Our City Shone on Inauguration Day

Cole Lewis, 12, of Louisiana, reveled on the Mall.
Cole Lewis, 12, of Louisiana, reveled on the Mall. (By Courtney Potter For The Washington Post)
By Audrey Hoffer
Sunday, January 25, 2009

At midnight last Monday, I got a standing-room ticket for the inauguration. A blue ticket, the color the sky would be when the oath of office was given. So instead of watching television I headed out in the early morning darkness.

As I walked down Connecticut Avenue toward Porter Street at 6 a.m., a crescent moon hung low in the black sky. The headlights of a car illuminated a couple across the street and three people in front of me.

At the Cleveland Park Metro station, a half-dozen people converged on the steps. Eight were at the Farecard machines and several dozen waited on the platform.

A jampacked subway car pulled in about 6:09. I could barely get on. A sea of excited faces and screeching voices. Down in the tunnel, the decibel level was way up.

The train rolled into Dupont Circle at 6:18. The side of the platform for trains toward Shady Grove was deserted; the other side lined with people.

Metro Center at 6:24 was rush-hour full. Police in lime-green vests directed the surging crowd.

The Orange Line train was teeming. I took off my bulky down jacket and squeezed in. "Whoa, I think we need to draw a line," yelled someone as another woman tried to step in. "I can fit," she laughed. "I'm from New York."

A boisterous sea of humanity swept onto the Capitol South Metro station platform at 6:43. Two guys carried empty plastic milk cartons overhead. Mothers clutched the hands of children.

"Keep it moving," boomed Metro employees as the gaggle of people inched up the first escalator and toward the triple set to the street. A slate sky shone beneath the arched Metro facade at the top of the steep escalator. "This is symbolic," one man said. "We're walking towards the light."

On the familiar street corner, a silver curtain of morning hovered over the Cannon House Office Building. I moved with the flow of blue-ticket holders down First Street past the Longworth House Office Building at 6:50. The frosty air cut through my layers of clothing. Dawn was breaking.

At 7:19 I was snug as a bug in an ocean of people waiting for the security gate to open. The crescent moon was high up now and the sky milky-blue. I couldn't see over the heads in front of me. The rising sun began to tint the Capitol and the bare winter tree limbs stretched upward. Above us, seagulls soared and helicopters cruised.

We were still waiting for the gate to open at 9:08 a.m. Standing toe-to-toe with others in the patient crowd, I felt a kind of exuberant vibration. By 9:45 I was in the ticket area. If I stood on my toes, the Jumbotron was visible.

Shots of the packed Mall elicited an amplified roar all around me. I tried to clap, but I couldn't extend my elbows. As we watched the giant screen, the horde alternated between momentary silence and rapturous howls of jubilation. Faces were entranced. Cheeks shone with tears. Heads nodded and lips murmured.

"Yes, we can," screamed someone.

"Yes, we did," shrieked another.

The sun shone until the ceremony's end.

Our precious country had a new president and the world was smiling. Our city deserves praise for hosting a magnificent inauguration.

-- Audrey Hoffer


© 2009 The Washington Post Company