Friday, Jan. 16, 2009 | 5:39 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- I was awake before my alarm went off but forced myself to stay in bed. I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I also knew I hadn’t slept much the night before.
Many of my nights are sleep-deprived but usually it’s because of work. This night, however, was different. For the first time in a long, long time, I was too excited to sleep.
I was going to Washington, D.C. to witness history: Barack Obama’s inauguration.
It is hard to describe the emotions and flurry of thoughts that flew through my mind. I was excited, sure, but I was also scared. Would I be able to navigate the city amongst the expected 2 million others who were flocking to the nation’s capital to take in the event? Would I get pick-pocketed in the crowd? Or, God forbid, would something really bad happen?
The world will be watching, waiting, I thought. And there are a lot of bad people out there.
I shook my head and changed the subconscious subject.
While my anxiety was real, it paled in comparison to the feelings of excitement and anticipation. History was about to be made and I would be there to see it. There would be pomp, circumstance, and a star-studded cast of entertainers, celebrities and politicians. I couldn’t wait.
I think it was 2:30 or 3 a.m. when I finally went to sleep but I wasn’t tired when my alarm clock started sounding a few short hours later. While Washington D.C. was hundreds of miles and several hours away, I could almost feel the city’s energy and anticipation.
Once I got to the airport, I was officially on my way. Airport traffic was light so check-in was a breeze, as was getting through airport security.
As I passed through the metal detector and had my luggage X-rayed, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other security checkpoints I will have to go through over the next few days.
As I waited for my flight to board I went over my D.C. to-do list and schedule one more time. As usual, I had a pretty tight itinerary planned and ambitious goals for the next few days. I first wondered how I’d do it, then pondered how much Red Bull would be needed to pull it all off. Three cans a night, I concluded – and reminded myself that I can sleep when I return to Las Vegas.
When I finally landed in Baltimore it was just after 7 p.m. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity I was convinced that my cobalt-colored bag had gone astray. Thankfully, after several anxious moments at the baggage claim, “Big Blue” appeared. I fetched the massive suitcase and ventured outside to wait for the B30 Metro bus that would take me to the nearest Metro rail station several miles away in the D.C. metro area.
The cold quickly penetrated my skin, which has quickly grown accustomed to the Las Vegas air. Though I was raised in a harsh northern climate, I was not built for winter.
While it may have been chilly back home in Las Vegas, it was downright frigid in Maryland. The temperature was below freezing and my fingers soon went numb.
After what seemed like far longer than what it actually was, the bus finally arrived. I grabbed the $3.10 fare from the bottom of my bag with my half-frozen fingers and climbed aboard.
I stored my carry-on bag at the front of the bus and lugged “Big Blue” to the seat with me. In my haste I somehow managed to tuck the massive suitcase right where my legs should’ve done, between my seat and the back of the seat in front of me. So there I sat, cuddled up in my parka sitting in what looked like an Eskimo fetal position. It was ridiculous but I didn’t care; the bus was heated.
A constant stream of people continued to filter onto the bus. The vehicle was filled to capacity but they still kept coming and the driver still kept telling people to move toward the back of the vehicle -- not that there was any room to move.
It was like I was inside one of those clown cars at the circus; I couldn’t believe how many bodies they wedged on board. And just when you thought they couldn’t possibly fit another one on, three climbed on board. It was quite the sight.
Thankfully, the trip from BWI to the subway line isn’t too long so this trip was short.
The “plane, train and automobile” trifecta was satisfied shortly after I bought a pair of paper Metro rail cards (which now have Obama’s face printed on them) and climbed onto the train.
Since the train travels underground I didn’t get to see the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Building or any other landmarks as I made my way into the District. I didn’t resurface until I reached the trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood – and from that area, in northwest D.C., you can’t see any of the monuments or landmarks.
From the subway I lugged my bags to the bar of my favorite 24-hour bookstore, Kramer Books (Vegas has 24-hour casinos; D.C. has 24-hour bookstores) and ordered myself a glass of wine. I figured I deserved it after the long day. Plus, I had time to kill while I waited for my friend, Brian, to get off work.
Brian is a saint. He is the one who agreed to put me up while I embarked upon this inaugural adventure – and for that I will be forever thankful.
I say “forever thankful” because most of D.C.’s overpriced hotels have for months been booked solid over inauguration. I’ve heard horror stories from George Washington University students renting out their dorms for $800 per person (each dorm room can have two “guests” at a time and apparently it’s not illegal to charge “guests” exhorbant amounts to say in the rooms). I’ve also heard of people renting their apartments out for as much as $15,000 for inauguration week.
Since Brian was stuck working late (he’s a lawyer and is in the midst of a big case) I had to chill out at Kramer Books for a while. This was fine by me; I enjoyed my drink, got some work done, and made some friends while I was at it.
The bar’s blackboard featured a nonpartisan range of politically flavored cocktails, with names like “the Maverick.”
Around me, the buzz was all about the coming Tuesday: Who had tickets to the inauguration, where they were going to watch the parade, and what parties they were going to attend.
Sometimes the conversation shifted to random ads found on Craigslist, where people were offering everything from overpriced inauguration tickets to dates to exclusive inaugural balls and parties.
After my overworked and weary den mother finally came to retrieve me we made our way through the cold night and back to his townhouse, where Brian showed me to what will be my room for the next week.
The room was small, unglamorous and cold, but it didn’t put a damper on my excitement. I inflated my modest air mattress, assembled the sheets and blankets, and crawled into bed.
Sure, I wasn’t in a plush presidential suite at a Capitol Hill hotel, but I had arrived.