On Friday I found myself with my husband standing on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by Americans of every kind, waiting for a historic event.
Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to understand that this was a different kind of event.
It was an inauguration, the 58th in our country, but of someone most initially said could never win, and who managed to stun much of the nation and the world on Nov. 8, 2016.
It began as a crazy idea. The day after the election back in November, I wondered how the average person would be able to attend the inauguration.
It was something I’d thought of before, but for some reason this time I did what many Americans do, I asked Google, and Google had the answer.
Google had many answers. In fact … I could just show up and take my chances on the National Mall, which is something most people would do.
Or, I could contact my congressional representative or senator and take my chances with a ticket pool.
That in mind, I sent an e-mail to U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson and one to Senator Pat Toomey. Thompson’s office responded first and said they would keep me updated.
Shortly before Christmas, his office contacted me again … we were in. Two tickets would be waiting for my husband and me at Thompson’s office in the Cannon Office Building Jan. 19.
This isn’t an article meant to be a political commentary. It is meant to be a first-person description of attending, what we saw, how things worked and so on.
Much has already been said on almost every media outlet about the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Opinions range across the spectrum and from extreme to extreme.
But for us, the interest came mostly in participating in something uniquely American, and, due to my husband’s health, most likely a once-in-a-lifetime event.
We arrived in Washington, D.C. via the metro in the early evening Thursday. A taste of the crowds to come was already roaming the Capitol grounds, around the various office buildings and the Mall. The atmosphere in the Cannon HOB was festive.
Many were getting ready for pre-inauguration events, ball gowns and tuxedos were in evidence everywhere. At office 124, we were surprised to be met by Thompson himself and thanked him for the opportunity.
We chatted for a few moments and then he disappeared into his office and brought out two commemorative lapel pins for us, on top of the packet containing tickets, a program, maps and other information we had already received.
We then spent some time walking the National Mall, taking pictures of the preparations … the Capitol Building lit up and decorated for the event, the Mall with special covering over the grassy areas and jumbo-trons and speaker systems setup at intervals. There was fencing everywhere, set up to control crowds for security purposes the next day.
On the way back to our hotel on the metro subway train, we met two gentlemen from New York City. They were firefighters who had come for the concert but couldn’t stay for the inauguration.
As we chatted, we learned one was a distant cousin of the late Rep. John Murtha, and had family from central Pennsylvania and was familiar with the Clearfield area.
Security was tight everywhere the next day, beginning at the parking lot for the Greenbelt Metro Station. In addition to the regular metro police, there were other police and U.S. Marshals on hand, and for every uniformed officer we saw, we wondered how many there were in plainclothes (some we spotted).
Once in the city, we saw far more, from local police to U.S. Marshals to Transportation Security Administration agents, state police from neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the National Guard. And while walking toward our gate (red), we encountered protesters.
For our part the protesters, we saw were vocal but mostly peaceful. There were Black Lives Matter representatives and those demanding the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, as well as a variety of others; name the issue, they were represented. They were vocal yet, at that time, peaceful.
After the inauguration, when we were looking for a cup of coffee, we stopped at a McDonald’s where we saw police in riot gear, National Guard personnel and a shattered door pane. That evening we would learn that some protesters began throwing rocks and other projectiles at businesses on that street and were stopped by the intense security.
We encountered a friendly gentleman who asked us if we would like to upgrade our tickets. I never got his name but noticed some of the writing on the identification on his lanyard was in Hebrew.
The tickets he gave us were for the blue section, much closer to the capital than the red tickets we had. It was still standing only, and we watched the entire event on a jumbo-tron, but we were close to Pennsylvania Avenue, where we could see motorcades passing by, and could also see a small portion of the staging area, where the director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band (also known as The President’s Own) stood.
To get to our area, we had to pass through security screening, conducted by TSA. Before leaving that morning, I checked the final notices for what we could and could not take. The size of packs/purses changed to 12 by 14 by 5 inches, my over the shoulder bag barely fit. And, there weren’t any umbrellas, even though it was supposed to rain.
Many people lost their umbrellas that day, the TSA agents would confiscate them and toss them into bins. We were warned to have all electronics out and turned on, and we emptied our pockets.
My husband had to turn over his walker to be examined from end to end while he not only passed through a metal detector but was also wanded. I was luckier. At one point, as we were walking, an explosives or drug dog approached us and gave the walker a good once over.
There were many K9 units on hand that day. As we stood in our area, we also spotted a few snipers on buildings. Helicopters regularly circled overhead.
It is hard to describe the sheer number of people we saw, filling the areas in front of the Capitol and spilling down across the Mall as far as the Washington Monument, just over a mile away.
We talked with some from North Carolina and Louisiana, and took a loose poll of license plates in the metro parking lot, from California, Texas, New York, Maine, Florida, Georgia and more.
Where we stood there were some Chinese Americans, some of Indian or Pakistani descent and others, many I couldn’t guess at. We saw people from every walk of life, young and old, the well-off and those who had to scrimp and save to manage to attend.
While most everyone was friendly and certainly excited, there were those we quietly moved away from whenever we could as they could be quite vocal and disrespectful of anyone who didn’t think as they did.
This is something we found everywhere on both sides of the political spectrum, those who were extremely friendly and helpful, and those who were not. Obviously, it isn’t confined to one group or the other, and we found it best to simply move away when we could.
One thing that struck us was the sheer number of young people there, not only children probably too young to really grasp what was going on, but older children and teens.
They were interested, asked questions, paid attention, etc. For them, it was an opportunity to see their history and civics classes come to life. Many schools brought student groups.
Overall, we were impressed by the organization. We learned that planning for the inauguration begins at least a year in advance, down to every last detail and every contingency. It is an event worth the aggravation of travel and planning, of security checks and long waiting and much walking. An event for many that is once-in-a-lifetime, and it was worth every moment.