It’s been years since my mom and I have had a good reason to take a road trip. But last Saturday to pay homage to our 44th president-elect, my mom flew from Florida to New York and together we packed up my Mini Cooper with cocktail dresses, snow boots and Starbucks lattes and drove to Washington, DC, to brave the cold, the crowds and to witness history.
For the record, I am not an Inaugural virgin. In 1992 as a college senior, I traveled to DC for Bill Clinton’s first Inauguration, which also marked my first date with my future husband. Clinton’s Inaugural was thrilling – peppered with celebrities, concerts, George Stephanopoulos sightings, blissful optimism and lots of free beer. My wistful nostalgia, a potent cocktail of youth and young love and memories of Michael holding my hand on the Mall, made Clinton’s Inauguration legendary for me. So I wondered, how could No-Drama Obama’s party get any better than that?
No disrespect to Bill, but as it turned out, Barack’s “We are One” love fest that had strangers hugging in the streets makes Clinton ’92 feel like just another political event. Ironically, President Cool inspired the most dramatic and emotional gathering in our country’s history. So for those of you who caught the whole thing on TV and wondered what it felt like to be there…well, I thought I’d pass along some of my firsthand experiences.
Yes, it was cold and yes, there were celebrities from Hollywood A-Listers to total Has Beens decked in faux and real fur. But trust me it wasn’t all Beyonce serenades. There were snafus.
My weekend kicked off with us losing our highly-sought after, overly priced parade tickets. Well, we didn’t exactly lose them; we just failed to receive them from my sister’s doorman in New York City who signed the Fed Ex envelope. So after our 5-hour drive to Washington, we found ourselves at the D.C. Convention Center begging an Inaugural committee volunteer to hook us up with a fresh batch. Incredibly, he took pity and issued us another pair of tickets along with a very snazzy, ivory linen Inauguration invitation to go along with them. Disaster averted.
And yes, it was cold. Sunday, we layered up with ski socks, thermal underwear, hats, scarves and Uggs and headed out to the Lincoln Memorial for the concert. We perched ourselves on a patch of hill that gave us some pretty decent views of the Lincoln Memorial. Although everyone on stage resembled ants, one of our neighbors (after standing for four hours, we all became quite close) let us borrow his binoculars, and when I crooked my neck at just the right angle I did get a terrific view of a Jumbotron and slightly more of an idea of whom was standing onstage…..was that speck crossing the stage Bruce Springsteen?
We then began our party crashing or party chasing. With a million hot parties scattered around the Capital, we were desperate to get into one. Fortunately, we landed some tickets to the “Declare Yourself” party hosted by the iconic TV producer Norman Lear who had us all take his “Born Again Americans” pledge – a patriotic twist on a label that would otherwise make my Jewish identity cringe.
Jessica Alba emceed and Maroon 5 rocked the house. By the end of the first song, I was already fantasizing about front man Adam Levine and me checking into the Lincoln Bedroom together. Perhaps it was because I was close enough to read his tattoos or maybe because the last concert I went to was the Wiggles, but Maroon 5 had me swooning. Lindsay Lohan was also in the house on the platform with her famous DJ GF Samantha Ronson who was spinning. My L. L. sighting aside, the highlight of the night was definitely the individually wrapped gourmet cupcakes they gave away as departing gifts.
On Inaugural Eve we had dinner at Equinox, the restaurant where Michelle Obama had just celebrated her 45th birthday a few nights before. The owner of the restaurant thrilled that W was headed out of town and the Big B.O. had chosen her place to celebrate the birthday of his soon-to-be First Lady, giddily told us how adorable the Obamas acted throughout dinner – he touching her knee the entire time. Lindsay may have warranted a shot on my camera phone, but details on an Obama sighting – now those are priceless.
After dinner, we headed to the unofficial Florida ball – all of us wearing Uggs and cocktail dresses (my Uggs were clearly a theme of the weekend). For good reason, we felt more like the ugly stepsisters, than belles of the ball. But off to the Corcoran Gallery we went.
On Inauguration day, we pedi-cabbed it to watch the swearing in (for those who are unfamiliar with a pedicab – it’s the DC version of a third world rickshaw). This time we were indoors feeling a little guilty that instead of chanting with the masses and collectively enduring the cold, we watched the whole festivities in the comfort of a posh DC law firm outfitted with cappuccino stations, an endless buffet, create-your-own Obama portraits through the brilliance of green screen technology, and a full bar. We caught the parade from a partner’s corner office and were lucky enough to catch the Obamas walking and waving. It was truly a guilty pleasure – prime seating, indoors.
That night, lacking connections and with no official ball at which to dance or to ogle Ben Affleck, I sat at my hotel bar drinking a Barack on the Rocks watching gowns and tuxedoes sweep past me. And that’s when the euphoria and reality of it all started sinking in. We have an African American president named Barack Hussein Obama. We have a real Working Mom in the White House and two beautiful, poised First Daughters who have transfixed our nation. We have a country united, invigorated and optimistic about our future, despite the rather bleak reality of things. It was all surreal and awesome.
Sipping my Inaugural cocktail, I wondered, should I have brought my children to share in the history so that they would be able to tell their children that they were there. But then I realized that my mom and I shared our own moment and a once-in-a-lifetime road trip. My kids, well, they will certainly live and experience their own unique history, after all we still have not had a female president.