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A witness to history

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Reporter Jesef Williams recounts recent trip to Washington, D.C.

By Jesef Williams

Seeing the president of the United States in person made everything about my trip to the nation’s capital worthwhile.

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Since I chose not to attend the inauguration in 2009, I made it a point to be there this time for the public swearing-in ceremony of our country’s commander-in-chief.

Even though it’s now been several weeks since the inauguration, I still speak with energy and excitement about my action-filled weekend in and around Washington, D.C.

Arriving in the ‘DMV’

The great thing about having family and friends in Maryland and northern Virginia is you don’t have to pay for a hotel room. Plenty of food is also part of the deal.

That was the case for me as I touched down in the area that Saturday – two days before the inauguration.

After “kickin’ it” with friends, cousins and other family members, my Sunday culminated by attending an inaugural ball that night in D.C.’s Georgetown area.

And you know a good party doesn’t really start until after midnight.

With this event carrying over into the morning hours, I knew that would mean minimal sleep before Monday’s inauguration.

I figured it’s the price one must pay in order to have a good time and also be part of history.

So one hour of sleep it was.  

But interestingly, I had no problem popping up and getting ready that morning.

I dressed myself in several layers – complete with long tube socks, thermals, my Winthrop hoody, coat, scarf, gloves and a “skully” cap.

I was prepared for the hours of cold weather.

The National Mall

My crew and I left the house at 6 a.m. en route to a Metro train to take toward the National Mall.

We had special yellow tickets, which gave us access not far behind the Capitol’s reflecting pool – relatively close to the action.

We were out there nearly four hours prior to the 11 a.m. ceremony.

That left more than enough time to speak to strangers, marvel at the massive crowds and ponder if your clothing will keep you warm enough.

I did all of the above.

Several people were asleep on the group. Others huddled in tight circles trying to keep warm. And some were busy capturing the moment with their cameras.

I spoke with a young lady from New York named Gabby, who attends George Washington University in D.C. We met after she randomly asked me to use her camera to snap a picture of her with the Capitol building in the background.

She was so appreciative and her overall excitement about the day was priceless.

I saw the same in Jeff, a Connecticut resident who, like me, made sure he was in attendance this time after skipping out in 2009.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said.

11 a.m. seemed to arrive much sooner than anticipated. What was cool from our vantage point is that we could watch the ceremony action on the big screen while also having a true view of the Capitol steps.

When President Barack Obama began his speech, I listened intently during portions but honestly zoned out at times to reflect on the significance
of the moment.

I was there. In person. Listening to our country’s first black president take the oath of office.

A glimpse at the president  

Immediately after Obama’s speech ended, people fled the area by the thousands. I guess they were trying to be among the first to get a coveted spot along the motorcade and parade routes.

I hung around for about 20 minutes or so to marvel at the masses.   

Some people don’t like big crowds; I’m just the opposite. I find it exciting.

I stood atop a cement barrier and captured video and still pictures of the mass exodus.

Luckily by the time I decided to make my way from the Capitol’s Union Square, I was able to secure a front-row spot along a fence on Constitution Avenue, where the president’s motorcade would travel.

That meant more waiting, though. It was well after 1 p.m. Having only two Snicker bars since 7 a.m., my stomach was talking to me, as were my feet and back. There were no chairs or food vendors in sight.

I overheard a woman standing near me rant about the discomfort. I found her quote quite humorous, but also on point. I could definitely relate.

It sounded as if she didn’t plan to attend another inauguration ever again.  

“My bladder, back and stomach are all like, ‘Behave,’” she said. “In four years, my body will say, ‘Remember what you feel like now.’”  

However, all of that went out the window when the motorcade
finally made its way down Constitution Avenue.

I heard a shout of, “There’s the president’s limo.”

That person was correct. The presidential limousine, nicknamed “The Beast,” slowly made its way toward us. My task was to have my camera ready to get some decent photos but also take time to see the president with my own eyes.

I accomplished both. As the limo drove by, Obama, behind that thick tinted glass, smiled and waved at us. We were probably about 20 feet away from him.

About five minutes after that, Vice President Joe Biden rode by us in his own limo. I was amused as he flashed his signature big grin and gave us a thumbs up.

Those moments made my weekend exponentially better.

A priceless experience

In all, we were at the National Mall more than seven hours. No food.

No chairs. Cold weather.

Not the best conditions, huh?

But I would do it all over again. The ability to now say you saw the president in person is priceless.