If I had been a Boy Scout – if I had not, in fact, been waylaid by the onerous demands of the Webelos – this week might be a bit easier. But the whole notion to “Be Prepared,” as the Scout motto goes, is still a work in progress for me.
The trouble is that the two people who are accompanying me to Washington, D.C. to experience the inauguration of Barack Obama – my brother Michael and my daughter Quinlyn – have similarly sketchy histories with the Scouts. As a result, we are setting out for Washington with somewhat less preparation than, say, the Allies had in the liberation of Normandy.
Though, we do have a plan. With maps of the area laid out on the table before me, and Google Earth at my fingertips on the laptop, we sat at a table dreaming up a suitable strategy to slip into the nation’s capital. I felt like Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove” and waited for Mike to take on the role of George C. Scott. But he was agreeable to everything I suggested.
Our plan, approaching the city from the south is to swing west, away from the core of madness, from the Capitol steps where the swearing-in is to take place. We’ll find some way to park at the outermost subway station on the southwest corner of the metropolitan area, where we will join the queue to board the train.
We’ll disembark at Arlington National Cemetery – maybe pay our respects to JFK – and walk across the bridge (closed to cars) into the District, sneaking up behind the Lincoln Memorial. We’ll wander, gawk, dance in the streets, high-five the new president, make several new friends-for-life, breeze through the Smithsonian and be chilling at a convivial D.C. brew pub by nightfall. Easy as pie.
I’m trying to exude confidence, but I feel a bit like that wretch who convinced the Donner Party to take a shortcut. Michael sees through my desperately manufactured equanimity, and suggests that we could be marching to our doom, referencing that 1979 Who concert in which people were trampled to death by a panicked crowd.
Getting trampled? Thanks, bro. I was just thinking that the list of things to get freaked out about – weather, toilets, traffic, lines, food, thieves, toilets, cell phone outages, exhaustion, cheesed-off Secret Service agents, did I mention toilets? – was just not quite sufficient.
My problem is that I don’t know how to find the right measure of preparation. My efforts to be prepared are largely mocked by my 16-year-old offspring in whose eyes I am half-insane with irrational worry. I packed so many winter clothes for my flight that my bag was too heavy to check, and suddenly, I was in the middle of a “Seinfeld” episode, having to board wearing four shirts and two jackets pulled from my suitcase right there in front of God and American Airlines.
I bought a big bag of hard candies made from coffee, so we’ll able to meet our caffeine intake requirements without the burden of extra fluids, since the idea is to concentrate on Obama Nation, not urination. I crawled all around 70-degree Santa Cruz in search of thermal long underwear, and what did I get for it? What anyone who spends any time around a teenager gets – that baleful half-smirk that is universal non-verbal communication for “I’m in the presence of a world-class idiot.”
My unease is only inflamed by the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Inauguration. I know it’s historic and all, but it wouldn’t it be nice if the celebs would just stay at home and let us normal folks celebrate for once? Maybe if Bruce Springsteen and Denzel Washington and Jessica Alba and their substantial entourages and bodyguards weren’t around to push the radius of the crowd further into Virginia (maybe even West Virginia), then maybe more of those anonymous working-class heroes the Democratic Party loves to evoke wouldn’t have to experience the event on the outside looking in.
As for our intrepid trio, we go to today’s epoch-making Inaugural actually hoping to encounter some difficulties. An experience like this feels like it should be earned with sore feet, cold bones and over-stressed bladders. To all those who paid for Barack Obama’s ascendance to the White House at the blunt end of repression, violence and bondage – whatever discomfort we experience? That’s a day at the beach.
Contact Wallace Baine at 429-2427