His jacket filled with inauguration badges with the slogan ‘I was there’ and speaking as confidently as a priest at Sunday mass, he danced around the scores of people.
‘Get your Obama buttons. I was there...I was there!’
A plump woman ahead of me stopped in her tracks, showing a little interest in the buttons and asking how much for one.
‘You can only buy five’, he said, ‘five for $5.’
‘Now, why the hell would I want five?’ she replied sharply.
‘Get one for all the family! I was there...you were there!’
The woman walked away quickly and I would have too. This was one of my first encounters in Washington DC at a time when my New York snobbery drove me to make one definitive comment about the city.
‘The buildings are so small’, I think I said.
As I got lost further in the smiling masses, all dressed in red, white, and blue or wearing Obama hoodies, jackets, hats, buttons, shoes, I found myself infected, infected with full blown, hyped up enthusiasm. It was refreshing to go to a place where everybody was smiling, cheering, singing, all chanting for one team and one result. The vendors selling souvenirs were not competing against each other but working together to color the people of the city for this momentous occasion.
The buildings became charming instead of small. New York buildings can appear too big at times, too commercial, they rise above you sardonically sneering, like awkward teenagers not yet used to their gangly form, having to wear all the latest gear to fit in. DC is a city more comfortable in its own skin.
The buildings are older and wiser and they seem to politely nod as you pass. They know they have a story to tell but they will wait for you to ask. And boy did I ask. In my 36 hours there I bolted around the city from site to site, museum to museum and memorial to memorial, helped in part by the compact size of DC. You can walk everywhere and there are views along the way to ensure you never tire.
For the inauguration itself, it was not about how close you could get to the action, but the crowd you were in. I loitered outside the Washington Monument with thousands of others. Mother Nature must have been contacted by the White House because she left a clear sky for the event and her January winds, normally cold and bitter, only playfully bit at the masses to remind them that it was still January. Songs were sung, chants were chanted. My infection got worse and I now had Obama Fever.
Looking at all the different memorials belonging to past presidents;Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and being part of an inauguration of a current president who promises big changes in years to come, I got the rare feeling of being surrounded by history, past, present, and future.
It may be impossible for Obama to make all the changes that he promised in his inauguration speech but I think what matters most is his integrity, the fact that you know that this man will at least try to make changes, fueled by a desire to leave a legacy and be a great president. He was the greatest vendor of all in Washington DC on Monday afternoon. He wasn’t selling jackets, sweaters, hats, flags, headbands, perfume, teddys or pictures. He was selling hope, and he sold it very well, to people previously starved of hope.
Before I left, my fever flared up and I made a purchase. Five buttons for $5, more than enough for all my family. I bought a hat too.