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Social Studies

A Good Day

By Vincent Williams | Posted 1/28/2009

I got up at 6 a.m. That's an hour earlier than I usually rise, as a rule, and frankly three hours earlier than I like to get up, but the day demanded an early start. I probably should have gotten up even earlier, but we stayed with my mother-in-law so we were a little closer to D.C.

I put on several layers of clothes, and my mother-in-law made fried egg sandwiches and wrapped them in aluminum foil for us to take. We teased her about making travel food like she was an old black woman from 50 years ago, but the sandwiches probably weren't made on croissants back then. While waiting for my mother and brother to come and meet my wife and me, I called my dad. It was the kind of day that you should check in with your dad.

Once they arrived, we all left to pick up my niece and nephew who, conveniently enough, live right near a bus line that would take us into D.C. As we got closer to the city, more and more people streamed on, laughing and joking and wearing pins, sweatshirts, and hats commemorative of the occasion. I felt a little bad that we had left my daughter with her grandmother when I heard a father ask his toddler what she was going to do and she said, "I'm going to see the president!" As we rode, my 15-year-old niece offered me a piece of bubble gum. II don't think I've chewed bubble gum in probably 20 years, and certainly not any that had this particular radioactive bluish-green color. But, y'know, I chewed that gum and we sat on the bus and blew bubbles like little kids. It was the kind of day where you would blow bubbles.

It was cold. We tend to forget how cold it can be during the winter when you're outside for an extended period. Usually, we're in and out; from a building to a car, from a car to the house. But we all were outside for a long time. And, being sensitive to the bathroom situation, I didn't even have my standard cup of hot coffee in my hand to help.

We got off the bus in Chinatown and walked all the way to the Sixth Street entrance to the Mall only to have the Park Police and Secret Service tell us that it was closed. And then we repeated this pattern three more times and more and more entrances got closed off. Still, everyone was in good spirits. And when I say, "everyone," I mean every single body out there, of which there were a bunch. In fact, the majority of the pictures I took were of the people. Obviously, I couldn't get close enough to see anything happen and the monuments themselves weren't really the focus. No, I just have a memory card filled with pictures of crowds of people. It was the kind of day when the most important thing to document was the people.

Eventually, we got onto the Mall . . . quasi-legitimately. By 10:30 a.m., all of the entrances were closing up, but we ended up getting closer than we thought we would, because one of the policemen peeped my mom to the fact that you could still use the Third Street tunnel. Once we got through, we were stopped by a soldier who said there was a barricade between where we were and the Mall proper. However, he didn't notice--or at least he pretended not to notice--that there was a 3-foot space between two sections of the barricade that the crowd was, very deliberately and very politely, forming a line and going through. He also didn't notice--or at least he pretended not to notice--when this same group of people moved one of the port-a-potties aside so that we could all get closer and see a JumboTron screen. I made a point of thanking both the policeman and the soldier for their help. As a rule, I'm not a big fan of authority and guys with guns, but it was the kind of day when old divisions and grudges should be put aside.

Once on the Mall, it was crowded and really hard to see even the huge screen. In fact, a couple of people had climbed on top of the port-a-potties and a few had braved those tall trees on the outside of the grass. One dude in particular just kept trying to climb, to no avail. Jokingly, we all started chanting, "Yes, you can" to try and encourage him. But then a couple of people stepped forward and actually helped to lift him while one of the guys already in the tree pulled him up. The crowd cheered and congratulated him, and when someone said, "Well, how's he going to get down?" Without missing a beat, someone else chimed in and said, "We'll figure it out." And it was the kind of day when the inherent truth of coming together and saying, "We'll figure it out" was the answer to any problem at all.

Barely a week later, much of the day is a blur. I barely remember the coldness. I remember buying Presidential Peppermints, thinking that was the hokiest memorabilia I saw, but then my brother bought some Yes We Can Hot Sauce--"bringing a change to your dinner table!" Believe it or not, I didn't get a T-shirt, but I did get a couple of inaugural buttons. And I will always remember being there when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. It was a good day.

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