Tag Archives: Obama

Ice Cold

The winter storm that blew through the region over the last  two days wasn’t really a terrible one — we got very little snow, and the whole thing was over and gone in about 30 hours — but it still left a mess behind.  While the major roadways were cleared quickly, side roads and driveways were another matter. 

We have a long sloping asphalt driveway, which was frozen into a solid, shimmering sheet of ice.  I managed to scrape out a skinny, shovel-wide path the length of the driveway to the street — wide enough for us to at least get one wheel into — only to discover that when the Maryland State Highway Department plowed the State road in front of our house, they left a pile of ice and slush at the base of our driveway, which had then frozen into a rock-hard iceberg, making the driveway impassable. 

It wasn’t much better this morning.  Our Jeep managed to navigate the slick pile at the end of the driveway, but I wasn’t so sure that our other car, even with its front-wheel drive, would have the same luck.  So I spent much of the morning scraping, salting, and bashing at the ice with a hammer.  Which actually worked.  And I even managed to successfully locate the car under the ice sculpture that was sitting in our driveway, hacking away at the ice, which tumbled off in inch-thick slabs.

The kids are back in school today, after two days off.  Given the ice that we, and other rural residents, were fighting, it was probably the right call.  However, I see our newest area resident thinks we’re a bunch of wimps

“My children’s school was canceled today, because of what? Some ice,” said President Obama. “When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things.”

Ouch.

While we often make fun of our area’s inclination to close school at the drop of a hat (we often joke that they close school on days of the week ending in Y), we . . . well, y’know, it’s our school district.  We’ve been here long enough to learn its quirks and criticize it.   We kid because we love.

It’s like the moment in The Music Man when the Iowans inform out-of-towner Harold Hill on the correct pronounciation of Iowa, even as they mispronounce it themselves.  “We [mispronounce it] now and then,” one Iowan says, “but we don’t like anyone else to.”

Exactly. Welcome to DC, Mr. President — and you can make fun next year!

Wordsmithing

Made it safely back from Richmond late Monday night — we took back country roads to avoid the I-95 and any potential bottlenecks of DC-bound traffic, but the roundabout route meant it took us a bit longer to reach home.  So the dog had to spend an extra night in the doggy hotel, which I’m sure she didn’t mind a bit, actually.

We decided to avoid the crowds and the cold and stay home and watch the inauguration on television.  I left the house only briefly, at 7:30 a.m., to go pick up the aforementioned dog at the kennel, and while the roads were dead, the electronic signboards over the I-270 were flashing notices that the Metro was already full and parking was gone. 

As it turns out, it didn’t get as messy in the District as we worried it might.  It was perhaps more packed than it has ever been, but crowds were orderly and — thank god — no one was hurt or died from exposure, as local authorities were fearing.  Good show, everyone.

I’ll confess to getting choked up, as I always do, while watching the smooth transition of executive authority — the true and thrilling miracle of a republican government.  Two men — one president, one not — enter the Capitol together and emerge forty minutes later with the other man as president, while the former president returns to life as a private citizen.  And you can thank George Washington for that particular precedent.

As for Obama’s speech . . . I’ve heard some grumbling that it didn’t rise to a level of soaring rhetoric some were expecting — that there were no “Ask not what your country can do for you…” moments.  I agree that it wasn’t full of the Sound Bites many might have been waiting for; but Tuesday wasn’t really the day for that sort of speech.  This was his Working Speech — one of these You And I Need To Talk kind of speeches.  It was more frank and sophisticated than it was beautiful — more T.S. Eliot than Robert Frost.

But it worked.  And there were still moments that I think will come crawling out and etch themselves in granite in coming years. “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals,” is a declaration worthy of Roosevelt or Reagan or Lincoln. 

My favorite line, however, is one that got a bit lost in the wash, but I liked for its punchy language and defiant optimism:  “…because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass.”

Any time you can work the words “bitter swill” into a presidential speech, you’ve got yourself a winner.

Be A Part Of History, Wherever You Stand

My ticket to President Bill Clinton's first inauguration ceremony.

My ticket to President Bill Clinton's first inauguration ceremony.

If all goes as anticipated, one week from today — on January 20, 2009 — Washington, D.C., will swell with a record 4 million tourists, guests and V.I.Ps, all of whom have come to the area to attend the inaugural ceremonies for President-elect Barack Obama.

It’s going to be a mess.

Washington, D.C. is a place that’s used to managing and moving enormous crowds of people into and out of the District.  Every day, DC’s huge workforce — made up mainly of government workers, lobbyists, and advocates, most of whom don’t live in the city itself — commute from Maryland, Virginia, even Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware, ballooning the population of the city from its normal 600,000 into the millions.  They — we — come in by car, by commuter train, by subway, and by bus.  We’re well used to sitting in traffic on the Beltway for hours or packing ourselves uncomfortably onto the Metro or commuter trains, our faces pressed against each others’ backs and our briefcases lost somewhere down by our feet.

We’re  a town that prides itself on elaborate public events, from Fourth of July celebrations to gigantic parades.  We’re used to the inconveniences that come from being the seat of government.  We hardly blink at protests or sit-ins, for example, or being waved across streets by heavily-armed soldiers in fatigues or Men in Black, out in force because of visiting heads of state.  We’re used to traffic being stopped to make way for caravans of black limousines, their windows tinted almost impossibly dark, sirens blaring, as Cabinet officials or the President make their way through the city.

All this we’re used to.  Still, we’re bracing ourselves for next Tuesday as a day unlike any we’ve ever seen.  Schools are closed for the day to keep buses off the roads.  The bridges crossing the Potomac from Virginia into DC will be closed to all but inaugural traffic — which means the countless shuttle buses that will pour into the city, looking for places to park.  Metro will run at capacity all day, but with its ability to move only 150,000 riders per hour, it may well take attendees all day to wait for their train.  In short, it’ll be a zoo.

And yet . . . when I’m contacted by friends from across the country who want to make a “quick trip” to DC to to take part in history, or just want to catch a glimpse of the new President, I just can’t discourage them.  While this is indeed a historic event, any Presidential inauguration is worth seeing.  Regardless of your political affiliation or who you may have voted for, it’s the chance to witness firsthand one of great miracles of  a republican form of government: the transfer of power — through the will of the people — to a new head of state.  And it’s truly thrilling.

I had the opportuity to attend the inaugural ceremonies for President Clinton’s first swearing in, on January 20, 1993.  At that time, I was working in the Senate and living on Capitol Hill at 4th and Constitution, just four short blocks from the U.S. Capitol.  I had secured my ticket through our office — while excitement for Clinton was high, the demand for inaugural tickets was nowhere near what it was for Obama — and on the morning of the 20th, my roommates and I walked over to the west side of the Capitol, where our tickets permitted us to stand in a cordoned off area at the northwest corner of the Capitol’s lawn.  Here’s the map on the back of the ticket to give you some perspective:

ticket2

While that doesn’t appear to be too shabby, you need to appreciate just how huge the Capitol complex is.  Once you’re beyond the steps of the building and across the west lawn, you’re pretty far away.  I ended up standing right where Pennsylvania Avenue dead-ends at the low stone wall surrounding the Capitol, near one of the enormous Chinese lanterns that lights the entrance to the lawn.  From my position, here’s what I could see of Clinton’s swearing in on that morning in 1993:

inaugural2

Clinton’s there, almost dead center of the photo, on that lower tier in front of the gray stone archways of the Capitol Building.  And that was my view from the exclusive ticketed area!

So here’s my advice, then, for those who are coming to our fair city for the inauguration:  please manage your expectations.  It’s going to be packed here.  If you’re in the city, you are a part of history, a part of the unique Obama story.  You may not be able to see the man — though there will be video screens propped up around the Mall so that you might be able to catch a glimpse of the proceedings even if you’re jammed onto Fifteenth Street NW, well away from the Mall.  Or maybe you’ll be standing at the foot of the Washington Monument — or near the Smithsonian Castle, or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial —  watching Obama take the oath of office on a huge video screen, but you can tell your children and grandchildren that you were there.

Also, give yourself time to get . . . well, anywhere.  Parking will be nonexistent, the Metro will be slow, and the sidewalks will be packed. Plus, while DC can often be confusing enough to navigate if you’ve never visited before, now add 1 million other confused folks, going down the wrong streets, the wrong escalators, the wrong way.

It’ll be a mess.  And while the travel planner in me might want to urge you to stay away, I can’t help but tell you to enjoy yourself, and relish your part in history, no matter where you’re standing — even if it’s in your own living room half a continent, or half a world, away.  This is you, and your government, at its finest.