After a long night of celebratory campaign reunions (patriotic bunting and ironic “Mission Accomplished” banners were two recurring decorative themes), my sister, a couple friends and I left her apartment on Capitol Hill to make our way down to the Lincoln Memorial for the Inaugural celebration concert. If one did not know the way there, it was easy to ascertain by watching the mass of people heading down Pennsylvania Avenue to the 17th Street entrances. Memorabilia vendors lined the sidewalks hawking all manner of Obama-related merchandise.
Concrete barriers and eight-foot-high panels of interlocking grates had been set up along some of the sidewalks lining the section of the city to be closed off for Tuesday’s Inaugural parade; stacks of unassembled grates were piled up on street corners. Out-of-place, camouflaged humvees sat idling in the middle of blocked-off intersections; equally incongruous MPs directed cars and pedestrians. I was amused to see my first motorcycle with a sidecar outside of a Disney movie and surprised to encounter US Customs and Border Patrol agents at the official staging area entry point. Clearly, this was no ordinary Bruce Springsteen concert.
Although we cleared security little more than an hour before the event was due to begin, we were able to work our way through the estimated crowd of 400,000 people until we had passed the iced-over Reflecting Pool. This required navigating the concertgoers on the south side of the venue closest to the portable toilets lining the sidewalk. When the moving mass could push forward no further, we cut through a break in the wall of toilets and kept inching up the dusty, downtrodden grass on the other side of the euphemistically named Constitutional Gardens. As we staked out a position with sightlines through the trees, some agile crowd members began to climb on top of the portable toilets. Soon the roofs of the toilets were covered with excited Obama supporters. As Denzel Washington took the stage to offer the opening address, the crowd in our section had gone from shouting “Off the pot!” to “Get down!!” and began throwing twigs and litter at the people on top of the toilets or in the trees who were obstructing their view. Police on horseback waded through the agitated audience and got down the climbers.