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Our New President

I was really excited to have the opportunity to witness the swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States. I really don't buy into presidential candidates very often and voting has always been about choosing the lesser of two evils for me. What thrilled me about Barack was seeing how supportive the international community was towards him. Having traveled around the world under the Bush administration, I noticed a slight hostility towards Americans. I often jokingly apologized for being an American. In turn, most people would clarify that it was the government they hated, not the people (though one did chuck Euros at us in disgust). I really believe Obama's election has united people domestically and internationally. I told myself back in the fall that I would try to make it to Washington, DC to be a part of this historical event.

Fortunately, my friend Anthonette lives half a mile from the U.S. Capitol Building and kindly offered up a sofa bed for me to crash on. I rolled into DC the Friday before the Inauguration and spent some time with our friend Faisal and his family (watching Battlestar Galactica, in fact). We spent Saturday wandering around town trying to figure out the best strategy for watching the event. We had no idea when or how many people were going to show up. You could feel that it was going to be chaos though.

On Sunday, we headed out to the Lincoln Memorial for the We Are One concert that aired on HBO (USA Today, Live-blogged it). Despite the cold and crowds, the show was pretty good with performances that included Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen, U2, John Legend, Usher, Jon Bon Jovi, and Garth Brooks. Some famous faces like Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, Jamie Foxx, and Denzel Washington showed up to do various readings. Jamie Foxx did a great Obama impression while Tom Hanks' Abraham Lincoln tribute felt a little long-winded. Garth Brooks ignited the crowd with "American Pie" and "Shout". Later, two bald eagles were brought out and displayed. The crowd seemed to expect them to be released in some sort of dramatic way. They weren't, it was a bit random. Finally, the Man, walked out and the people exploded in cheers or "Obama" and "Yes We Can". It was the first time I'd seen Barack in the flesh (I'm not counting the two seconds his motorcade passed us by in Hawaii). The energy was amazing around us. I looked behind me and the mass of people went farther than the Washington Monument. There was no doubt that Inauguration Day was going to be nuts.

Exhausted from standing out in the cold all day, Anthonette and I walked home and passed out for a couple of hours. We woke up and went down to a local pub called the Hawk and Dove for a night of dancing and tomfoolery. At 4am, we rolled home and collapsed til mid-morning. Monday was a day of lazy for us rather than a day of service. We hung out with some other out-of-towner friends and decided to try to turn in early so we could head out to the mall by 5am. Around 11pm, we got the email.

Anthonette's friend had extra tickets! By midnight, we were walking to a Congressman's office to pick up a pile of extra tickets. We scored two blue tickets which placed us in the standing room immediately behind the seated section. This changed everything. We spent an hour working out how we'd tackle the next morning and after snapping photos of ourselves with one of the town's hottest tickets, we got a few hours of shut eye.

Tuesday morning we got out of the house around 7am and started making our way out to the Capitol. There were crowds of people everywhere. We made our way towards the Blue Gate but it was one of those situations where you join a crowd that isn't 100% sure of what's going on or whether we were in the right place. Two hours later the mob started moving. Fortunately, we were able to move up the side of the line and up to the security check-point pretty quickly. We found our place among the million and a half people stuffed into the National Mall and smiled at our good fortune.

The ceremony was freezing and pretty exhausting. It was hard to really get my head into what was going on. It was too much to take in on so little sleep. The view of the crowd was incredible. Hundreds of thousands of people behind us waved American flags. People of every background, cheered, cried, prayed, sang, and smiled. We looked at our new president and hoped for the best, knowing that the country and the world was in a tough spot. After the swearing in we watched George Bush's helicopter fly away from the Capitol. People flipped it off, waved, and watched bad memories drift away in a helicopter.

Next up was the parade. We'd already decided that we would retreat to our friend's condo in the Newseum to watch the parade on TV. But our blue tickets enabled us to grab a spot at the beginning of the parade route where Obama's motorcade would pass by. Little did we know that we'd be standing in the cold for three hours before he drove by. But it was worth it. I was awestruck as his armored limo cruised by and he waved from the window. He was so close! As soon as he was gone, we bolted down the street to the Newseum and warmed our bellies with soup and wine. It was an exhausting day. But it was definitely a memorable one.

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Location: United States A 29 yr old filmmaker from California traveled through Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia/NZ over ten months from April 2007 to March 2008.

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