I approached the door at 10:35 and asked a staffer who was going back inside after her cigarette break if they were open. "Nah, but we're letting people in anyway. Just drinks, though, until 11:00." Inside, the place was sparsely populated with about 10 people, situated at tables and angled to best take advantage of one of the seven large, flat-screen tvs that circled the room. I pulled out a stool at the bar that was, so far, vacant. I exchanged some frets about not having enough quarters for the meter with the black man who entered behind me. We each got change, fed our respective meters, and then bellied up to the bar side by side. More people came through the door, filling up four-tops and bar stools. The man beside me said, "I hope you don't mind if I sit here next to you." I responded, "I'm glad you did. That's why I'm here. I didn't want to witness this alone." He introduced himself as Earl and apologized in advance for getting emotional. "If I start crying, don't think I'm a wimp. Don't be surprised if a few tears start falling down my face." I nodded and said I was feeling pretty choked up myself.
By the time the first and second families began to make their way through the adoring throngs to the podium where they would be sworn in, there were about three dozen people settling in, ordering drinks, and getting ready to toast the new administration. When Obama pledged to uphold the constitution, the bar was packed as a Friday happy hour . . . and dead silent.
The mostly white, mostly Gen x and Baby Boomer crowd remained quiet, rapt with attention and awe while Obama gave his inaugural address, applauding when our new president said things like, "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." The camera was turned on Bush at that moment, and I think I saw him slink down in his chair.
I don't think I heard ever word of the speech. My head was filled with the awesomeness of the ocassion and my heart was brimming with pride and joy and love and hope. Then came is closing words:
"So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."The bar erupted in whoops and applause. Everyone raised their drinks and clinked their neighbors or held them up in a cheers gesture to folks not within their reach. Smiles and tears flowed in abundance. Then the normal hubbub of bar chatter took over as everyone turned away from the tv screens and engaged with their companions. A table of about 8-10 boomers with greying hair donned floppy red, white and blue Uncle Sam hats. Blue metallic pointed party hats appeared on other revelers, and I'm pretty sure I heard a noise-maker or two honk above the din.
A couple had taken seats at the bar to Earl's left. He introduced himself and found out that they had take the day off to celebrate the event. I asked the bartender, John, whether they were prepared for this many customers, if they were usually this busy on a Tuesday. He said, no, not on Tuesday. They had opened early on purpose but didn't really have enough staff. He said there were people waiting inside the empty bar when he arrived to get the bar set, the manager having let them in when she arrived much earlier. "Do you think most people are here to watch the inauguration?" I asked. "All of them," John said emphatically.
Some time later, when the Bush's stood waving on the stairs of the whirlybird that would whisk them from the White House lawn, the bar crowd huzzahed and hollered "good riddence" and let their own big middle finger birdies fly! John flashed a crooked grin and said, "I think that got a bigger reaction than Obama's speech!"