When my sister graduated from Lafayette College in May of 2008, she was unsure about what to do with her political science degree and newfound freedom. I had loans, a lease and a day job (where I spent most of my free time reading political blogs) so, in the hopes that I could live vicariously through her experiences on the campaign trail, I put my sister in touch with a friend on the Obama campaign who got her a field organizer position. Three hundred and sixty-five electoral votes later, I’m in my sister’s apartment on Capital Hill about to reap the final rewards from the (admittedly limited) assistance I gave to her half a year ago.

I took the Chinatown bus down from New York City after work on Friday and, five hours and a couple unannounced stops later, the bus rolled down New York Avenue into Washington, DC. I put my magazine down when the excited German au pair sitting behind me pointed out to her companion that the Comfort Inn was “welcoming us to Washington!” We drove past a couple of gas stations with banners proclaiming to be “Your Obama Headquarters.” When I noticed a spotlight making figure-eights in the night sky, I assumed the Presidential Inaugural Committee was already set up on the National Mall. I was surprised when we drove past the spotlight, which was hitched to an old Ford pickup sitting in front of a school bus parking lot.

A peculiar mix of Obamamania and patriotism permeates the frigid DC air. Both IKEA and Pepsi have caught wind of the enthusiasm and plastered the capital city with advertising campaigns encouraging consumers to, respectively, “Embrace Change” and “Refresh Everything.” The city has been decked out in red, white and blue, and bootleg inaugural memorabilia is available everywhere from CVS pharmacies to farmers markets. Even the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has got into the act: Obama’s smiling visage adorns the farecards one must use to ride the Metro.

Today at 2:30 pm, the official inauguration festivities begin in earnest with a concert headlined by Obama-supporter Bruce Springsteen and featuring many, many others. HBO, which will broadcast the concert, announced that it will open its signal, so that all who have access to cable or satellite TV can watch it, too–live or in rebroadcasts at 7 pm and 11 pm.