Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dear Mr. President, How Do We Get Out!?

Overall, my first winter break of grad school was spectacularly horrible. It was in this mindset I had all but convinced myself that my being physically present at inauguration would somehow spread the bad luck to Mr. Obama himself, but in a fit of selfishness, I decided the armies of soldiers protecting him would somehow ward off the evil spirits Winter Break 08-09 de Mala.
My parents and I determined that the bus I would be taking would have throes of people kicking and fighting to get a seat up to DC – almost in suit with the Richmond queers on opening day of the new Banana Republic – so we all went to sleep annoying early and woke up in time to get me to the bus stop half an hour ahead of schedule, at 6:30 AM. Somehow, partially-subsidized, never-runs-on-time, never-labeled, we-don’t-care-if-you’re-a-customer, sit-down-and-shut-up Amtrak sold out all of their tickets up to DC for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, yet when we got to the bus stop, there were 3 other people there. Well, whatever, I said goodbye to my parents, climbed into the bus, and settled into my wing.
I had somehow imagined miles and miles of cars waiting to get into DC that morning, like rush hour on any given morning, but the city was eerily quiet when my bus pulled up. Being that I told Pat to expect me around 2 or 3 PM, and it was 9:30 AM, I figured a slight detour to his place was in order. Unfortunately, I forget about the detour, and soon found myself in the metro. My mother told me that the city was expecting to run out of metro tickets, so I found the one metro card I had left over from last time, and realized it had 5 cents left on it. Crap. So, I trotted over to the metro card machine half expecting it to laugh at me and spit out my money, but happily, it instead spit out a metro card with Obama’s face on it! “Oooh, pretty! I should get more!” I said.
After digging through every pocket, shoe, coat and cranny I had on me, I found 80 cents in change. “Perfect,” I thought, “I’ll just put ten cents on each card. One for every relative we have in this country.”

Me: “Hello machine, here’s ten cents.”
Machine: ::blink:: :no reaction:
Me: “Twenty cents?”
Machine: :still nothing:
Me: “30? 40? Oh my god, do something!”
Metro Attendant: “Uh, Ma’am, you need to put the minimum fare on the card to get it back.”
Me: ::sigh:: “I guess only mom and dad are getting a card.”

So after successfully denying a poor visitor a much-needed metro card by harboring an extra in my pocket, I caught the metro to Pat’s place, briefly got lost (of course), and knocked on the door only to find…not Pat. He apparently had a typical club night and passed out late the night before, but by some stroke of luck, his roommate heard me knocking on the door and let me in. Pat eventually heard the commotion and came out, but seeing he was still fully dressed in skin-tight jeans and bed-jostled hair, I told him to go back asleep after he gave me the network key for the internet so I could pretend to do scholarship work until he got back up. I had the network key in hand, but wasn’t sure which network to try; after 4 unsuccessful attempts at hacking into unknown accounts, I finally determined the right one to be “JERSEY,” (duh, they’re both from Hillsborough), and proceeded to waste the next three hours browsing through Facebook, PostSecret, BBC News; and eating cereal.
It was previously determined that the best time to get to the inaugural concert was around 11 AM, so of course, we left around 2 PM with another VT Alum, Serena. Two seconds outside, and we decided it was time for a food break. The waiter spent the better portion of the meal trying to figure out how to hit on Serena while we “lightly encouraged” her to play in to get us free shots to add an alcoholic barrier to the cold and put that special buzzed warmy feeling to the festivities. To no avail, we each bought our own shot and finally made our way to the concert an hour later.
As a marketing major in college, I spent the better part of 4 years analyzing how effective toothpaste and potato chip packaging and advertisements are, but even I must admit that the fine marketing job of the bottle of water Serena bought was enough to make me giggle in fits. “Obama Water: Makes You More Articulate.” And it worked! After posing for a few too many pictures with the Obama Water salesman, I noticed a vast improvement in diction, clarity, and accuracy in our speech.

**Obama Water, on sale for $1.99 in any fine retail store near you.**

After spending a few hours standing outside half-singing to songs we kind of knew, the three of us left the concert and got an all-American meal in honor of the occasion. And by “all-American,” I mean we ended up smoking hookah and eating baba ganoush. Whatever. Having met at ideal activity to food ratio for the day, I was ready to pass out until the moment it was time to get up and wave the incarnation of evil (Bush) off the podium as president; alas, DC was in a festive mood, so I instead decided to spend at least a few hours awake on Monday.
There are two things 99% of people from my high school decide to do post college graduation: move to DC or teach English abroad for a year. In fact, many teach English abroad for a year and then move to DC. So I decided to see a few people from my high school that moved to DC on Monday evening. After misdirecting several tourists to the metro (most of them unintentionally), I went to Whole Foods in lieu of actually making anything. A few hours of high school updates later, I came back into the city to meet Pat at a “fabulous” gay DC birthday party.
Apparently DC queers are descendents of Amazons. The first thing I noticed when entering the party was that I was a good foot shorter than everyone else. The second thing I noticed was that I knew exactly two people at the party. Great. In avoidance of awkward conversation, I did what I would have done any way – I starting pigging out on the free food. These Amazons all have corporate jobs; they could afford to feed me.
Somehow being a freakishly short stranger worked out, and I passed a nice evening filled with semi-meaningful conversation, a few drinks, and informing an obnoxious Bangalore Indian that there does exist an area called “Gandhi Bazaar” in the city. A**hole. In the midst of the party, I determined that another college friend, Larissa, would be joining us in the morning to go to Inauguration, but she was currently too busy dancing alone at a Western bar to join us at the party, so we agreed to meet at the apartment.
Somehow Larissa got too disoriented to walk the three blocks to Pat’s, and instead jumped into a cab and was waiting outside by the time Pat and I got back. I walked up to the door, expecting her to get out, but was instead surprised to see a drunken Larissa deeply engrossed in conversation with the cab driver, who had magically convinced her that she should come visit his family in Lahore. Larissa, who is one of the few people in the world more neurotic about traveling than I am, had all but booked her flight by the time I got to there. Thank god she didn’t have an iPhone or Lahore would have a very confused white girl at its doors. After 15 minutes of standing outside her cab door, I got frustrated with the 10-degree weather, forced open the door, grabbed Larissa by the purse, and dragged her to Pat’s door. Sorry Mr. driver, we’ll come next time.
To add to the awkwardness of the night, Pat and Larissa had never actually met, so after a brief, inebriated greeting, she climbed over the two people sleeping on the floor, and settled on the couch. Pat and I finally got back to his room, and fell asleep around 2:30 in the morning. A whole three hours of sleep later, Pat’s alarm went off, and I slumbered out of his room to find 5 people ready and waiting to go to Inauguration. Giving him every possible moment of extra sleep, we finally got Pat up and dressed, and our group of 7 made it to…Starbucks. And then we went to Inauguration.
For anyone who read the inauguration website, you’d know that the writers made it seem as though thousands of AK-47-armed guards would be waiting to strip search every person coming within 5 miles of Obama. When we got to the National Mall, we were astounded to see the security –or lack thereof. Instead, hundreds of volunteers equipped with red beanies and buttons ushered us through the makeshift fences to our waiting spot we would call home for the next 8.5 hours.
Although this day is one of the most important days in American history, the overwhelming majority of our waiting time passed by in a relatively uneventful fashion. But here are some highlights:

1. Larissa gave me a heat pad and saved my foot from turning gangrene.
2. Our red beanie volunteer did a spectacularly horrible job of keeping random idiots off of the fence in front of us, but did do a spectacular job of getting in our way.
3. Pat was able to get our entire section to sing, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!” as Bush grinned stupidly as president for the last time.
4. Pat’s roommate’s boyfriend cursed over 500 times in 7 hours.
5. The port-o-potty to people ratio was about 1:1000.
6. I had a craving for an egg, cheese, and bacon roll for at least 5 hours. I instead ate dirt.
7. The people standing next to us were from Miami, but were still shivering beneath their polar bear jackets for most of the time.

Ok…on to the actual inauguration. The ceremony mercifully started two hours earlier than we were expecting. For some reason, I had a strong urge to listen to a good orchestral number. God must have heard that request, for three seconds later, Yo Yo Ma appeared on the screen and played a piece that makes you feel like you’ve died and this is the soundtrack to your life. His ensemble was followed by an incredibly moving and powerful speech delivered by a woman, whose name nor position I cannot remember, both of which will surely end up on Trivial Pursuit card in a few years. Needless to say, emotions started building by the time they finished.
The next 15 minutes were spent booing Dick Cheney, booing Bush, booing Dick Cheney standing next to Bush, and booing Republicans in Congress. After an enthralled Joe Biden swore in as VP, the 1.8 million of us standing on the National Mall became dead silent as Obama took the stand and Roberts, in splendid fashion, botched the swearing in oath. Coughing awkwardly, Roberts delivered the oath, and Mr. Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, and the crowd burst into a electrifying mix of tears and screams – a moment in my life I will never ever forget. Pat, Larissa, and I decided to stay for the entirely of Obama’s speech, and by the end, we were half sobbing, half bouncing out of excitement. Then, we tried to leave. Trouble ensued.
DC decided the best place to have the parade was right beside the National Mall, and thus blocked off 4 out of 5 of the exits out of the general area. Following the other 1.8 million people, we were herded like cattle for TWO HOURS inside the mall area before finally making it out onto the street, which, of course, had 400,000 trying to follow the same route. We made it 4 blocks before ducking into a Walgreens to power up on overpriced water and cheap chocolate.
At one point, for extra anxiety, ambulances started blazing down the one street that served to funnel everyone trying to get out. As they went by, hoards of people would dive behind the ambulance to follow its diversion of people power to get ahead of the crowd. We were some of those people. Two ambulances were enough to get us to an area with nicely kept shrubs. We managed to trample those shrubs to get over to another street to find the one thing that would keep us all sane – Five Guys.
DC was obviously not equipped to handle the rush, as most of the restaurants were not open; however, we did eventually find a Five Guys, and finished eating two hours later. Mind you, 1 hr 55 minutes was spent ordering and waiting, 5 minutes on eating, but all in all, mission accomplished in life and food. Once the food part settled, Larissa went home, and Pat and I went to his apartment, showered, changed, and drifted off into blissful sleep knowing the Axis of Ridiculous would not be in charge ever again. Now that, Mr. President, makes me proud to be an American. As long as there is baba ganoush.