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Day One: Inaugural scene like a big family reunion, minus the political arguments


Editor’s note: On a whim — and “a fit of post-election euphoria” — Patricia Berg and her husband, Tom Hultberg, decided the day after the election to join the Inaugural revelry, despite knowing no one in the Washington area and disliking large crowds. Berg, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, will be filing daily “postcards” through Wednesday recounting some of their experiences there.

Patricia Berg and Tom Hultberg
Patricia Berg and Tom Hultberg

WASHINGTON — Well, here we are. Tom is glad to have his bright orange watch cap, but we don’t need the parkas. We joined the throngs on 17th Street headed for Sunday’s free concert (Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, at the Lincoln Memorial.

We never got close, but we knew that the True Believers had been lining up since before dawn, so who’s kidding whom here? They stopped letting people into the concert area a few minutes after it got under way, and then they closed down the Foggy Bottom Metro stop.

And anyway, it didn’t matter. Five minutes in the crowd and we caught the spirit. This is like a huge family reunion, except everyone agrees on politics. Think of the Midway during the State Fair, except everyone’s in a good mood.

I overheard one woman talking about getting within handshake distance of the president-elect, but also heard of others waiting in line for two hours to buy a hot dog. 

Seventeenth Street was a car-free zone from the Lincoln Memorial all the way up to K Street, to make way for the river of people. And that’s what it was, a solid wave of people for as far as you could see. The sidewalks are pretty much taken over by vendors. We didn’t buy anything there, but back at Union Station, we spent some time in the My Obama store, given over floor to ceiling to the Obama brand. My favorite shirt said, “And he shall be called Barack Obama,” in biblical script. I’m seriously thinking of stopping back to pick up Obama and Biden masks. 

I’m feeling a little grungy in my sturdy Keen walking shoes and waterproof hoodie. Tom tells me to stop staring at the beautiful women in their stilettos. There was this elegant woman, in a floor-length mink coat and matching hat, who opened her mink to show me a rhinestone-and-gold “Obama” brooch. “This one here, this is the one I’m most proud of,” she told me.

Emerging in Union Station, we saw a man wearing a wonderfully huge paper Uncle Sam hat and holding a sign that said, “Now we are free.” He was just standing there, all alone, and his silent proclamation nearly brought me to tears.

A week ago, I got a fortune cookie telling me, “You will soon have a pleasant adventure.” So far, it’s true.

Patricia Berg is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

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