Thursday, January 22, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House: The Day, Part Two

Read Part One here...

When last we saw him, our hero was standing in the cold on the Washington Monument grounds, facing the Capitol, wrapped in multiple layers, waiting for the ceremony to start.

I was thankful at that point for the coverage on the jumbotrons, which carried the children's chorus and the Marine Band, alternating with shots of the presidential motorcade advancing toward the capitol.

The winds picked up, and the weather predictors were right, it dropped the temperature even further. But the sun was out, and when the wind died down, there was heat from the sun you could feel right on your face.

I alternated between this welling excitement and calling all my willpower not to check the time.

A few around me had blankets and sat on the ground, but almost everyone else stood, looking at the Capitol dome. I could see the long red-white-blue banners hanging above the presidential podium.

Sure, it was watching TV on your feet out in the cold wrapped in more clothing than most of us wear on a typical D.C. winter's day.

But then the announcer started, loud and clear: Ladies and Gentlemen! in a voice one reporter likened to the Barnum & Bailey ringmaster.

Suspense was building, the rising action of senate and house members, past presidents, other dignitaries, climbing the ladder to the outcome we all knew beforehand but was not spoiling our excitement for the knowing.

"Ladies & Gentlement: President Carter!" Cheering in the crowd!
"Ladies & Gentlemen: George Bush Sr!" and the crowd was silent.
"It wasn't him," said the man next to me. "He wasn't so bad. It was his son!"

Our silence at his announcement brought forth a kind of amazed laughter, as we realized how we had suddenly, collectively, voiced a complex opinion.

And yes, we boo'd when Bush was introduced. Disrespectful? I'm a D.C. resident (and native), and he made no attempt to get to know my home town. He never appeared in restaurants, or read books to children in the public schools. At the Kennedy Center Honors I performed in, he looked bored, about to fall asleep. A resounding boo may have been the most respectful thing we could offer at that moment, instead of voicing the full fury many of us felt.

But there was too much excitement in the cold clear air to drive us down for long.

A shot on the jumbotrons of where we stood on the Monument grounds instantly prompted us to raise our hands and wave and cheer and then laugh as we knew how ridiculous it was, since we registered as no more than a mush of pixels. But we knew we were there.

Aretha and The Hat, a wild confluence of sound. She sounded hoarse, but it could have been distortion from the giant speakers as they tried to broadcast the thick range of sounds from her lush accompaniment.

And then the part of the ceremony I had my doubts about. Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman (and others), performing "Air and Simple Gifts" arranged by John "Star Wars" Williams.

Perlman's violin began a questioning yet hopeful phrase. The notes cut through the cold air and rhetoric, a bright gold wire of sound, simple, zizzing from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and off to the Lincoln Memorial. It was an incredible thing to hear, and no one around me spoke or moved.

Then on to the reason we were all here...

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