Friday, February 6, 2009

Inauguration Nation

I know we are a few weeks out of the Inauguration, but I didn’t want to leave you hanging about my adventure. It was such a great time and honestly I’m still buzzing from the trip and the fact that Barack Obama is our president. I won’t ramble too much here. I’ll just get down to what happened.

Saturday January 17th
My inauguration traveling partners included Jeff, Achuziam and Lionel. We watched Obama win together on election night and on that night we chose to go to the inauguration in January. The original plan was to leave on the Sunday before the event and hang out in the Maryland/DC area so we could avoid some traffic.

In the days leading up to our departure, Sarah Dash (of Labelle), said she could get me a ticket to see them in Atlantic City (ATC). [For those of you who don’t know, Labelle is back on tour! The three (Nona, Sarah & Patti) are back together again. So if you see that they are coming to your town, do not be silly, go out and get yourself a ticket.] My first thought was to go to ATC on Saturday night, drive back to Brooklyn and then get up the next day and head to Maryland. But after thinking about it I knew that didn’t make any sense because if I was in ATC then I would be more than half way to Maryland. So I asked Jeff, Chuz and Lionel if they would be willing to hang out in the casino at the Trump Taj Mahal for a couple of hours while I went to the show and then we could keep going down to Maryland. They were game so we were good to go on Saturday evening.

On our way to ATC we got a little turned around because the Yahoo maps directions were a little janky, but we made it to the show ahead of time. When we got inside of the casino there was an energy of sadness. Casino’s are advertised as a place of fun and the Taj Mahal has all sorts of fun stuff going on in there, but for some reason all casinos have that same sad feel; at least to me.

I went inside the arena and only had to wait a little bit for the show to start and when it did, it started with a bang. They opened the set with “Miss Otis Regrets,” which is on their latest album and they tore it down. At that moment I also noticed that Kiki and Keith Fluitt were singing backup with them that night. I was so psyched to see them both. Kiki does her own thing, sings backgrounds with me, and a bunch of other great artists and Keith also sings with everyone under the sun. They are both on the Labelle album, but it was great to see my people at work. I love that! Ronny Drayton was on guitar of course because that’s Nona’s guitarist. It was wonderful to see him too.

The set was off the hook! All of the ladies had on incredible outfits in Labelle fashion. All of them were singing their tails off and as Patti mentioned they are 64, 64 and 63! What?! I’m hoping to look at sound that good when I’m there. I’m mean really! Patti kept talking about Nona’s body (which is ridiculous), but really they are all stunning. About half way through the set they not only changed costumes, but changed hair! Yes chile! It was fabulous! I’m trying to get to that point in my show.

There were also some special guests in the audience. Sarah and Nona are from Trenton, NJ and Patti is from Philly so being in ATC brought out their hometown folks. Then Patti announced that Kenny Gamble and Teddy Pendergrass were in the house! What?! I was hoping they might roll Teddy out to sing. Now that would have been off the chair. Ha! Ha! I know that sounds wrong, but you know that would have been crazy. What a night.

After the show I caught up with Kiki and Keith and they brought me backstage so I could say hi to Sarah. There was so much commotion going on back there. I wanted to say hello to Nona as well, but she was surrounded by family and there was no getting to Patti. One day I will complete the trilogy. I saw Sarah for a hot second, but her family was there too. So I just said a quick hello and goodbye and headed back out to get the crew so we could keep on going. On our way out Kenny Gamble was ahead of me wearing his signature kufi. It was great just to be near such a legend. Love it!

After all the hoopla I got something to eat and we headed back out on the road. We were on our way to Silver Spring, MD and Jeff’s friends Renee & Randy’s place. They graciously agreed to put us up for the weekend. The drive down was traffic free at that hour, which was great and made the drive very easy.

We arrived at Renee & Randy’s around 3:30am. They weren’t waiting up for us, but after we got there we all stayed up and chatted as if we weren’t tired. It’s funny how that happens, but it was great conversation. Soon we all headed to sleep so we could be ready for the day ahead.

Sunday January 18th
Somehow we peeled ourselves out of bed on Sunday and eventually we all headed for the mall in DC to the concert that they showed on HBO. The crew included Jeff, Chuz, Lionel, Randy, Renee and their two sons Nick and Julian. We walked to the Metro station and when we got there it was all we could do to figure out how to use the ticket machines for the Metro. Now I consider myself to be very subway savvy as a New Yorker and after navigating the Tube in London I thought nothing could knock me down, but the Metro in DC doesn’t make any sense. I mean it’s easy to get around, but understanding how to get a ticket to ride is another thing. I know some of you are reading this thinking, what is she talking about, but we had to have the attendant show us twice on different days how to use the machine. I felt crazy!

By the time we left the Forest Glen station it was pretty quiet, but when we got to the Foggy Bottom stop in DC and got off, it was packed. Everyone was on their way to the mall. I mean more people then I have seen in a long time. Just people and Obama swag everywhere. As we got out of the train station a man stopped Jeff and interview him for the Washington Post. Everyone was happy and friendly. Thrilled really. The police diverted the people traffic away from the Lincoln Memorial because that area was packed. So they pointed everyone toward the Washington Monument. All the way down the road there were Obama pins, t-shirts, flags, magnets, stickers, hats, you name it, for sale. Everything was $3 or $5. As we go close to the mall we could hear the familiar voice of James Taylor singing “Shower the People.” The sound of his voice brought joy to my heart. As we got closer to the Monument the crowd spread out. It was amazing to see all those people out there. In that area people were watching a jumbotron, but it didn’t matter. Everyone was beaming. It was actually a little warm that day so folks were feeling extra good.

I had my video camera with me so I was shooting all day. When we got to the concert it was just in time to see/hear Stevie Wonder, Usher, Will.I.Am, Shakira, Garth Brooks, Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyoncé, President Obama (at that time still President-Elect) and a few other folks. A guy named Jim, who saw me dancing to “Shout” interviewed me for his blog. After that I wanted to get a better crowd shot, and I saw that some people with cameras were on top of a dumpster not to far away. So I decided to get up there, get a shot or two and come down.

On my way up, a guy told me to stay on the edges because the top of the dumpster was plastic and it might cave in. Noted. So when I got up I stayed on the edge. As other people were coming up the same warning was given. While I was up getting my shot, a girl climbs up there and decides that she’s not going to follow directions and stands right in middle of the top of the dumpster. Well within seconds we were both going down. Luckily my cat-like agility (Haha!) kept me from falling all the way into the dumpster. I think she just got lucky that the top didn’t fall all the way in. As I was picking myself up and dusting myself off, all I could say was,

Me: “Didn’t we tell you not to stand in the middle?”
Girl: “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Her Friend (a guy): “I told her.”

It was actually funny, but it wouldn’t have been as funny if I really fell into that joint. If I had, that may have been the only fight of the inauguration. LOL!

After that I interviewed an elder sister who was sitting on the side of the hill just listening to everything and taking it all in. Her name was Melva. She was 76 from California, originally from Louisiana. She was there with her grandchildren. That was perfect. Just perfect.

Soon we headed back to the train with the masses. Now that was an ordeal getting back on the train. I knew I was witnessing the precursor to Tuesday. We made the most of it and waited cheerfully in line to get back on the train. It was a line like no other till I saw the lines on Tuesday.

When we finally made it back to the house we ate and then changed and went out again. We were beat, but one of Randy and Renee’s friends were having a party so we hung out. It was fun but I was seriously beat down. What a day.

Monday January 19th
On Sunday, the zipper to my coat broke. So I had to get up on Monday morning and go to the store and buy a new winter coat. I knew I couldn’t be on the mall all day Tuesday with a busted coat. Luckily it’s the end of the season so winter coats are on sale. I got up early and went to Marshall’s. I found something I liked, got it and headed back to the house.

When I got back Renee, Randy, Renee’s mom and the boys were headed to a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration and were running late. Jeff, Chuz, Lionel and I had plans to go to the mall that day to do a dry run for Tuesday and do a little site seeing. We decided to wait for Randy and crew to get back so maybe they could go with us again. We waited, but when they got back they said they couldn’t come with us because they had to take care of Renee’s nieces for the evening. So we left the house, but then we had to go eat and get snacks for Tuesday before getting on the train to DC. The day was ticking away. It was a very Mercury Retrograde kind of day and Mercury was retrograde. By the time we got on the train it was getting close to dusk.

We were following the route we would take for Tuesday morning. So we took the train to Metro Center and then switched for another train that would take us to Farragut West. From there we walked to the mall and entered from the south side, which was the suggestion that the newspaper made for folks coming on Tuesday morning. From there we walked further south to the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool and the WWII memorial. It was actually great to see all the sites at night. DC is really beautiful when everything is lit up. There was a crazy line to get up close to Lincoln Memorial so we skipped that and began to walk back north toward the Capitol.

By the time we got to the Washington Monument it was totally lit up and just beautiful. People were out on the mall just buzzing. There were nowhere as many people as the day before, but hundreds maybe thousands of people were just milling about, selling swag and generally taking it all in. As we were walking toward the Monument there were six beams of light that crossed it. I think it was Chuz who first noticed and said, “Is that the Mason symbol?” Of course we all looked up and sure enough there it was. Chuz said all it needed was the G in the middle. Well little did she know we would soon see that one something the symbolized that. We kept looking at each other like, are we seeing what we think we are seeing?

As we passed the monument and headed toward where the lights were set up we knew we were onto something. We kept walking toward the Capitol and looking back. At this point it was totally dark and when we looked back we should see the symbol and the point of the Monument was right where the G would go. Now any of you who are Masons or know anything about the Masons, great or small, know that most if not all of our presidents were Masons. Is President Obama a Mason? I don’t think he was before, but he may be now. Who knows? Don’t get me started spreading rumors, but I will be posting the photos of what we saw.

Moving along, we walked as close to the Capitol as we could get. Along the way MSNBC had a booth set up on the mall and people were out there trying to get their 5 seconds of fame as the camera passed them by. I also ran into my friend Hank out there which was so random because there were so many people in DC that weekend. I am still finding out about folks who were there that I didn’t know were going. Finally we headed to the Hyatt to see if we could catch up with Regina and find some food. We did both. We hung with Regina for a bit in the hotel lobby. We saw Hill Harper there (remember I saw him campaigning in Ohio too). Then we headed to Chinatown and got some grub. That area was beyond packed. People were selling all sorts of swag out there from bling Obama hats to Obama sneakers. We saw it all out there that weekend. Even Obama “gold” bracelets!

After eating and a bit more shopping, we got on the Metro at Chinatown and headed back to Silver Spring. We were beat down…again. We only had a few hours to sleep before we had to be up and start it all over again. Bear in mind that I’ve also been fighting a cold this whole time. So I’m not running on all cylinders, but I’m having a ball.

Tuesday January 20th: Inauguration Day!
I rise at 3am. Jeff rises about 3:15am. Chuz & Lionel rise at 3:30am. We leave the house at 4am with Nas’s “Black President” blasting on the car stereo. It’s only right. We drive a few blocks to the Forest Glen Metro parking lot. We are hyped, ready to go and then we hit gridlock getting into the lot. They were supposed to open at the lot at or before 4am, but clearly they weren’t ready. Well no biggy. We just waited a bit, they opened the lot, we got a spot and headed straight for the train. It was sort of amazing to see all the people with the same intention. It was collective consciousness in action.

When we got off at Farragut West we met up with Kym, Rico and Doreen. Kym and Rico picked up Doreen along the way because she was going to the mall by herself. So we became her new company.

When we got to the mall we just walked as far up as we could get. By this time it was between 5 and 5:30am. It was still dark and it was cold for sure. When we finally stopped we were somewhere between the Monument and the Capitol, but closer to the Capitol. We had to watch a jumbotron, but I figured that would happen so we were cool. When we found our spot we also noticed that people had sleeping bags, blankets, food and all kind of stuff that we thought we couldn’t bring. Why? Because on the inauguration website there were a whole list of things you couldn’t bring, but I later realized that the list was only for ticket holders. So we could have really brought anything short of a tent out there. Oh well.

Although the wait was long and our toes and hands were cold (more toes than hands for me), it was a lot of fun. We all talked about anything under the sun, took photos and videos, walked around our little section and Jeff, Rico, Kym and I even did the Cha Cha Slide a.k.a the Cha Cha for Change to keep warm. It actually worked! We watched the sun come up on the mall and it was a beautiful crisp winter day.

The Girl and Boy Scouts of America were handing out free flags to people. When the broadcast began and people started waving those flags it sounded like a sonic boom. Like jets were flying overhead. It was amazing the force coming from millions waving small flags. When President Obama’s motorcade rolled up and the motorcycles fanned out the crowd went wild. It was incredible to see! Finally after a lot of pomp and circumstance President Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office and then proceeded to give one of the best speeches ever. I won’t quote it because you can read it/see it for yourself. [Inaugural Address].

It’s challenging to sum up my feelings being on the mall that day. It wasn’t just black people and white people. It was really all people. In the corniest of senses it was “We the People.” Maybe not looking quite like how the people who founded this country expected “we” to look, but it was an evolution of the theme. It was the embodiment of what those words really mean because although my people were brought here and called 3/5, we were still people in the eyes of the Universe. [Okay, I’m coming down off the box now. *smile* ]

When it was over we were hungry and were going to try a find place to eat a bit outside of the madness. The police made everyone exit the mall on the east side because the parade was going to happen on the west side and they didn’t want the crowds to overlap. Our first thought was to head back to the station where we came in, but since we couldn’t immediately get over there we decided to try L’enfant Plaza station since it was close to us. Well, that seemed like a good idea when we first entered the station, but soon it turned out to be a bad idea. At L’enfant Plaza there is an underground mall of sorts. When we got to the corridor of the mall, there was a line heading to the station that was 15 people or more wide. I can’t even tell you how long the long was. It was hot down there and people were only moving about one or two steps up every time a train came into the station. We later found out that there were two huge lines merging into the station. Then a woman almost passed out and they had to bring her into an open store. At that point I knew it was time to get out of there. It was a bad scene waiting to happen. I saw an exit door, asked the crew if they were down to get out of line, they were, so we cut across and headed back outside to find another station to take us home.

We ended up making our way back across the mall because by that time a lot of the people had dispersed so they opened up more gates. We headed back to the station that we came from that morning. There was a long line there too, but nothing like what we had left. By the time we did all that we were all too tired to be hungry. So we said our goodbyes to Rico and Kym and went our separate ways. After standing out in the cold for 7+ hours I was sick all over again. I felt good that morning, but that was too much cold for too long.

By the time we got back to Silver Spring we were beat. To make matters even crazier I had to drive us back to NY that night. Renee put my remedy together for me (garlic, lemon, cayenne & honey); I drank that and went to sleep for a few hours. We got up about 10 or 11pm and got back on the road. Chuz and Lionel had to work the next morning and I had to return the rental so there was no hanging another day. The upside of all that is that because we left so late at night there was no traffic and I made record time back to NY. I won’t say how fast so my mom won’t have a heart attack. I know she knows me, but still. *smile*

Wednesday January 21st
Obviously we arrived safely back in NY. I took a nap and then took the car back to Laguardia airport. I came back home and went back to sleep for a little while because I had to get ready for a show that night. I’m sick as a dog and have no voice, but I told Hanifah that I would play with her at her show that night. I kept my word, but I was mostly tambourine and not so much vocals for that show.

I also had a show the next night. A video shoot in fact and I was really concerned about that. But the next day the adrenaline kicked in and somehow I made it through that. Then I spent the rest of the week recovering.

So folks, that is my inaugural journey. I came home to President Obama going straight to work and he’s still working. I will be writing about the first 100 days of Obama in my blog Barack Watch on The first installment is just a quick overview of the last couple of weeks because so much has happened in his life and mine that I had to do a little catch up. I’ll get to my life soon. But after that I will have a weekly update of what is going on in the Obama Presidency. Every day is another interesting tidbit. I am feeling a brand new day.

[You can see some of the footage of my inaugural trip on #59/60: Barack Watch]