things are possible if we believe.
And perhaps most importantly, the error of the past eight years has ended.
God bless America!
Timid’s video recaps after the jump…