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At Last

The first time I didn’t quite see Obama in person, I spent the night alternately watching election returns and feverishly vomiting the full contents of my stomach. It was there, in the Nashua South High School gym, where the then-senator was set to give his “Yes We Can” speech after he lost the New Hampshire primary, that I thought it was all over for both of us. Just half an hour before Obama spoke, I finally succumbed to the flu and passed out while a national campaign staffer standing nearby called an ambulance.

“I’m so sorry about this,” I said while we waited.

“Nonsense,” she told me. “There’ll be plenty of other victory parties to go to.” I thought she was delusional—Clinton had won and this was the end. We’d have to wait a long time to see a party like this again.

I was right about the waiting, at least. As it turns out, we were the ones we’d been waiting in line for. And judging by my trip down to the Inauguration, not even in lines, but rather in endless, vaguely oriented mobs stretching miles around the Washington Mall, itself filled with thousands of furred and fleeced people and unverifiable rumors that there was an entrance in that direction or that Obama’s motorcade had finally left the White House.

We’d been willing to wait patiently even though, once we made it inside, there was absolutely nothing to do. “I can’t see a single thing,” a woman, her hands maternally and inexplicably gripping my shoulders, cheerfully told me while we were standing on the Mall. “I’ll just watch it on TV when I get back to the hotel room.”

Some of us brave souls waited perched atop Port-a-Potties. Others debated whether Lynne Cheney and Laura Bush were truly evil enough to deserve being heckled when their faces appeared on the giant “jumbotron” screen or if they’d just picked the wrong men at the wrong time. One high-schooler tirelessly solicited the crowd: “Since there’s nothing else to do, let’s do the Wave!”

Some of us, to be honest, weren’t all that willing to wait. One of my busmates from Yale explained on the ride back to New Haven that, even though he had a ticket to the Inauguration, to the holy center of the holiest of events, where viewers had a direct line of vision to Obama himself, it wasn’t worth figuring out which of a dozen lines he was supposed to stand on in twenty-degree weather. “We just watched it from inside an Irish pub with a bunch of Hill staffers,” he said. “They were pretty much on the same page as us. We drank Irish car bombs and booed when Dick Cheney came on.”

Some of us were all too willing to
wait. My buddy-for-the-day, Rachel, and I walked past a line half a mile long, five people wide, snaking through a tunnel that passed under the Mall. We speculated on why everyone was so orderly, considering that they literally could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. “I guess there’s a low douchiness quotient today,” we decided. As we later found out, most of these people—who had tickets which happened to be labeled “purple”—nearly rioted because they never made it out of the infamous Purple Tunnel of Doom in time for the ceremony.

But I was the Goldilocks of waiting. I waited for the bus to pick us up from New Haven at 2 a.m., and for the driver to find his way back onto the right highway after getting lost somewhere in Maryland. I waited for Rachel, whom I’d never spoken to before, to laugh at a single one of my jokes throughout ten hours spent standing in the cold. I waited until that guy twenty feet in front of me tilted his head the other way so I could see the jumbotron while the president took the oath. I’d waited a long time for this; I could wait a little more.

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