Sunday, January 20, 2013

A New Term Begins

It’s January 20th, Inauguration day.   And for the first of these quadrennial events during the last 32 years, I’m not in Washington, DC. 

Ronald Regan Swearing In
January 20, 1981
I am reminded of my first – January 20, 1981.  Ronald Wilson Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th President of the United States.  The Gipper came back from early polling deficits to shellac Jimmy Carter, a President whose image was fatally tarnished by vacillation and ineffectiveness during the Iranian Hostage Crisis.  If the moralizing and temporizing JC could not take on a bunch of unruly university students who kidnapped American diplomats, how could he be expected to successfully confront the infinitely larger threats posed by the USSR and its Cold War allies?  The economy struggled with recession and double digit inflation.  The former Governor from Georgia told the US populous they were at fault, suffering from malaise.  Jimmy Carter was toast. 

West Portico of Capitol
and Reflecting Pool
The morning of the ceremony we took a Metrobus from our apartment in Alexandria to the District.  Because we would be a couple hundred yards distant, I carried along binoculars and a transistor radio, to better see and hear the inaugural address.  We settled in on the National Mall just across the Capitol Reflecting Pool, as close as us non-ticket holders could get to the podium and reviewing stand built and deconstructed every four years for the occasion. 

In those days, WTOP News Radio dominated the AM airwaves. The station advertised it would carry the inaugural address live, along with its standard coverage on time, temperature and traffic. Setting up well before the 12:00 noon swearing in, I dialed the radio to 1500 AM to check for pre-ceremony coverage and turned up the volume full blast. There was totally unexpected and exciting news. Reports issued from unidentified sources that after 444 days the Iranian hostages were being freed. I exclaimed aloud, "They are being freed."  Heads turned. People asked me to repeat myself. The crowd closed in and asked for updates. Minutes after the swearing in, WTOP reported the hostages were in the air and had cleared Iranian airspace. I announced the news to my neighbors. They jumped for joy and broke into resounding cheers.  That was truly a historic moment, a new dawning for America, and an instant I can recall 32 years after.

Reagan’s second inauguration was scheduled four years later, same time and same place, but it was not meant to be.  I was focused on career, scheduled to fly on business from Washington National Airport to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  When I awoke that morning the backyard thermometer read -7 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest day during my 34 years as a Beltway denizen.   On landing in Sioux Falls that afternoon it was a relatively balmy 15 degrees – I luxuriated in the warmth   Back in DC, not wanting to risk the health of an aging President or to be besmirched by the specter of frostbitten spectators, outdoor inauguration festivities were cancelled.  I missed not a thing. 

George H W Bush Swearing In Ceremony
January 20th 1989 dawned a gorgeous day in Washington DC for the Inaugural of George HW Bush.  By this time, direct bus service to DC had been eliminated, forcing transit customers to use Metrorail.   I decided to drive to the Satellite Parking at National (now Reagan National) Airport, take the loop shuttle bus to the airport Metrorail stop and cross the river to DC via train from there.  We jumped on a Yellow Line car and sat across the aisle from a couple visiting from Iowa for the festivities.  They inquired as to what stop to best exit, and how to get from there to their ticketed seats.  I reviewed the disembarkation options and advised how to best navigate the crowds and the barriers after the inaugural address to get a clear view of the subsequent parade.  They said thank you, but we have tickets for a parade reviewing stand.  As we exited the train car in DC, the couple said here, we have these extra passes for the swearing-in ceremony, please take them and enjoy.  As result of their genorosity, my radio and binoculars were not needed.  We heard close up of the thousand points of light, which turned out to be the highlight of a mostly squandered presidency.

The inaugurations of Bill Clinton and George W Bush seemed of little note or import.  I was not excited by the people, their visions or their policies, and was not particularly interested in what they might have to say.  The best that could be hoped is they would be decent caretakers.  I have no recollection of how I passed the time during their inaugurals.   I always had the day off from work because my office building had windows overlooking Mall.  It was closed January 20th every four years at the strong suggestion of the Secret Service. 

By the time Barack Obama was inaugurated I knew it would likely be my last opportunity to attend the event.  It was, once again, a nice January day.   Huge crowds were anticipated.   It was going to be historic, they said, an iconic event.   So I did what came naturally to me under the circumstances.  I drove out to Algonkian, against the incoming traffic, for a pleasant round of golf.  The next day when I drove into Washington DC for work I couldn’t help but notice that the Mall and adjacent streets were trashed and deep in rubbish far exceeding anything I had seen in my previous 31 years whether it be for inaugurations, a papal visit, million man or mom marches, day long 4th of July celebrations, marches for life, far dirtier, messier and more destructive than anything previous. 

I knew then this was going to be a very different President.   He has been and will be.  It will end some day.


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