As America turns its eyes to soon-to-be President Obama's inauguration this morning, I'm instead looking back to my only experience at a presidential inauguration in 1993.
I was just a freshman at George Washington University when Bill Clinton took the oath of office, a mere 18 years old that blustery January morning. I remember a handful of specifics about that week, though in retrospect, not as many as I'd like.
First of all, I remember how crowded Washington, D.C. was that week, filled to the brim with Arkansans. We students relied on the Metro to get around the city, and it was jam-packed with tourists wandering aimlessly at every subway stop.
I remember attending an event on the Mall, which felt like a county fair on steroids. Wall-to-wall makeshift tents lined the area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, I can't remember what was in those tents, but I sure do remember hearing a lot of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop."
I remember attending an event at the reflecting pool on the other side of the Washington Monument, facing the Lincoln Memorial. I think Clinton, himself, spoke at this event, but he was way too far away for me to see him. I mostly remember feeling a little edgy, since officials later estimated 900,000 people were on hand for this rally.
Apparently, the event was billed as a "Call for Reunion," a two-hour outdoor concert. It featured such entertainers as Aretha Franklin, Michael Bolton, Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and rapper L-L Cool J. I remember none of this.
And I remember the confusion surrounding the numerous inaugural balls held in the city. GW, itself, threw one, and students could attend for something like $150 per ticket. No one, however, could be sure which ones the president would visit. I finally pressed an organizer on whether Clinton was expected to attend, and when he said, "Probably not," I knew that I couldn't spend that kind of money to go to a black tie event at the student union. Clinton never showed, by the way.
Finally, I vividly remember the inauguration, itself. My roommate Bryan, his girlfriend Diana and I staked out our spot very early. Hours before the parade was set to roll by, we plopped ourselves on the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, I think.
That was where I met Henry Winkler, as I've blogged about previously.
Bryan and I noticed a circle of people huddling around someone walking down the street. We elbowed our way in to see that it was, for some reason, Winkler.
When I got in front of him, I could think of nothing better to say, "Mr. Winkler, sir, may I shake your hand?"
He replied, warmly, "It's good to see you."
After my run in with the pre-bronzed Fonz, the real parade came into view. Up until this point, Clinton remained inside the limo, but as he turned the corner to head down Pennsylvania Ave., he stepped outside to walk the rest of the way. That was to be the closest I would get to Clinton until 1996, when I met him for real as a White House intern.
I also recall seeing Chelsea Clinton riding down the street, her face pressed against the limo window, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Those few vivid images will stick with me forever. Good thing, too, because I don't have any photos, and the video I shot on my 8mm camcorder is long gone.
All that said, I don't feel any compelling reason to be at, or even really watch, Barack Obama's inauguration today. For me, the history was in the election, not in the pageantry of swearing Obama into office.
I found the entire Clinton inauguration hoopla mildly amusing at age 18. But unless I happen to be back in Washington for another reason during a subsequent inauguration, to experience it in person just once was plenty.
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