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. Here’s Monday’s postcard.
WASHINGTON — We picked up our tickets first thing Monday morning, along with 249,999 others. They’re embossed and everything.
Good thing we got in line early. By mid-afternoon, the crowds were pressing into every entrance to the Longworth, Rayburn and Hart office buildings. Lines spilled out into the streets, and Capitol Police kept wading into the crowd, shouting, “We have sidewalks, folks! Please stay on the sidewalks!”
Our assigned section for today is the “Mall Standing Area,” which means we’ll be squishing our way toward the reflecting pool for the best view of the Capitol steps and the Jumbotrons. On Monday, we saw news clips of workers setting up thousands of chairs and got all excited that maybe they were for us. But deep down, we knew this was going to be a stand-up affair.
So here’s the drill for today. We planned to drag ourselves out of bed at 2:30 a.m. to make it to the Metro stop by 4. Once we get to the city, we’ll inch our way to the mall and stake our claim to a square of frozen grass. Then we’ll settle in for a teeth-chattering wait for the Big Moment.
I’m not crazy about the early hour, but you won’t hear me whining. I do intend to brag about it for years, however. I envision our great-grandchildren bringing our scrapbook to Show and Tell. “My great-grandparents were there! My Great-grandma Pat spent seven hours standing in the cold without caffeine so she could see President Obama!”
You can’t help but be struck by the collective joy in this crowd. People seek out eye contact. Strangers spontaneously touch you. Everywhere you look, people are reveling in the happy human contact that this moment allows. On the train Monday morning, we talked to two fellows from Tennessee. One was a seasoned politico whose family knew Al Gore. His friend, however, had never been out of Tennessee. We got to be with him as he took his first escalator ride.
When we looked out on the National Mall Monday, here’s what we saw: miles of green plastic fencing, several hundred portable toilets, and trucks, trucks, trucks everywhere. We were glad to see the 40-foot light poles, given that we plan to begin our huddle before the sun comes up.
Most of the potties are still locked up. And it was here, in the lines for the privies, that nerves got a little ragged. A young man tried to crash a line, but the others weren’t having it. “There’s a line, you know,” said one woman. To which he said, “Then I’m finding a tree.”
Patricia Berg is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.