When my nephew called a week before the inauguration offering tickets to Daniel and me, I was idealistic enough to go. But not impractical enough to have illusions.
I focused on what mattered: tickets to the event and tickets for us to get there and back.
The rest---the balls, the parties, the concerts--were not an option. Not at the last minute. So I didn't even bother to try. I let go, and went with the flow.
I had no agenda other than seeing Barack Obama take the oath of office. And even that turned out to be more complicated than just having a ticket.
Many people received these coveted tickets from their congressional offices. But some of them never got to use those tickets-- and were shut out of attending the inauguration. You can read and see the video about what happened; 2000 people have already joined a Facebook group telling their stories.
Almost two hundred thousand people held tickets to stand on the Capitol lawn in various places. All those people had to pass through security screening. You had to pass through the gate that matched the color on your ticket. The gates would open at 8 a.m. The problem was that with all those people, just a few gates, and the limited time frame, the numbers didn't add up.
My two nephews had purple tickets; Daniel and I had blue. Arriving at the area for the blue gate, it took a half hour just to find the end of the line. For the entire 5 hours we were on line with thousands of people, we never saw one policeman, soldier or volunteer. There was no rope. There were no signs telling us where to go or how to line up. Not even traffic cones.
It should have spelled immediate chaos, but despite the lack of order, people tried. A mile from us, the purple group waited around in a tunnel. The blue group dutifully lined up outside the blue gate starting in the middle of the night. Even people in wheelchairs waited, mixed into the crowd with everyone else. Meanwhile the "blue" line snaked around city blocks and official buldings in absolutely no order whatsoever, and it didn't seem possible that this entire group of thousands could make it through security in a couple hours.
The line got so convoluted that new people arriving were physically closer to the gate than we were, and all of us were several blocks away. Nothing was moving---other than the clock. Could ticket-holders be shut out of the ceremony? Did the inauguration planners oversell the tickets like the airlines do? Anything was possible.
Going with the flow meant going nowhere. So when the line started to move and break up, we grabbed our oppportunity to pull a Palin: we went rogue. The five of us linked arms and marched in the direction of the gate. The scene was chaos; at one point the blue group crossed over and merged with the "silver" group, with no way to separate them or tell them apart.
Ultimately any semblance of "lines" disappeared and we were part of a mass of humanity. There were a couple more hours spent waiting here too. People were calm and happy, even singing songs from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to "The Star Spangled Banner." And at least we were within sight of the promised land-- the blue gate.
Ultimately we got through security, just in time to get inside to witness the inauguration.
Unlike Daniel, I was too short to see much, other than the heads and shoulders of people around us.
But I could hear everything, and I could see the Capitol and the Jumbotron. And I could say I was there.
Unlike thousands of other people who also had tickets---blue and purple. Who all made the same efforts to get here and had the same hopes of seeing Obama take the oath of office.
Later we learned my nephews managed to finesse their way inside. Those people who held tickets and did NOT get in were victims of bad planning. And bad luck. I met a few of them afterwards, and I've read their stories of disappointment and frustration. And I feel their pain.
In another sense, the whole experience was so surreal, that in some ways, they pretty much ended up with what we all did: a story to tell. The most memorable part of my story, I'll tell tomorrow.