Every obnoxious security officer, crowd crush, and queue will be worth it to witness Barack Obama taking of the Oath of Office.
I’m packing my bags for Washington and heading for The Inauguration. That’s right, capital ‘T’ capital ‘I’(or should that be ‘capitol’): The Inauguration.
It promises to be a journey of security headaches, queues, hours in the cold, supreme tests of patience and more queues. It begins with this strange procedure at the Montreal airport, where passengers bound for Washington are put through security checks of the 'bags open' variety. Twice. I have no idea what they expect could happen between check one and check two, but I have a feeling US customs will this week be even more secure in their ‘right’ to turn you away if they think you are messing with them. I will not be messing.
Hiring a taxi to ensure there is a way to make it from Washington National (aka Reagan) airport into the city has been fun. Gone are the usual $50 fares. In respect of the auspicious nature of The Inauguration, the best fare when booking from Montreal was $200. It had better turn up. Perhaps this is the beginning of the new economic stimulus era before the Big Guy even formally accepts the job. Fleece the foreigners.
We’re staying with friends, so have avoided taking out a mortgage to secure a hotel room, which given proximity to the epi-centre of the housing crisis could have been insurmountable anyway.
And then there will be the queues. We can not say we have not been warned. More like terrified as I read stories about how many millions are descending on Washington this week (although some estimates have revised the crowd size down). Sort of like the population of New Zealand moving in for a few days. Those stories inevitably raise the questions like how many portaloos are needed. It's basic inauguration stuff and when faced with the prospect of being in a massive crowd for hours, of high relevance I have to say.
As for the cold, we have also been warned, but for once living in a Montreal winter has its true upside. Whether we’ve known it or not we have actually been in training for this week. Thank-you Mr President-elect for giving meaning to surviving through the past week, which has consistently been about -20c as a daytime high, -28c as a night time low. Factor in the wind chill and it all feels like -33c (ish). Akin to an endurance marathon, it’s easing off today at only -13c. The forecast for Washington on Inauguration Day will be a balmy zero or slightly below. I must remember to pack a T-shirt.
But whey even bother going? Why not sit at home in the hermetically sealed, double-glazed comfort and warmth and watch it all on the HD?
The answer is simple really. We’re going because, well, yes we can. Montreal is just over an hour’s flight from DC, and never in my lifetime has there been such a political event to witness.
Being just a baby at the time, I don’t remember where I was when JFK was shot, but I sure remember watching on a scratchy telly at school when Nixon resigned. Come over-officious security or freezing temperatures, I want to be in that crowd when Barack Hussein Obama takes the oath of office.
The clichés and superlatives and flowery rhetoric evoking history and unity and nationhood and hope flow ever so easily in all that is written about this week’s event because they are all applicable. Even the most cynical of hacks will attest to that. Hell, even Republicans agree, and not all begrudgingly.
As the man considered by many the most useless of US Presidents hands the baton to the first African American President, it will be of world-wide significance because George W. Bush has, to put it politely, ballsed up so much of that world and is leaving it to Obama to clean up.
The hurdles that this journey will involve are of course excruciatingly trivial when compared to those of many of the guests who will gather outside Washington’s Capitol building, or in the Mall. The guest list rightly includes so many who have fought in the US Civil Rights Movement for so many decades, through so much tribulation. This is their moment.
The irony is that the actual inauguration will be inside the Capitol – a building built by slaves, and most gathered outside will be standing and sitting and queuing and waiting on grounds that were once slave markets. Such symbolism will escape no-one.
Obama’s America has new challenges. They are tough, crippling obstacles permeating the very economic and social fabric of his nation, yet the 44th President is tireless in his conviction that America has the ability to solve them – eventually.
It is the expression of just that belief that billions around the world will be watching for on January 20. He is no stranger to oratory and crowds hang on every word. The question is what will emerge as the defining catchphrase of Obama’s inaugural address? It is not an overstatement to credit this speech as carrying more importance than any other such address in living memory.
He inherits a “to do” list from hell, but he will tackle it with the strength of his own convictions and the goodwill of millions.