Sign up for our newsletters   

Baltimore City Paper home.
Print Email

Mobtown Beat

Watching the Inauguration From the Fringes

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 1/20/2009

Like the scene from This is Spinal Tap, where the band is lost in the bowels of a Cleveland arena, a group that set out for today’s inauguration from the east side of the U.S. Capitol is now walking in the cold shadows overlooking a freeway in southwest Washington, with barely any hope of glimpsing the Capitol dome, much less President Barack Obama.

Even the nearest JumboTron looks miles away.

Sure there are plenty of police and paramilitary on hand, but crowd direction and control is beneath their pay grade. So we are on our own, headed south when we should be headed north, east when we should be headed west, winding our way past federal buildings and under train bridges as we get increasingly farther away from the historic swearing-in that is about to take place.

Eventually we make it onto Independence Avenue, and the name alone is comforting and feels as if it bodes well. A tinny P.A. system is now audible as ceremonial music informs us that history is about to be made. People are standing on top of the Don’s Johns porta-potties that line the south side of the Mall, which stretches out from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. “I figure this is about as good as it’s gonna get,” says a North Carolina man who has settled for the cold, dark, viewless spot across from the U.S Deptartment of Agriculture.

Pressing on past the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the grand obelisk comes into view, with the surrounding hill packed with people. Some have climbed trees and are craning their necks to see the Capitol in the distance. Others are doing the same from the roof of a maintenance facility attached to the Sylvan Theater, an open-air band shell tucked off to the side of the monument. Here, we settle in for the roughly 45-minute ceremony.

“He says he was a uniter, and we are--against him,” says a middle-aged white man as outgoing President George W. Bush is introduced. “Not one person clapped for that man,” says an African-American woman in faux white fur. Finally, a JumboTron is a respectable quarter mile away, with a view of it disrupted only by bare tree limbs. Pastor Rick Warren’s invocation bounces off the monument, swirls in the wind, and comes back around so we get a second listen. The P.A. from M*A*S*H must have sounded clearer, as sirens shriek in the distance, on both sides of the Potomac River.

The crowd where we stand for the ceremony is at times rapt, at times engaged in prayer, and occasionally talking on cell phones, which were not supposed to work today. A large number of people recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison, and Aretha Franklin gets big whoops when she is introduced to sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Rose Gilbert, from Severn, Md., looks serene and comfortable in her surroundings as a friend remarks about the level of police presence on the way to the Mall. “We’re in the safest place on Earth right now,” Gilbert tells her friend. “Now when we leave it’s another story.”

Gilbert is asked when she knew Obama would be elected president. “About half way through the campaign,” she says. “His speeches, his tone, the way everyone started coming together.” What change is she looking forward to? “Bringing people together on the issues. Government for the people, not the elite,” she says. “I’d like to make it so kids get into politics or law or government. My heart is so full. This is just a beautiful thing. It’s overwhelming.”

Video: Ed Ericson Jr. interviews a fellow line walker.

Related stories

Mobtown Beat archives

More Stories

Power Drain (6/30/2010)
Baltimore's influence in the legislature has been waning for years. Which of our remaining legislators get things done?

Structural Problems (5/26/2010)
Old dealings come back to haunt former state delegate Billy Madonna

Private Jet? No. Lesbian Bondage Show? "Yes We Can," says RNC Chairman (3/29/2010)
Private Jet? No. Lesbian Bondage Show? "Yes We Can," says RNC Chairman

More from Jeffrey Anderson

Last Word (4/29/2009)
Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson tell their versions of Baltimore's street life in The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired

Original Voices (2/18/2009)
George Pelecanos' Version of The Annual Mystery Omnibus Takes a Turn Toward The Thoughtful

Q&A: Inaugration Eve with Jon Langford (and his bodyguard) (1/30/2009)

Related by keywords

A Good Day in Social Studies 1/28/2009

Ode to the Boss in The News Hole 1/20/2009

"I Really Believe in This Guy." in The News Hole 1/20/2009

What Did the Inauguration Sound Like? in The News Hole 1/20/2009

Scenes from Penn Station This Morning in The News Hole 1/20/2009

Speechless in The News Hole 1/20/2009

Overheard at the Inauguration in The News Hole 1/20/2009

More Photos from the Inauguration in The News Hole 1/20/2009

Obama Didn't Miss His Line, but Roberts Did in The News Hole 1/20/2009

Tags: Inauguration, Barack Obama

Comments powered by Disqus
CP on Facebook
CP on Twitter