I'm handing this one over to my wife, whose story represents the heartbreak and hope of many:
While I grew up in Washington, DC, my husband and I currently live in Los Angeles. We decided we had to come for the inauguration, and booked our flight. We lucked into tickets for the swearing-in at the last minute. We stand for two hours to pick up the tickets, my two and a half year old daughter and I, looking for things purple -- gloves, hats, scarves -- to keep her occupied. Fortunately, everyone is bubbling and excited, every obstacle a point of pride, so it is a well spirited and good humored line.
Tuesday morning, we arise with great anticipation. I head out to stake out our place in line, my husband and daughter will join later so as to minimize her time outside. Once I arrive at the gated area, it is a mess. The Yellow line is so long it eventually runs into the Purple line. I get directed to the line, past the gate, and around a corner. We inch along. I'm leaving messages on my husband's cell when I can stand to take my fingers out of my gloves for a few seconds. About 10:30/11am, I realize we're in trouble. The line is not moving nearly fast enough, and the text I get from my husband is talking about being next to port-a-potties. No one can see anything. There are no cops, no one directing or informing the crowd.
Eventually, I get close enough to the perimeter fence to realize that the potties are INSIDE the gates. I promptly and urgently wiggle my way forward until I get stuck in the middle of people with literally barely room to breathe and no way to move in any direction. People are shouting "Let us in" and waving tickets in the air, to no avail. Finally, about 11:30, we surge forward. I'm within five feet when the cops shut it literally in our faces. The crowd was frustrated, mad, disappointed, but shockingly, calm. No one even cussed out the cops.
Fingers clutching the gate, no jumbotron, no audio, no nothing, we all jumped when we heard the first canon go off. It was just the other side of the gate, and it was a big BOOM followed by smoke. When the second one went off, we realized that it was just the canons, marking the fact that we now had a new president. It was over. We had missed it. With thousands of others, who had traveled thousands of miles, we were all deeply disappointed.
My one consolation was that my little girl had gotten in.
As I watched the crowds stream out, tears streaming down my face, I tried to hold back the memory of twelve hours of travel, including two flights, an hours-long layover in Atlanta, a midnight arrival followed by one hour waiting for bags and the rental car, and a two hour drive before falling into bed, hours in line waiting to pick up tickets, walking back in the cold -- all with a two and a half year old in tow -- waking up early and standing for hours waiting to get in to a place where I knew I would still be unable to actually see anything, but just wanting to be there and have it happen live in front of me, and say I actually laid my eyes on it.
Instead, I clung to the fact that whether she remembered it or not, my daughter will always be able to say she had witnessed history. It would have to be enough.
Eventually, my husband and I connected via cell, and met up. Turns out our little girl had been screaming since the moment they got through the gate and crying for her mommy. They had come up the same way we had, but by then, the doors were open and the crowds moving, so when he hit the confusing mess, the apparently only cop around directed him to the gate, instead of the line, and he got through reasonably quickly in the general press of things. A baby on his back probably helped, too. In spite of her crying, she apparently perked up as soon as she heard Obama's speech, and started shouting excitedly that "Obama was talking!" After he was finished, she joyously chanted his name and waved her flag, charming those around her. She noted, as she loves to do, that in addition to being president, he is also "the daddy of the girls."
For eight minutes, she saw, and registered what she was seeing.
It will have to be enough.
Tired and cranky and cold, we hopped a pedi-cab back to our friends' house, where we watched the replay of the speech online and saw the reports circulating that there were thousands of purple and blue ticket holders who got similarly denied access. We were, I guess, part of a smaller select group who Almost Saw History.
Exhausted by the hours outside and the incredibly disappointment, we almost backed out of the ball. With our friends going, though, we all bucked up, put on our finery, and figured we'd go, cut out after an hour, and head to a bar. And yet somehow, walking the final blocks to the Convention Center, the four of us started laughing. We'd given up hope of the day being salvaged in any way, and like that, it changed. We changed.
My husband and I danced to the fun cover band, wandered through the huge ballroom at the Convention Center, noted the tacky merch that is endlessly for sale, and eventually landed near a stage on the opposite end of the room. Almost everyone we spoke to had been a purple or blue ticket holder, and denied access. It became a badge of pride. Eventually, a military band started filing on stage. Somehow that single fact, more than anything else in the news, or the slides projected on the screens throughout the night announcing "Barack Obama, 44th president of the United States" made it seem undeniably real. Then came the color guard.
And then, there they were. Barack and Michelle. Not thirty feet from us. He spoke, he smiled, they danced, she grinned, they leaned on each other, seeming to share a secret the way newlyweds do.
And there it was. Like a wedding, where at some point in the course of the evening you realize that in spite of knowing what's coming, something changes. It doesn't happen at the same moment for everyone -- some feel it in the ceremony, some not until the first dance, some not until you hear "my husband" or "my wife" for the fifth time and it stops sounding strange -- but at some point you realize that they are married, and everything is different than before. So too, when the Obamas left the stage, it finally sunk in for me that things were somehow, tangibly and intangibly, different than before. We, as a country, did this. We elected someone smart, and rational, and good. And now, as of today, he is our President.
It was a mixed bag, in the end. Am I glad we went -- yes. Would I ever go to another -- no. Just as I can never get back the morning of that day, so no one can ever take away that evening.