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Inauguration Sensation

Joseph McMahon | Friday, January 23, 2009

WASHINGTON – When I arrived at the Cannon House Office Building Monday morning to help my father, who was recently elected to represent New York’s 13th District, a long line of people waiting to receive tickets to Obama’s was already stretching down the street.

By mid-afternoon, the wait was three hours.

Luckily, I was able to use the ID card issued to Congressional family members to bypass the security check.

The inauguration presented a challenge to my father’s new team, since immediately after Nov. 4 his office was flooded by thousands of ticket requests from constituents.

But the line outside of the Cannon building was dwarfed by the crowds I awoke to early the next morning.

It seemed that the entire city of Washington was packed with people in town to witness the inauguration of America’s first black president. My parents were invited to a breakfast in the Capitol and sat in comfortable seats during the swearing-in (my mother’s seats were so good, she bragged about sitting next to Beyonce, Jay-Z.).

My Aunt Linda and I were left to brave the crowds together.

The tickets were color-coded, and my aunt and I were lucky enough to have yellow tickets which would give us an excellent view of the event. But when we arrived at the yellow gate at 9 a.m., we soon realized the yellow section was not as exclusive as we had imagined. It took us 20 minutes just to walk to the back of the line, and we were afraid we wouldn’t get inside.

As the line progressed, we passed a number of vendors attempting to sell Obama merchandise. Before Tuesday, I had never realized how much useless stuff could be sold at ridiculous prices simply by putting a man’s face on it. Everything one could imagine, from Obama t-shirts and hats to buttons and calendars to Obama pretzels and condoms, was available.

We waited for two and a half hours and went through the airport-esque security check before we finally arrived at our section. The view was much better than I could have imagined, and I was clearly able to see the former presidents paraded out onto the balcony before Obama and his family arrived.

The event itself was relatively short, and after an opening by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rick Warren gave an uninspiring invocation that left some in the crowd next to me questioning his selection as a speaker, followed by music from Aretha Franklin. The crowd really responded well to the classical performance arranged by John Williams and featuring Yo-Yo Ma.

Many in the media have labeled Obama’s inaugural address as uninspiring, especially when compared with his other speeches and the past inaugural addresses of some presidents. But the speech was truly unique in that it addressed the concrete issues that America faces. Facing one of the largest crowds ever addressed by a single public speaker, Obama seized upon the opportunity to challenge the American people by pointing to the troubles ahead.

One image that will always stick in my mind was turning around to see the one million plus Americans standing behind me on the National Mall waving flags. For those and many Americans, Obama has become more than simply a leader. The inauguration marked the rise of a man who has become a cultural icon.

As we shuffled through the crowd and toward the gate after the ceremony, my aunt and I bumped into her boss, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. After yelling toward him, the mayor turned toward my aunt, who serves as one of his deputy mayors.

“Hello, Linda,” he said. “Don’t forget, tomorrow is a work day.”