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January 20, 2009

It’s not quite 3:30pm and we’ve just made it back to our sanctuary – room 1104 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda. The room service order has been placed, swollen feet in the upright and locked position, and wind-burned cheeks feeling the velvet touch of warmth blown from our heater vents. While we wait for food, I’ll tell you a bit about the most exciting day of our lives:

We were dressed and on the Metro by ten minutes to 8:00 am. The Bethesda Metro Station is directly below the hotel. The crowds were moderate and we boarded the train with no problem. With each stop toward the City center, more and more of the faithful pushed cheerfully to climb aboard. By the time we got to our stop – Judiciary Square – the trains were packed so tightly that we swayed as one large body with each press of the brake or throttle.

Then out the doors we all went and up to the street. Our eyes met a spectacular sight – thousands of people were several planned hours ahead of us on the path. We quickly realized that we would have to form lines to travel through the mobs. The many, kindly volunteers were under-informed, to put it nicely. We were instructed in several opposite directions before we had any idea where we were supposed to be with our Silver Tickets. Finally, one smart cop directed the crowd down the 3rd Street tunnel, literally under the National Mall. We popped up again on the other side and began our search for the end of the line of Silver ticket holders. This line was more than six blocks long winding from 3rd street to 6th street, zig zagging back and forth. After passing about 50,000 people, we found the end of the line where we could que.

And there we stood, moving only a few feet per hour. Phaedra bailed on me to go find some “hot hands, the chemical heat packs you can stuff in your pockets, gloves, etc. Suddenly, and quite predictably, the line started moving fast before she returned. I called to her and she found me and then we were all jogging in line.

Then, disaster! As we crossed a crowded pedestrian intersection, our Silver ticket line evaporated into a nondescript mob of confusion. Suddenly, no one knew anything. The volunteers, cops, Army MPs. Nobody. We wound our way back to 3rd and Independence. It was now a quarter to 11am. It was suddenly clear that we would not make it to our ticketed section in time. Or would we?

We hung in and pressed through the mobs as best we could. I was the running back and Phaedra the svelte quarterback tucked in behind me. We moved well this way for a while until she tried to come around and lead me and she got through while an MP grabbed me – you can’t come thru this way, Sir. Sir? You’re talking to me out of the Two Million people here? Darn it all. Back to the gates and our original formation.

We were making friends with everyone in the area around us. Some seemed to have information about what was going on. Then, a young lady told us that the reason our mob wasn’t moving forward anymore was because the barricade had been knocked down by the crowd and the police were punishing us by denying further passage. At this point we are standing at the intersection of 3rd and Jefferson – almost directly in front of the Capitol building, West Lawn. But we were no longer moving.

If I had a nickel for everytime Phaedra said, “this may be as close as we get….

We decided to regroup and headed south to some tent stations. This turned out to be the security check point. We passed thru easily. No one ever asked for our tickets. No one seemed to care. In more ways than one we were all equal in our zest for life under a new leader. A few minutes later and we were up against the frozen reflecting pool directly in front of the Grandstand – if by directly you mean a few thousand feet. But we were thrilled to be there.

And we were in place in time to hear Aretha Franklin sing, too. Beautiful. The swearing in for Joe Biden and Barack Obama were surreal. I didn’t fully appreciate it the magnitude as we stood there, craning to see over the tops of heads bowed in prayer as the Lord’s Prayer was spoken in respectful cadence.

Sitting here now, writing this, reflecting on it all as we enjoy the televised parade program, I am overcome. The tears I’ve been holding back all these month, not wanting to jinx it during the campaign season, and not wanting to breathe too loudly since the election lest some incarnation of the Man tell me it was all a dream – no, these tears come now and there’s no stopping it. True tears of joy, hope, and promise.

It may sound silly to say that you love a man, especially a man you have never met. But I love Barack Obama in a way that I’ve never loved another human person. I will pray for him every day. I will follow him where he leads this nation. And I will do it for the betterment of my own children, my wife, my hometown, and my fellow man.

Afterwards, Phaedra and the crowd braved some shoe skating across the reflecting pool. Check out the pictures. Overhead and low in the sky came Bush's helicopter LEAVING the building. The crowd cheered and sang the Goodbye Song (Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Hey, Hey, Hey....).

We walked back toward the Washington Monument and encountered the MSNBC remote. Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and others were broadcasting live. Very exciting. There was a big banner being made with names of the visitors to remember the wonderful Tim Russert, who passed before the election. It said, "What a Country," Russert's famous coda when observing those many magically American moments in politics. We signed our names with hundreds of other well wishers.

Trying to cross Pennsylvania Avenue, an impossibility, we were plucked from obscurity and briefly interviewed on camera for a French Television News program. I didn't say anything dumb, thank goodness. I told them today was like a Greeting Card to the World announcing, "We're Back."

Arturo & Phaedra


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