Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Flashback: Balling with #42

Today's the best kind of national holiday -- I get to drink a great American sparkling wine, eat good food, watch Barack Obama be inaugurated as President on TV, and still have mail delivery. What I like most about Obama is his blend of intelligence, willingness to act, and ecumenticism in understanding the advantages in working with those of different viewpoints. It will be an interesting eight years.

I'm also reflecting today -- in these early morning hours -- on a similar day in 1993 when Ella and I awoke in Arlington, Virginia, across the river from the Capitol, in anticipation of the first inauguration of Bill Clinton. And another Bush was moving out of the White House that day. Although the pending arrival of Clinton and Gore bore nowhere near the enthusiasm and energy that the coming of Obama and Biden is generating, it was an exciting time.

Our plan for the day was simple -- catch the Metro into the city, watch the inaugural ceremony on TV from a corporate office near the White House, catch the end of the parade looking down from the sixth floor (I think) onto Pennsylvania Avenue, then refresh before an inaugural ball. I was working in public relations for DuPont's pharmaceutical business at the time, and I think my friend Scott and I were the only people who openly supported Clinton. Our bosses and colleagues were of a generation seduced, with some reason, by Reagan and were in death throes of fear and loathing at the spectre of the coming Hillary Healthcare Plan.

The DuPont legal offices were festive for the occasion, not because the lawyers were Clintonites, but because there were fresh faces across the street and at the Capitol to be lobbied and won over. So there was plenty of food. We arrived early, nibbled and chatted, and settled in to watch Bill get inaugurated. Bush 41 wasn't much of a communicator either ("the vision thing"), so everyone was waiting to hear what loqaucious Bill would say. It would be inspiring, we all agreed, but it would also be too long and windy. It was, and it was. We watched the parade on TV until it ended down below in the streets, when we all took to the large office-building windows. We thought we got a glimpse of Clinton, but weren't sure of that.

That night -- a cold one -- we made our way back into DC without much problem. Being in public relations, I worked with an agency that had worked with some music industry clients, so we were able to get two tickets to the hottest party in town, the MTV Ball being held at the convention center. We were appropriately tuxed and gowned when festivities got underway.

The music was good, especially Soul Asylum, who looked very dazed and crazed, though in a focused sort of way. Boyz 2 Men were OK. There were others. I had never seen a mosh pit before, but one quickly developed near where we were standing near the edge of the stage. Bodies came hurdling toward me, and I got some primal pleasure in hurling them back with a shoulder or a stiff arm. In a few minutes, the word started spreading through the crowd that the Clintons and the Gores were on there way, and that was soon confirmed from the stage.

About that time, a guy in his 30s, looking somber and severe in his suit, gave me a slight push as he worked his way through the crowd parallel to the stage . Of course, I gave him a shove back. He paused and gave me a withering look. I gave one back. "Don't you shove me," I shouted over the noise in my best attenpt to sound feral. He gave me one last look -- "I-wish-I-had-time-to-take-you-outside" type of glance -- then walked on, shoving and pushing.

I looked over at Ella, expecting admonishment, but instead found her chuckling. "Don't you know that was the Secret Service?" she laughed. "Didn't you see the wire coming out of his ear and the lapel pin?" True, in those pre-iPod days it was rare to see men with ear gear, but I hadn't really thought about it. But before I could reflect further with a mental instant replay, there were Bill and Hillary and Al and Tipper up onstage.

I can't remember a word they said.

The next morning, we were driving back up I-95 to Pennsylvania chatting about what a great time we had and what stories we could tell our cats, the late Fred and Cecil. Taking part in an inauguration was a great thing to do, we both concluded, but just once. Which is why neither of us -- excited as we are -- will be in Washington today, but will instead be watching on TV, drinking a vintage "J" sparkling wine from Sonoma, and fixing a pheasant stew.

Ella and I tend to be samplers -- try it once, see what it's like, move on. One Sundance festival. One Nascar race. One Orvis flyfishing weekend. One PGA championship with Tiger Woods.

In fact, if ever I had taken to Christianity and thus found myself in need of baptism, I would have opted for a few drops of water sprinkled across my head rather than being dunked into a creek the way things were done during my hill-boy childhood. Total immersion just never made it with me.

So here's looking at you Barack! I'll be watching you, I'm at your back, and I'll be there in spirit. But I already sort of know what it will feel like.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

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