Sunday, January 18, 2009

On the Verge of History

If I have felt anything like this before, I can't remember when.

The energy is palpable. The sense of euphoria, of optimism, of possibility, is coursing through Washington D.C. like fresh blood through the veins of a previously anemic man. Our capital city has come crackling to life. People are pouring into town by the hundreds of thousands, clogging the streets, thronging the monuments and memorials and museums, high-fiving total strangers and bursting into spontaneous whoops of joy.

Maybe this is how it felt when World War Two ended. I wouldn't be surprised to see a sailor bend a nurse over backwards and kiss her, hard, on the National Mall.

I arrived in Washington Sunday afternoon by Amtrak from New York. The train was packed, completely sold out, and except for the woman who got all in a snit when I politely informed her husband that he had taken my seat while I was visiting the snack car (somehow this was my fault?) and could he please relocate - everyone was in high spirits, unusually friendly and open and sharing. Can we help that passenger with her bag? Yes we can! Can we hold the door for an older couple and help them find seats? Yes we can! Can we share our stories of where we came from and why we're here and what being at the Obama inauguration will mean? Yes we can!

The Amtrak crowd spilled into Union Station to find Enrique Iglesias rehearsing on a stage in the middle of the terminal (at least I think that's who it was). The train station will host the Latino Inaugural Ball Tuesday night, one of about a dozen official balls around town. From there it was out onto the broad boulevards so famously laid out by Pierre L'Enfant more than 200 years ago. Now they are lined with portapotties and police barricades. Heavily armed cops in SWAT gear roam the streets. Helicopters chatter overhead. Emergency vehicles race past, sirens wailing. And through it all, the people come, smiling, laughing, chatting with complete strangers, riding a buoyant wave of Obamamania.

The Mall was a crush of people, from memorial to shining memorial. Lincoln gazed down from his throne on a crowd right out of "Forrest Gump." The red light high atop Washington's monument blinked upon maybe 500,000 people below, some of whom camped out for hours for free seats at the "We Are One" concert. They lined the sides of the Reflecting Pool; they spilled out onto Constitution Avenue. They clapped their hands and sang "Shout!" with a surprisingly ebullient Garth Brooks. They belted out the "oh, oh, oh, oh!" coda to "Pride" with U2. They wept as they rang out "This Land Is Your Land" with Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger, strumming a banjo as if he were singing "Little Boxes" to me back in the 1960s. Towards the end of the show, the President-elect strode onto the stage and told the adoring crowd "Anything is possible." Right now, right here, it sure feels that way.

P.S. I went to the California Gala tonight and have scored VIP passes to the hot-hot-hot Huffington Post party tomorrow night at the Newseum. There's lots to say about all that but somehow it feels trivial at the moment. We'll get to that next time.


Anonymous said...

Hooray!! A new blog by Doug Sovern, and what a blog. He has captured the mood of the city. Standing in line for 5 1/2 hours at the Kennedy Center to see Arethra Franklin wasn't half bad - almost everyone was friendly, happy, and full of joy, except two women whom everyone agreed were awful. An usher spoke up, saying: "are you going to let them take away your joy?" Great comment. At two diverse religous services in town, all cheered at the prospect of Obama becoming president. It is a time we can be proud of.

Anonymous said...

No other place to say this, so I will here. Reverend Robinson's opening prayer was left out of the televised rebroadcast of the Sunday concert, and Rick Warren was given s spotlight position at the inauguration. What an insult to the GLBT community, and to those that love them. And to make matters worse, Warren, an open homophobic, quoted the Lord's Prayer. The inauguration is supposed to be for us all. I, as a Jew, felt left out and angry.

Doug Sovern said...

Jon, thanks for both your comments. I was taken aback a bit by Rick Warren as well. Some of it did not seem appropriate at all. Thank you for sharing.

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