Ahh, Starbucks. Where would I have been without you? Actually, that's an easy answer ... I'd have been wandering the streets of DC, cold and irritated. Like thousands of people actually were on the evening of inauguration day.
It was a cold bright day in January, and the clocks were striking three. In among the coffee and tea I sat at a bar along the front window, the long bathroom line running behind me. Outside the window, the long entry line moved slowly by and proved little distraction as I typed away at the computer. The Starbucks wireless was the only way I was able to send twitter updates, as AT&T cell service was wiped out in the beltway thanks to all the people sending pics from the ceremony. Everyone was in a sharing mood, if not a good mood. Tales of disappointment and frustration were many and sad. Like I pointed out in part one, hundreds, if not thousands, of people discovered their attendance at the ceremony excluded their being able to see or hear it happen. Now we were all penned in together with nowhere to go but a 15-minute line for the bathroom at Starbucks. No cabs in or out, and the all bridges closed.
Up the street from Starbucks, the L'Enfant metro station was on the verge of a riot. The station was packed to the gills, and each train to pull in was already full. People were lined up down the street to get in to the station, and those in couldn't get out. Trapped, pressed together, disappointed and overwhelmed, the frustration was at a peak. This scene played out across the city.
As the hours wore on, and the parade continued, three of us set out from our coffee haven to see if there was yet a way to leave. As we walked the Mall in the night and artificial light, we found few people among the countless piles of trash. The throngs were clustered at the gates which kept us in, waiting to finally be set free into the land of hotel rooms and taxi cabs. Some groups pressed around the entrances of the temporarily shut down metro system, waiting for them to open once more. We three just kept wandering, hoping to find an exit.
At one point, we happened across a clot of the Mall-weary traveling in a pack; they were testing the fence periodically and moving from checkpoint to checkpoint trying to depart. I don't know if the herd formed on purpose or coalesced on its own ... we three merged for a bit but their quixotic quest seemed doomed by their own mass, so we splintered off and continued walking our own path.
Eventually we were climbing the slope around the Washington Monument, amid the debris of a discarded afternoon. The stark and heavily littered landscape evoked the aftermath of some huge disaster. Judging by the people I'd been speaking with, that's exactly what it was, too. A disaster. The slope was bleakly unrecovered and eerie, awash as it was in the sickly glow of the rare jumbotron and echoing with the tinny sound of marching bands coming through the loudspeakers. Obama and Biden's smiling faces on the giant screens played to an audience of grass, trash, and the periodic trudging of shell-shocked refugees. He had squeezed the Mall empty, and filled it with himself.
I'll remember that image for a long time. As a metaphor for what is to come you could hardly ask for more. A bleak landscape controlled by excessive government forces with massive over-sized images of Obama smiling down upon it.
Eventually we had to give up and return to the coffee shop. Once there we found the threat of closing time loomed, so we tried once more for the metro. At long last transportation to and from the city had resumed and people were leaving. As I sat half-asleep on the train back out of the city, pondering the fate of our erstwhile Mall rat pack, my fellow refugees engaged in sporadic small talk. They compared souvenirs, described what they weren't able to see. There was some little conversation about the new era of change, hope. Gone, though, was the elation of my morning ride. There were no spontaneous songs, no excited talk about how wonderful it was to have tickets (he had TICKETS!! YEARGH!!!!!).
It was over. But for the partying somebodies still in DC, the most historic moment you ever waited long, cold hours not to see had ended. The past was dead, the future unimaginable. All around, I could feel the collective blank stare asking "what now?"
I expect that the "what now" is the reason Obama has established his permanent campaign. If he can keep alive the sense of participation that people had during the election, then he can continue to do as he pleases. After all, a person is never so quick to defend a bad decision as when it is their own. Putting all those volunteers permanently to work for him makes them owners of his decisions. They will, like they did throughout the campaign, defend his every move and motive as their own, in defense of their participation.
On Tuesday, Washington was the burial ground for a thousand hopes of witnessing history; already marked beside them are graves for the dreams of small, responsible government and a prosperous future. There lie they, and here lie we, under the spreading Barackracy. With his willing press and his permanent campaign, Obama will continue to control the zeitgeist and play the part of savior. And while his leftist ideals wreak havoc on our nation, his committed base of followers will defend him. Over the bleak landscape, his voice will echo while, below, the people gaze up at his enormous face on the screen.
The author would like to thank Eric Blair for his invaluable assistance with this story.
This week, I packed up a few changes of clothes, crammed myself into the miniature replica of a real car that I rented so I could save on gas, and drove up to northern Virginia, there to spend a few days covering the inauguration of Barack Obama. I'll be posting my experiences in series titled "Hope, Change! An Inauguration Tale".