January 18, 2009

January 18, 2009
The Inaugural Festivities Begin

Thanks for stopping by to check out another day in my life. I hope you are having a safe and great holiday weekend so far.

If you read my blog, you know I am currently in Washington DC and staying with friends so I could be here for President Obama's inauguration.

After getting up early this morning, my friends and I decided to go have brunch at Annie's Steakhouse which is one of my favorite places in DC boy town. The food is always great and the place is largely staffed by gays and lesbians.

But what about the events scheduled for today you ask? Here you go.

Two days from the White House, President-elect Barack Obama prayed, honored the nation's fallen heroes and joined a vast throng at an uplifting musical extravaganza at the base of the Lincoln Memorial on a pre-inauguration Sunday that blended the somber with the celebratory.

After Annie's, my friends and I headed to the National Mall for a free concert. Under the gaze of Abraham Lincoln's statue, Bruce Springsteen and a red robed gospel choir kicked off a spirited pre-inaugural concert Sunday before tens of thousands on the National Mall.

The crowd erupted in cheers when Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived, walking down the steps of the memorial, and kept applauding for the high energy Springsteen act and the performances that followed.

There was no red carpet, but the event had the feel of a Hollywood awards ceremony, with stars taking the stage to praise and serenade the next president. Performers including U2, Beyonce and James Taylor were on the bill.

A crowd expected to reach up to a half million was stretched past the reflecting pool separating the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Obama and his wife and Vice President elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, sat behind bullet proof glass near the stage erected on the steps of the memorial.

The concert began with Springsteen, dressed in black, singing "The Rising," with the help of the choir, taking a song best known as a call to action following the 2001 terror attacks and using it to usher in a new era in American politics.

Denzel Washington was the first celebrity to speak, telling the crowd, "We are all in this together."

Another speaker was actor Tom Hanks, who as Forrest Gump famously gave a speech at the monument steps and jumped into the reflecting pool. This time, he appeared in a dark suit and read a somber tribute to Abraham Lincoln.

Jamie Foxx brought many in the crowd-and the Obamas-to their feet by repeatedly urging those from Chicago to make some noise: "Chi-town, stand up!" he demanded.

Foxx then launched into a quick impersonation of the president elect.

Joe Biden told the crowd: "Look around you. Look at the grace and grandeur that surrounds us and you'll see the work of American hands."

Obama's aides said he was readying an inaugural address that would stress twin themes of responsibility and accountability, and they predicted he would devote his first week in office to economic recovery, setting in motion a 16 month troop withdrawal from Iraq and decreeing a code of ethics for his administration.

With the economy weak and growing weaker, banks in trouble and joblessness rising, Obama's team was careful to warn against any expectation that he would be a miracle worker once in office. "I think it's fair to say that it's going to take not months but years to really turn this around," said David Axelrod, a political strategist expected to have White House space mere paces from the Oval Office.

Earlier in the day Sunday, Obama and Vice President elect Joseph Biden laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington. The two men placed their hands over their hearts as a uniformed bugler played taps in a serious opening to a festive day.

The scene was quite different at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, where Obama and his family attended Sunday services and the pastor, Derrick Hawkins, deadpanned it was "just another typical Sunday."

The congregation erupted in applause when the president-elect, his wife Michelle, and their daughters Sasha and Malia walked in. Children sang and spoke selected readings that recalled the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Martin Luther King walked so that Barack Obama could run," said one boy. "Barack Obama ran so that all children could fly," added another, standing a few feet away from the first African-American ever elected president.

Beginning with the juxtaposition of the King birthday holiday one day shy of Inauguration Day, the symbolism was hard to miss.

The main event of the day was a concert that drew a crowd measured in the hundreds of thousands to an area that is hallowed ground.

Lincoln, the president who freed the slaves, towers from within the memorial built to honor him. In another era the same site hosted the black singer Marian Anderson after she was denied the use of a concert hall because of her race. King followed a generation later, declaring, "I have a Dream" in a singular moment of the civil rights era.

A huge crowd was gathered for Obama and the entertainment, which included Beyonce, U2, Bruce Springsteen and others.

An even larger audience is forecast for the Inauguration outside the Capitol on Tuesday, with estimates running into the millions. Agencies in charge of logistics and security said they would enforce a ban on personal auto traffic across the Potomac River bridges from Virginia into Washington and seal off a large portion of the downtown area. Access to buildings along the Inaugural parade route down Pennsylvania Avenue was limited to those who gained Secret Service approval in advance.

As Obama moved around town in a pre-inaugural motorcade, his aides blanketed Sunday's interview programs.

With the nation facing the most difficult economic crisis since the Great Depression, they all agreed that recovery was the principal challenge facing the new president.

So while I am enduring the cold in DC for this historic event, let me know how things are going on in your world. Inquiring minds want to know.

Wishing you health, hope and happiness.

Big bear hug,

Daddy Dab