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We were there when”

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Barack Obama takes the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts to become the 44th president of the United States at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Photo: Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press
Timothy Giles

5:30 a.m. – Is that my alarm? It still feels like 2:30 in the morning to me. I’m excited, groggy, but excited to head downtown. Some people woke up hours earlier or even stayed up all night so they could get in line as soon as possible. We’re lucky enough to have seating tickets, but who knows if there have been more tickets handed out than seats. We may not even get in. Only way to see is to go down there and join the fun.

Riding the Metro down from Friendship Heights (just on the D.C.-Maryland border), cars begin to fill up pretty quickly. When we arrive at our designated stop, a sea of people are exiting and boarding the escalator to leave the station. Moving along in an orderly fashion, they take pictures of the crowds beneath them as they ascend the escalator.

8:03 am - We’re in our designated security line right about when we had hoped. Finding our way is easy - just follow all the people moving in masse.

“That’s Larry David,” my wife says as I’m fumbling through my bag for who knows what. Indeed, the Seinfeld creator is approaching. “Larry David!” I blurt out as he extends his hand and we shake. “Is this orange?” he asks, wondering if he’s got the right line. Just like that he takes his places behind us at the end of the line.

Inauguration 2009

Inaugural celebrity sightings
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers running back
Jamie Foxx, actor
Forest Whitaker, actor
Emmitt Smith, former Dallas Cowboys running back
Larry David, Seinfeld creator
Tim Robbins, actor
Susan Sarandon, actress
Spike Lee, director
Robin Roberts, Good Morning America

While in line we strike up a conversation with the couple in front of us, Bill and Carol. Bill shares wonderful stories about his early days in Washington D.C. during the ‘60s, spinning tales about past presidents and other inauguration tidbits. Turns out Bill is the mayor of Tacoma, Washington, and he and his wife are in town for the National Mayor’s Convention. “A lot of the democratic mayors decided to stick around,” he adds smiling.

The wait to get to the security check is at least and hour and a half long, but everything goes seamlessly once we are there. In and out in a couple of minutes and it’s on to find our seats.

The seating area is broken up into various sections wrapping around the Capitol front. We are in section 16, just to the northwest of the swearing-in platform. We’ve decided to use tickets from a family member who works for the government printing office that prints a number of the inaugural programs instead of our media designated press credentials. Looks like a good decision. The “media” credentials are actually just tickets to the swearing-in, no different than what the general public receives. I read later of people who claimed to wait two and a half hours or more, trying to get into the West Standing Area where our original tickets would have taken us.

We have no trouble finding seats near the edge of an aisle about 50 rows back from the front of our section.

9:30 a.m. – Now we wait. I take my first look back from our seats at the crowd extending over the Mall. There are people everywhere – from just below the Capitol podium all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial. Cameras flash as people take pictures everywhere.

9:44 a.m. – There’s Oprah! On the JumboTron, that is. The queen of daytime television is amongst the crowd (in the front of course), shaking hands and enjoying herself. Along with Larry David, former Cowboys star Emmitt Smith is in line with us at security. Charger running back LaDainian Tomlinson is in our section. Another friend waits in line with Mariah Carey. People who are otherwise huge VIPs are just ordinary tax paying citizens on Inauguration Day. Those we saw all seemed content to wait in line like the rest of us. It speaks to the magnitude and precedence of this event. Or just the need for a better publicist.

Leach Blog Photo

Barack Obama arrives for his inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

9:59 – the San Francisco Boys Choir kicks off the official program with “America the Beautiful.” It’ll be another hour before a shot of the motorcade carrying President Bush and then-President-elect Obama from the White House to the Capitol appears on the JumboTrons.

Bush is introduced and moments later chants of “O-ba-ma!” begin reverberating from the Lincoln Memorial to make their way up to the Capitol. The anticipation is such that despite the millions of people in attendance, a hush falls over the crowd. Soon the 44th President of the United States will be introduced. And the rest, as they say, is history.

12:31 – The presidential party leaves the capitol platform to head to the other side of the capitol. Afterwards people linger around. Some that were further back make their way to the front, dismantling the mesh fencing set around the seating area to get closer to history. Some make their way to the very edge of the platform to take pictures near the presidential seal, some 20 to 30 feet below where the new president took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address to the crowd, the nation and the world. Later there will the parade, the galas, the balls and parties. But this is what we all came for. To say we were there when.

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