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So, one hundred and one days ago I decided to make the trek down to Washington, DC. Not merely as a supporter but as an artist, reporting on the event. The idea struck me just before the election. This was going to be pretty historic no matter what happened, the day it all started would be a moment to capture. Immediately following Barack Obama’s win, the trains from New York to DC were booked. Hotels were kind of out of price range so I started surveying other options. I didn’t want to drive. It is only five hours away but I was planning on crashing in the corner of some bar or train station and catching a nap here and there. I figured the festivities would be going on all over for the weekend and I would cover what I randomly found and sleep when I could. I didn’t want to drive back after that abuse on my system. I tried pulling some favors, but this event was beyond epic. Everywhere I went someone was talking about going down. I was figuring that half the country would be there by my estimation. This sweet older woman on line at the post office talked about it. She was expecting a ticket in fact, since she worked the voting booth at the local town hall. How many others like her were expecting the same I can only fathom a guess.
As the day approached it happened to be working out that my best friend Andy would be heading back out to California that weekend. I conned him into making a detour and coming down with me. We could drive out after the events and he could drop me off at a less populated train station heading to New York. He hesitated, but was ready for the adventure. Of course a week or so before, he hits a deer and his car is in the shop. Our adventure was off. So too, it seemed, was my reportage. The weekend approached and I was kind of down, now having no back up plan at all. I went to the eye doctor and one of the doctors talked about just driving down really early that morning until he hit the no car zone and walking the rest of the way. I started to think I would do the same. The event was worth it. I imagined myself in midst of it all like Topolski, drawing the details as fast as I could. I cut the trip down a bit. I searched out all the DC area mass transit, called my cousin who lived two blocks away from a DC light rail station line in Baltimore, and plotted a perfect plan. Seconds before heading out the door I happened upon the webpage that almost made me stop. The light rail was advance tickets only for Inauguration Day. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, where I was going, or how I was getting into, or out of DC, but I hopped in the car and drove to Baltimore.
My cousin advised I wake up early, really early, the next morning to catch the Metro. It was actually about four hours of sleep in total. At about 5Am I grabbed my bag and drove to the nearest Metro stop. The radio reported several parking lots being closed within moments of my hitting the road. They mentioned one still open in the direction I was going, but I could only assume that it would be packed by the time I got there. It was my only hope though. Or so I thought. I got off the exit, traveled down the road until I saw any sign leading me to the Metro station. I stumbled upon the station, made an illegal u-turn in front of a cop, and waited online to get into the parking lot. I thought for sure I would be the first one told it was full. I paid my four bucks and parked the car. By the time I got to the station a few floors down I realized I had no clue where I was, this station wasn’t even mentioned on the radio. I bought my commemorative pass, got the Metro low down from the station assistant and got on the train. I was actually shocked as to how empty it was. That would be the last time I said that for about ten hours.
At each stop more and more people packed the train. I had my seat, so I was good. We stopped about three times and the normally 25 minute trip (or so I was told) took about an hour. The fun part was yet to come. All of the stations below the ceremony were closed, so the trains let out in select major stations just outside the ceremony zone. Upon exiting the train it took over an hour to get out of the station, about a five minute walk at best. I don’t get the zone system metros of other cities. Never will. Boston, Paris, London, and now DC. I just don’t get it. Paying to leave a station. That is just absurd. One fare should get you from one end of the system to the other. There were thousands of people jammed in the station trying to leave. They finally opened the gates without paying just to get the crowd calmed. An aside: Nice work on Pepsi’s part to blanket the DC area with the new campaign. Personally I thought the campaign kind of tanked, but kudos for the effort. It was everywhere. Hope wasn’t Hope without the new Pepsi logo as the O.
After getting to ground level I followed the crowds. I had a couple of hours, but I wanted to get as close as I could, which ended up being about ten miles away, or however long the Mall is. I have to assume the people who were as far upfront as non-ticket holders could get camped out for the night, or fell asleep after the concert the night before. I managed to get a decent spot along a fence, overlooking a good portion of the crowd and a corner of the Capitol Building, if you pretended the jumbo trons weren’t there. Within five minutes it hit. I made it. Mission accomplished. Or at least half of it. Now I had to draw. I wasn’t getting Barack, but I knew that coming down. I was there for the crowds. I wanted the crazies, the funky, the joyous, the angry— I wanted everyone. Well, it turns out the one thing that can unify a large group of people better than Obama is the coldest day I have ever felt in my life. The crazies were nowhere to be found. Anyone who watched the ceremonies on television has no idea how cold it was. I love the cold. LOVE THE COLD. I was ready to die a few hours later. I seriously thought I had frost bite on my toes. They have never felt like that. Everyone was huddled up in their down jackets with scarves and hoods. For the million plus people who were there, you saw one face out of five. The rest were wrapped up. The most outrageous person to walk by me was a guy with a ten foot tall flag pole sticking out of his back-pack bearing the American flag. Other than that it was calm, or rather stiff, frozen stiff. I give credit to the older African American ladies who were wearing their Sunday best, especially the one who nudged me out of my spot along the fence. She did it so politely that I didn’t even notice for a while. Talked to me the whole time she was pushing me. No loss though, I turned around and had a great view of the Washington Monument, and tons of people. I made friends with three cousins originally from Kentucky (forgive me if I got that wrong). One was now from Chicago and went to Barack’s church, another was from Detroit and the third, I actually didn’t get where she was from. Apparently I am invited to the next reunion, so I will find out then. Seriously though, the day wouldn’t have been what it was without them. I drew a bunch of drawings as they blocked people from pushing me. I had to give up on the bamboo pen and ink, which unfortunately was the material I brought the most of to draw with. All those dark ink spots in the crowd of the first drawing at top, they were all people. I have never had my pen freeze to paper. It did that day. I was drawing with ink ice at points. I had to put it away and come back to it, only to find that each of the people melted hours later.
So with a short blunt litho crayon I got the motivated people who climbed all the trees and then the excited crowd that cheered as Barack was sworn in. Towards the end of his speech I forced my way over to the front of the monument to get the last straight on view. I found a marker in my bag and tried to give the fountain pen another try again. I finished this as the crowd started to leave. Turns out it was actually about 20 degrees colder than I thought, and the crowd was blocking the wind. I walked about 100 feet out of my way because I was afraid if I jumped the two foot wall to the sidewalk, I would have to pick my toes out of my socks later that night. Maybe cold was not the right word, more bitterly unfriendly to be alive at that very moment.
So as insane as it was to get in, it was just as crazy to get out. I actually walked three stations in the opposite direction just to try and beat the crowds that were waiting on a long line to get below ground. About two hours later I was on the Metro again and this time it took 25 minutes to get back out to the station that I could barely remember the name of. I was happy to see that my car battery was not dead, even though I left my light on all day. I got back on the road and called my cousin and his wife to thank them for letting me crash, keep their kids up way too late, and giving me advice on managing the day. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.