Faculty Blog: Witnessing Inaugural Preps and Gathering in D.C.
Sunday, January 18th
by Dr. Carla Eastis, Assistant Professor of Sociology
About 10 folks get on the Amtrak train with me in Salisbury at 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Several of us are going to D.C., and the conductor puts us in one of the rear-most cars. That car is almost full already, and there has only been one stop! As I talk and listen, I realize that most of the passengers had boarded in Charlotte and that most of us are heading to DC for inauguration (or, as in my case, almost-inauguration) activities. The conductor tells a fellow passenger that every seat on the train has been sold, and that only 16 of the people who board in North Carolina are headed farther than D.C.
Many people know each other, and are going back and forth between seats and even between cars. There's a really upbeat, friendly atmosphere and everyone has a story to tell.
My seatmate Nina is a young woman from Shelby, N.C. Nina has a cousin in D.C. with whom she'll be staying through Wednesday night. She hadn't decided to come in until early last week, and then couldn't get a reservation, but then on Saturday morning (yesterday!) she was able to confirm and pay for a ticket. She and her cousin don't have tickets to the swearing-in ceremony or the parade, but they do have plans to attend a party or two, and will get up early on Tuesday to get as close as they can to the ceremony on the Mall.
It seems that very few of the passengers do have tickets in hand for the swearing-in on Tuesday morning. A few people discuss plans to go to senators' or representatives' offices, but the rest of us are simply going to take our chances among the masses that are expected to crowd the Mall. Just being there is enough, it seems, for many people.
And I'm not the only one who's making the trip only to turn around and come home before the big day is over. A woman and her two grandchildren (around ages 7 and 10) will return to Charlotte on Tuesday morning; she just wanted them to get some of the atmosphere.
Did I mention that the train is full? Waiting for a snack in the Café Car is a commitment of some 45 minutes, but that gives us plenty of time to talk and visit! A woman from Charlotte is showing off some of the souvenirs she's got to sell — pendants and earrings and bracelets with different versions of Obama-Biden, Obama's face, etc. I buy a pair of earrings for my sister.
In the course of the sales conversation, the jewelry seller admits that she has tickets to the swearing in. Not just any tickets, either — 4th row on the Capitol grounds. I'm not sure she realized the level of envy that news would arouse! Very quickly, a fellow passenger says, with just enough levity to take the edge off, "And how is it you are so special?" Jewelry woman says she knew "Barack and Michelle" when she lived in Chicago. That sets off a round of "Six Degrees of Obama" — from "my husband's cousin went to law school with Barack" to "I was once a community organizer in Hawaii."
As I walk through the train, I see so many things I want to remember. People ask strangers to take photos of themselves and their traveling companions for scrapbooks (or blogs?). A young boy traveling with his father is reading a picture book biography of Barack Obama. An older woman is wearing a sweatshirt that incorporates the Obama campaign logo as the "O" in the Ole Miss logo. Two college-age women have on headphones and are watching episodes of The West Wing on their portable DVD player.
The closer we get, the more ice and snow we can see out the window, and the more real it becomes that we are going to be out there soon — just like the TV shows and papers have been preparing us for, in the wind and the cold, with all the walking and the crowds.
When we get to Union Station in D.C., it's 5 p.m. Did I mention that there's a big concert on the Mall letting out at EXACTLY that time? My trip on the Metro subway system out to my friend's house in Falls Church, Va., is extremely crowded. Or so I think at the time...
PHOTOS: Inaugural Preps and Gathering in D.C.