As a lifelong history buff, I felt I had to be there.
I'm talking, of course, about Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. Having been a campaign volunteer, an experience that had taken me from New Jersey to New Hampshire to Pennsylvania, I wanted to be in D.C. to soak up the big moment. However, despite having wrangled a pair of standing-room tickets to the inaugural ceremonies from my congressman's office, I nearly missed getting on the National Mall grounds for the historic event.
My friend, Mario Constantino, and I got a 3:50 a.m. wake-up call at our Annapolis, Maryland, hotel; it turned out we should have arisen much earlier! Our plan was to take the Metro from New Carrollton into downtown Washington. It was a quick 20-minute drive to the New Carrollton exit, but then it took us nearly two hours to reach the parking deck less than a mile away. It took another hour and a half standing in sub-freezing temperatures to reach the Metro platform, as the line snaked through the station, up the stairs outside to a parking lot, 200 yards down the lot, then back the same way, and finally up to the platform. The normally 20-minute train ride stretched to more than an hour, and by the time we arrived in D.C., it was nearly 10 o'clock.
We followed the hordes, everybody seemingly sporting an Obama button, hat or scarf. Controlled chaos reigned; everyone was in festive spirits as we threaded our way toward the Mall. We managed to get within a hundred yards of the "Silver Gate," where those with silver-colored tickets were supposed to enter the Mall. But by 11:15, it seemed that we would be able to get no closer. The crowd started waving their tickets and chanting, "Let us in! Let us in!" Finally, around 11:30, the throng suddenly surged forward, and everyone clambered over downed concrete barriers and wire fencing onto the Mall in the section behind the Reflecting Pool.
While we couldn't see the stage where Obama would be sworn in and give his Inaugural Address, and weren't near one of the 20-some Jumbotron screens, we were smack-dab in the middle of a crowd estimated by some as large as 2 million. The sun was streaming off the Capitol building, several hundred yards in the distance. Three men next to us took turns hoisting one another up on shoulders to snap photos. The sound system was crystal clear. Rick Warren gave a heartfelt invocation. Aretha Franklin belted out "My Country 'Tis of Thee." A mention of outgoing President Bush's name drew a round of boos (which I personally found disrespectful). Supreme Court Justice John G. Roberts Jr. messed up part of the oath. Obama then delivered a simple, serious and at times elegant speech, drawing cheers from time to time from the sea of humanity lining the two-mile stretch from the stage to the Washington Monument. Afterward, a stirring selection of patriotic songs blared over the loudspeakers as the swarm slowly dispersed.
By the way, if you happen to visit Annapolis, a great place to smoke Cigar Aficionado's No. 1 Cigar of the Year—the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto—or any other smoke is the Annapolis Cigar Company on Main Street. Rome Zaffaroni's well-stocked walk-in humidor provides a terrific selection, and the lounge in the back of the shop offers several cozy leather couches and a big-screen TV.