Inauguration Wrap: Front Row to History
Is it possible to be too close to the most momentous event in American political history?
LL points this out not to complain about his fab seat at yesterday's swearing-in—fourth row, about 20 feet below the speaker's podium—but to contemplate bearing witness to that event.
In the section LL was seated in—Section 1, natch, green ticket—he was seated among several dozen other reporters, mostly from magazines and other non-daily publications. In other words, contemplation is what this group was supposed to do—take the long view, for reports in their sober, contemplative publications. (LL was seated between Fortune and Sports Illustrated.)
LL wasn't sure yesterday what a smartass city hall reporter was supposed to do during all this. But, one day later, allow him to take a longer view than his Twitters. LL fancies himself no expert in divining the entrails of what happened 20 feet above him yesterday. For one thing, he was too close to do that—the elevation difference meant not much more than the podium itself was visible. For another, his usual quarries were either well above (Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, seated among the nation's governors) or well behind him (the D.C. Council, in Section 13).
So his meditation will have to be on the scene itself.
Many of the reporters gathered string, color quotes and the like, from folks seated nearby—including a sections full of Tuskegee Airmen and medal of honor winners. Other reporters walked around to keep their feet warm. A bunch more—mostly foreigners—flocked to Don King, the boxing promoter and unabashed Republican who must have said "Only in America" about 600,000 times in the past few days. For his part, LL chatted up a couple members of the Marine Band—a matter that became somewhat easier once they realized he was interested in nothing more than cold-weather foot-comfort tips. (Hand warmers under the patent leather help, LL was told, but they wear off after about an hour, "and I'm not taking off my shoes here," according to one performer.)
The idea that dozens of periodical writers would be afforded relatively easy access and a prime view—ahead of governors' spouses, senators' spouses, the aforementioned Tuskegee Airmen, P. Diddy, and Dustin Hoffman—is both puzzling (on a day when thousands were unable to make it inside security perimeters to bear witness themselves) and heartening (given all the journo conversations involving the words "buyouts" and "layoffs"). In other words, it's nice to know that we still rate, even though we could have gathered similar string farther back in the crowd and had a much better view of the action from anywhere with an HDTV.
In terms of justifying the prime position LL occupied, let him tell you what he did bear witness to:
- His own personal mortal dread when his chair slipped off the back of the wooden platform he was sitting on, just as the president rose for his inaugural address. (LL thanks the spectator behind him, who thankfully caught him before Obama noticed.)
- John Roberts bumbling the oath, though LL didn't notice it immediately—he thought it was some strange echo problem with the PA.
- Rick Warren's bizarrely zestful pronunciations of "Sasha" and "Malia."
- The thrill of having a million people standing behind his back.
- Dozens of abortive attempts by the crowd to start O-BA-MA chants before realizing that there's simply no way to get a two-mile long crowd to chant on cue.
- The shimmer of thousands of American flags waving blocks in the distance, like swarms of red and blue insects dancing atop the crowd's heads.
- Thousands halting their egress to watch George and Laura Bush trot down the Capitol's East Front to their waiting Marine helicopter, then waving him goodbye as they floated west across the Mall.
- The lumps that threatened to stay forever in a million throats—including his own.