The tickets said the gates would open at 9 a.m, with the inaugural beginning at 11:30 (not counting a musical prelude).
I didn't mind the wait - I've stood longer for less important events - and I didn’t mind the cold. Wool socks, a pair of sweats beneath my pants, and some hand warmers would take of that.
But to those that know me well, the time gap presented a very important problem.
It meant nearly three hours without a bathroom break.
Alas, I have the bladder control of a eighty-year old pregnant woman.
All morning the rumor mill had said that once you passed security, access to a toilet would mean you'd have to wait in line all over again - which conceivably meant you'd miss the event. This same rumor mill raised questions about camera batteries, cell phones, hand warmers, and anything else you thought of taking with you.
Coupled with an early morning report that terrorists in Boston had nuclear capabilities, it made me just a wee bit paranoid that morning.
Paranoia, of course, usually winds up making you look foolish. Not only were there port-a-potties inside the perimeter, but we breezed through security. No one took my cell phone, questioned the odd-shaped camera battery, or hassled us in any way. It was quick, and it was efficient.
[I've heard about people that missed the inaugural because of security delays. I'm sure there were more secure areas than the one I was in, but I noticed most of the folks doing the complaining got there at or after the time listed on the ticket. You don't do that for a movie, much less the first inaugural after 9/11]
Our tickets were for the "yellow standing room" section, and while we had a pretty clean view of the podium I'd have needed binoculars to see anything more than a vague blur. Still, there was a large video screen off to my right that filled in the blanks.
One by one the people in charge of this country's destiny, past present and future, filed across the screen.
The biggest applause (short of the President): Bush 41.
The second biggest applause: Condi Rice.
The Clintons earned a snicker when they appeared. But victory earns respect, and most of the crowd tipped their proverbial hat to the man that had defeated us twice. Plus, you had to feel for the guy when Hilary was shown bopping her head frantically like Wayne and Garth - to a slow, methodical hymn.
The biggest chorus of boos: John Kerry. The monitor feed seemed to delight in showing Kerry, putting him on-screen several times. The first boos were heartfelt if tacky; the subsequent rounds childish and beneath the crowd. That's behavior best left to 'Rats, not a quarter million Republicans.
[Unseen complication: Following Kerry's appearance the monitor acted goofy and went black. After a few predictable jokes about the damage that his face could do, panic set in; without the monitor, we might as well have been watching it from the hotel. It came back on-line just in time]
[Random memories: wonderment at how Trent Lott ever got elected when he seems incapable of speaking at less than light-speed, sympathy for Hasert when he appeared to stammer administering the Vice-Presidential oath, disgust when I almost missed Bush's oath because I was so concerned with the zoom on my camera, embarrassment that I recognized one of the singers only because of her appearance on Sesame Street.]
I thought Bush's speech was well written, eloquent, and honest in its portrayal of his beliefs and ideals. Even so, I felt a little disappointed in his delivery. There were unnatural pauses and stops that were obviously for the benefit of TV at the expense of the crowd in front of him. I've seen him deliver stump speeches that sent his supporters home giddy and awed; I didn’t feel that this time.
[Imagine my surprise when a chorus of talking heads (including Democrats) raved about the speech, including a few that ranked it among the top of all time. That'd just my luck, to go down in history as one of those yokels who heard the Gettysburg Address and said "nice speech, but too short. He should've put some more effort into it."]
To sum up the inauguration itself: I waited in the cold for hours for a vague and indistinct glimpse of my President, listened to a speech I failed to appreciate, and suffered 'hat hair' for the rest of the day for my troubles.
It was an experience I wouldn't trade for the world, and the day was only half done.
To be continued . . .