Thursday, January 20, 2005

Step Into The Way Back Machine

A Literary and Historical Aside

Red Line, DC Metro, January 20, 2001, 9:00am - Light glints off a silver belt buckle. A lady's fur-covered arm brushes my face. Many children talk. There are many tourists lurching and grabbing for the sticky silver poles. A man carries a white sign with red letters. Three more women in black hats carry red signs with green, dripping words. A man in a Stetson herds his gilded wife through the doors. Parents bundle their children in a blanket filled stroller. It is inauguration day. The metro slows and stops in the dark tunnel. The tourists shuffle. The commuters sigh. A girl fusses with her earmuffs. Her mother tugs at her scarf. The grandmother adjusts her rhinestone pin - shaped like the state of Texas. There is a large W in the center. The W is made of red, white, and blue jewels. The grandmother smiles.

The metro doors open. The transfer station platform teems with people. Most look lost. Others look frustrated. A man wears a shirt with a donkey on it. The man is not smiling. His son, also wearing a donkey, smiles. My feet ache. It is only 9 o'clock. The air is cold. Sleet falls from the sky. The train descends into another tunnel. A group of people laugh. They are carrying large rolls of canvas. The canvas is white. Across from them sit a group of school children. They are carrying flags. Next to me sits a couple. They are talking about tickets. The women looks angry. The man looks tired. The doors open and close again. The metro driver barks instructions at the passengers. The passengers look up at the speakers in the ceiling.

A boy wears a red sweater with a blue W. The boy gets out of his seat. He points to it. An old woman lowers herself into the seat. She has a cane and a stack of leaflets. The leaflets are green. The metro stops. The lady and the girl and the boy and the old woman and all the signs and all the flags get off the train.

Four years ago to the day, I sat on that Metro and observed a bit of America playing itself out, thinking it a touching moment of togetherness before the still warring factions left for their respective displays of patriotism: some to protest downtown, some to cheer on the mall. I wrote that piece on my return for my creative journalism class (and yeah, that was really a class).

The Supreme Court gave us our President and, having not been to DC in a year, I decided to attend the first inaugural of George W. Bush. At the time I was sure he'd be the sorbet of presidents - as would have been Gore - something to clear the nation's palate while fresher leadership ripened for the picking. My former employer - a Democratic Congresswoman - generously provided me with her husband's ticket - so I had a seat within literal spitting distance of the man who would later lead us to war and lead me to leave law school. What was most memorable that day wasn't the speech - I couldn't tell you know what he said if my life depended on it - but the cold. Wind, freezing rain (or was it sleet? I'm told there's a difference), and relentless, pervasive, bone-chilling cold shrouded the days events in an air of is-it-over-yet-iveness.

It's hard now to admit I was ever there. It doesn't make me less of a Democrat. I suppose it makes me a witness to history - though the exact nature of that history is unknown. I have my ideas, of course, and they ain't good. But at the time, my sorbet attitude, and pre-9/11 innocence, left me a less solemn observer than I would be today. If only we'd known . . . .

This January 20, at least I'll be warmer. I, for one, won't be lamenting another stolen election - though some will. If it was stolen, it was stolen slowly, with carefully constructed rhetoric and a series of unfortunate events - not from the ballot box, but from the minds and dreams of American voters. What would President Kerry's inaugural have been like? Or President Dean's? We'll never know.

Today marks the end of a chapter of sorts for me. Having watched the first inaugural, spending a week in frozen New Hampshire last winter - where I watched John Kerry effectively clinch the nomination, and leaving law school for the great unknown, I'll end the journey without much fanfare. I doubt I'll even watch the events. I've got class and TVs on campus are hard to find. C-SPAN can brief me later.

Will the same scene play out on the DC Metro today? Probably. Though a similar piece would include descriptions of soldiers in fatigues and large, dully shining weapons at the ready. But even if the actions are the same - I doubt the emotions will be. The fight for Democrats continues, but has changed. The fight for the hearts and minds of our faithful must be linked to the failing fight for the hearts and minds of far-flung nations. We have 4 years until the next inaugural, 2 and a half years until the next presidential campaign, and 1 year until the midterms. Protest today. But tomorrow, turn the page on this chapter - keeping it bookmarked - and figure out what comes next.

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