Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter

So, my motto lately has been, "Sometimes I just don't understand my life." I mean it in a good way--in the best way. I don't understand how I got to be in Washington for this moment in history, but it is (so far) full of surprises and sightings and moments where I just have to laugh at being in the right place at the right time, and that is exactly what I wanted--exactly what I needed?--from this move. I don't even know this city yet, but I am completely excited to be here.

Today was, simultaneously, utterly chaotic and remarkably smooth. My friend Grace and her friend Guy have been crashing in my living room this weekend, and we were up and stepping all over each other for the bathroom before the dawnzerly light (Ramona Quimby? Anybody?) even showed its face. We left the house at 7:00 and hopped on the bus (this after extensive Plan-B/Plan-C/Plan-D-ing, in case my peaceful corner bus stop suddenly turned crazy) and zipped down to Foggy Bottom, where Guy headed for the Metro--he had a standing ticket to the ceremony--and Grace and I followed the throngs towards the Mall. (Incidentally, I kept thinking of that scene in Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray asks some nameless redheaded woman where everybody's going, and she says, like he's a total moron, "To Gobbler's Knob!") There was plenty of space, and we grabbed seated spots on a piece of the WWII Memorial, and waited.

Just so you know: If it is 25 degrees outside and you think that your body heat will eventually warm up a granite wall--after all, it's only your butt-print that needs warming--YOU ARE WRONG. We sat on the wall for nearly five hours, unwilling to give up our spot, and I am not sure I have ever been so cold in my life, hand-warmer packets (in mittens and shoes) or no. Foot pain gave way to numbness, which gave way to the pain again, and I half-expected my toes to have snapped off by the time I took off my socks. But: sitting up high was cool, and ideal for photographing the ridiculous hugeness of the crowd, and we could see the Jumbotron just fine. It was worth every second, even though I was sure my underwear was freezing solid.

It was just as well that we'd missed the We Are One concert on Sunday (though it was a source of some distress at the time); they televised it on the Jumbotrons all morning to keep the earlybirds entertained. And then the San Francisco Boys' and Girls' Choruses sang, and Aretha performed looking fierce in that hat with the bow as big as her face, and Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman and some other people I didn't know performed the special John Williams piece (called, in my head, "What Spring Sounds Like, or People's Hearts Are Beginning to Thaw"), and it was so fabulous that I was totally okay with my blood freezing in my veins. And I continue to want to be BFFs with Michelle, Malia, and Sasha (Michelle = hardcore for her lack of bundling; Malia = Princess Composure; Sasha = hilarious and adorable just for showing up). And then our new President took his oath of office, and I cried a little, and he gave a really wonderful speech. Did you hear the fire in him? It was all on huge screens, of course, but there was this spot towards the middle, right around "all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness," where I thought, "preach it, brother."

After, Grace and I had planned to meet up with Guy and his friends, but meeting up with anybody was clearly out of the question--we couldn't walk (five hours straddling the wall, remember), and neither of us could stop shivering (scary!), and the tide of the crowd just bore us along. (What is it Barbara Kingsolver says about the stream of ants in The Poisonwood Bible? Stick out your elbows and raise up your feet? Not a bad philosophy in this situation; you could probably get halfway to Maryland that way.) We went back the way we'd come, stopping in at the Ritz-Carlton to thaw out and use the bathroom and check our phones, and ended up walking all the way home because we couldn't get a cab or a bus. So maybe there was a bit of a Bataan Death March vibe to the end of the day, but it was worth it. I'm so glad I went. I am so, so proud of President Barack Obama, and so, so thrilled for our nation, and now I can't wait to see what he actually does.

Welcome, Mr. President.


Xerxes said...


This was a day to remember, now down to business!

Hope you thawed out, I am impressed that a California girl was willing to sit out in the cold all day.

James said...

Turn on the dawnzer, it gives a lee light.

So now we share the experience that the coldest moments of our lives involved Washington D.C.

Liz said...


I know! I just had the best time reading the New York Times article about his first day. He's a busy guy, doing good and reasonable things already.

Ugh, I'm not sure how this happened, but I got home from the inauguration feeling fine, and then promptly got sick and stayed that way. I'm calling it Obama Fever, except that it's really just Regular Fever. But I'm proud of myself for sticking it out, too. And it means so much coming from a Chicagoan!

Liz said...


Hey, you're totally right! You were not lying when you said that wind chill is HORRENDOUS. Blerg.

Miss you!

bilunabirotunda said...

Hey! James stole my line! No fair! (Still, hi to another Ramona fan!)

I'm so happy for you that you got to be there, even if your weak CA bones weren't entirely up to it. I'm finally feeling this inner horror I've had for so long starting to thaw.

Liz said...

Mrs. Fitz,

I totally know about the inner horror. Good things are happening in government, which seems so, I don't know, impossible? But it's such a relief (and so much more entertaining!).

Anonymous said...

Liz, it is so great to read your enthusiasm! You got me forever hooked at Ramona Q! It's even more fun to read your old books to your eight year old...Natalie loves Ramona right now, I thinks she almost through all of them already.