Lawrence Mohammad and Denise Taylor hid from the cold and crowd under a blanket on the west lawn of the Capitol. They appeared insulated not only from the biting temperature, but also from the throng of about 1.5 million other spectators eager to catch a glimpse of history.
A woman, detecting a close connection between the two, asked if they are married. Taylor laughed and said, “You won’t believe it if I tell you. . We just met today.”
It all began at 4:30 a.m., when Lawrence arrived at the purple-ticket line on First Street and Constitution Avenue. The sun had not yet risen and the temperature lingered in the low 20s. Used instant heat packs littered the street. Men and women swayed and stomped their feet – not in excitement, but in an effort to return feeling to their numb toes.
Lawrence held two coveted purple tickets – giving him the choice of watching the swearing-in ceremony from either the north or west standing zones. He’d earned the tickets working for Obama’s campaign staff in Georgia.
Denise also arrived at 4:30. She had come from Chicago and had no ticket. Like so many others, she just wanted to be there, even if it meant watching on one of the many JumboTrons scattered across the mall.
In an act of kindness so emblematic of the spirit of the day, Lawrence spotted Denise in the crowd and offered her his extra ticket. The two had never met before and knew nothing about each other, but that isn’t to say they had nothing in common. They both were willing to brave crowds and cold in exchange for a piece of history. As African Americans, they shared a desire to see America’s first black president take the oath of office in front of a building that slaves helped to build. They both looked back on the last eight years with disdain, and looked forward to the next four with hope.
“I found my angel,” said Denise, smiling at Lawrence. Her angel broke off a piece of his muffin and handed it to her.
This sort of story was uncommon in the purple section, where patience ran thin and tempers high. The Washington Post reported that at least 4,000 people with blue or purple tickets were unable to enter the Capitol grounds because too many tickets had been distributed, people without tickets bombarded security gates and the screening process took too long.
At least 1,000 people were directed below ground to the Third Street tunnel – which came to be nicknamed “The Purple Tunnel of Doom.” Many of these ticket-holders were congressional staffers and loyal Obama campaigners. The tunnel had little security or organization. Before 11 a.m., individuals emerged from the tunnel to discover locked gates where they had expected to enter. They missed everything.
The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies apologized for the ticket fiasco and promised an investigation into the causes.
But no apology can assuage the anger of men and women who traveled from all over the country to spend Obama’s swearing-in ceremony in a crowded tunnel.
One need not have been in the “tunnel of doom” to understand the chaos and confusion of the day – from stalled transportation to “human traffic” on the street to swarms of people that, in one instance, caused a woman to fall onto the Gallery Place Metro tracks.
Chants of “Yes we did!” quickly gave rise to “Don’t cut the line!” and – for those blocking others’ view – “Sit down!”
As for Lawrence and Denise, their place in line allowed them only a faint view of the ceremony. Congressmen and senators were little dots against the white marble steps of the Capitol and Obama’s face was a blur, even with a camera on full zoom. But that was more than enough. The crowds, the biting cold, the numb toes – everything took a back seat to the thrill of seeing those dots and blurs. Lawrence and Denise waved and sang “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” as President Bush became former President Bush. They pumped their fists in the air as Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled through the swearing-in. Denise welled up with tears as Obama finished his speech.
Then it was over. Lawrence and Denise vanished into the crowd and likely went their separate ways. There’s a good chance they will never see each other again – that the blanket, muffin and excitement they shared were only for a day.
Some are saying the same about Obama. They say that America’s brief fling with Barack will soon come to an end and our country will be left with deflated hope and the same old problems. They say that Obama cannot be the man that Americans have built him up to be. They say that our government will, despite Obama’s best efforts, soon relapse into partisan bickering. They say he cannot meet the high expectations we have set for him.
They may be right. It’s too early to tell.
But, if nothing else, at least he gave us Jan. 20. At least he rekindled an interest in our government and brought over 1.5 million people to the National Mall. At least he gave us a reason for throwing one of the biggest celebrations this country has ever seen in the midst of two wars and an economic crisis. At least he brought two strangers together on one blanket – maybe only for a day. But at least for a day.
Andrew Dubbins is a sophomore in the College. He can be reached at dubbinsthehoya.com. Breaking News appears every other Tuesday.
To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact opinionthehoya.com. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.