(ATLANTA/D.C. :: 9 February 2009) While pressed against my fellow Americans waiting for entry to the gates into inauguration, I kept thinking of the Dickens classic quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...” That thread from “A Tale of Two Cities” felt pretty spot-on during the few days Brandon and I were there for the Presidential changeover. It was the “best of times” the night before the actual event, where we sat in DuPont Circle witnessing Kate Clinton conduct a “saging” of the White House - where she hired a shaman to do her ritual to cleanse the nation’s First Building from the muck that was in there for the past eight years. The place was overrun with metaphysical hippies burning bunches of sage, with the pungent waft of sooty smoke filling the air. It was the best of times when we celebrated with Ted and Rolando later that evening, with lots of faces, new and old, came together to cook, eat, drink and socialize and celebrate the occasion. The mink coat got passed around one too many times I think, but hey - it’s not a party without mink passing. The actual day of inauguration got off to a great start, where we woke up early and started our trek down to the Mall. I snapped “Tuesday Best,” my favorite picture of the entire few days while I was walking behind a girl in a pink outfit, dressed to the nines and ready to see the event, holding her parents’ hands and looking back at us with ultimate curiosity. She was pretty in pink to say the least.
But that nice moment led us to the security gates outside the mall, and it became apparent quickly that we were going to get stopped in our tracks. We ended up in the midst of a security checkpoint hell that had been so badly choked with thousands of people that the conditions were inhuman. We got so squeezed next to fellow inauguration-goers that there was literally no space between us. “Any more people in here, we’ll need a lubricant,” as Rob Reiner said in Postcards from the Edge. Conditions at this check point were outrageous (one woman fainted and was taken away in a folding table masquerading as a stretcher) and the security detail behaved like they had never put the event on before.
As my Tweet from the scene explained: “inhuman, insane conditions at inauguration admittance. people mashing, fainting... gates look like Nazi Germany.” I don’t even remember how I got my arms free enough to make that Tweet in the first place.
Ted, Brandon and I got through security in about five hours - traveling literally about a half-block - only to get trapped in parade hell... not allowed to leave the perimeter of Pennsylvania Ave. As we initially crossed over, though, I shot a picture of the Capitol building through a coterie of fuzz, all of whom were looking extremely important but not doing much. All tolled, security for the parade was extreme overkill, with officers standing around trading recipes as the choked-off checkpoints reeled in desperate need of additional manpower.
Once we got through that frustrating few hours, the day made a turn for the better. The evening of inauguration we attended “Out for Equality,” the HRC event in D.C. that featured Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Rainwright, Cyndi Lauper and many more. Brandon and I parked ourselves up in the balcony, even elbowing a few huffy lesbians, in order to get some choice shots and video (to follow shortly) of the great event. Cyndi Lauper, although fighting with audio issues most of her set, was exceptional and showed the most personality. The bejeweled Rufus was good, as was Melissa - although I’m still grumbling that she didn’t perform “I Need To Wake Up,” the theme from “An Inconvenient Truth.” She missed an opportunity to frame the event with that important message, and also apparently missed the make-up desk, oy... looking uber au natural.
Bottom line? The few days in D.C. were an imperfect experience for an imperfect nation. And I’d certainly tolerate a bit of “the worst of times” in order to be part of the beginning of the best. Which is really what inauguration was about, anyway - ushering out shitty years in favor of a new hope, a new beginning and a fresh perspective. That feeling was palpable in the air, and amongst the people squeezed in next to me.