January 22nd, 2009

The Inauguration, Part III: A First-Hand Account Lodged Pretty Comfortably Between Best And Worst-Case Scenarios

by Philip Baruth

Yet another account from the Inaugural, this time from longtime VDB-reader Bill Kehoe. Bill’s Washington story falls somewhere between the Purple Tunnel of Doom narratives and Jane Stetson’s major seating coup: by day’s end Bill is exhausted but exhilarated. — PB

Photos by Michael Smith-Welch

Dear VDB,

It was truly an amazing day.

On Monday I began to feel really guilty that I hadn’t somehow managed to arrange for my 11 year old son to be here with me to witness this moment. That guilt was quickly shed when I saw the length of the line we needed to stand in to gain entrance despite the fact that we had arrived at 7:30.

Just finding the back of the line was a challenge since our “yellow” line blocked the route of others trying to find the back of their “purple” line. There were a few points where we thought the line was never going to start moving.

Fortunately people were amazingly civil. We struck up conversations with those we stood next to. We traded jokes and stories of past events.


Amazingly, after an hour or so, the line did begin to move and we actually made it through the gates and the security scanners. But we were stopped once more, this time at Constitution Ave, since the Presidential motorcade was making its way to the Capitol.


At last, at 11:10, we found seats near the back of the seating area about 200 yards from the Capitol steps. We were close enough that I could see the speakers easily using a pair of average binoculars.

What struck me most about the event was this: normally in a speech of this magnitude, you’d have more applause and shouts of agreement, etc. But while Obama delivered his address, except for after a few particular strong points, the crowd was silent. We had waited so long for this moment, none of us dared to utter a word or move a muscle for the fear that we might miss a syllable. We had been starved of Presidential leadership and we knew that this was the moment it would be restored.


Nearly everyone around us stood up and started leaving immediately following Reverend Lowery’s benediction. But I wasn’t quite ready to leave, despite the fact that I needed to pee like never before. Eventually my sister and I began to stroll slowly towards the nearest exit area but we stopped to join a group who had congregated in front of a jumbotron to watch Laura Bush and the former president being escorted by Michelle and President Obama down the east steps of the Capitol to Bush’s waiting helicopter.


It was the definitive symbol of change in so many ways.

As Bush’s helicopter revved up its blades and eventually floated up and over the north wing of the Capitol and then directly over where we stood, people began to jump up and down and wave their mittens, hats and scarves in circles in the air. One gentleman next to me wept openly.


— Bill Kehoe

[Many thanks to Bill, and to his brother Michael for the killer photos in this post.]