Saturday, January 24, 2009


Monday through Friday, I rely on DC public transportation to get me to and from work. I ride the Red Line, which has to be one of the most traveled Metro lines in the whole Metro system. Nearly every morning, there is some sort of delay that prevents me from getting to work on time. Of course since I know that I’m certain to run into delays and such, it might make sense for me to start leaving my house earlier… but I’m not a morning person so if sleeping an extra ten minutes means I’ll be 20 minutes late for work, then so be it!

As the Obama Inauguration approached, it seemed as though Metro was becoming more and more inefficient. Everyday there was some mechanical problem with the track, or a train had broken down, preventing other trains from getting through, or there was a sick passenger on a car and the entire train had to be evacuated. One evening, after a particularly grueling day at the office, I couldn’t wait to get home. I walk into the station and immediately notice that the line to board the train is six people deep. It turns out that earlier in the afternoon, one of the rails at a station along the Red Line had broken and, although it had been repaired hours earlier, the trains were still delayed. See what I mean? Inefficient!

Anyway, looking around at all the people waiting to board the train, I know that I probably won’t make it onto the first train that comes, so I stand back, pull out my book and start reading. There are Metro cops trying to direct people so that there won’t be a mad rush of folks onto the approaching train. They are yelling, pushing, it’s really a madhouse. And I think to myself, if this is the way that the Metro runs on a regular day, how in the world will they be able to accommodate 2 million extra people during Inauguration weekend? It wouldn’t have been such a puzzling question if an announcement hadn’t been made earlier in the week that bridges, tunnels, and major streets leading into the District were being shut down and all Inauguration spectators were now encouraged to walk into the city or take the Metro.

Having heard that news and having witnessed the incredible ineffectiveness of Metro’s plan to move people in and out of the city quickly, I just knew that Inauguration Day would be a clusterfuck. It was during those 30 minutes of waiting on the platform for a train to take me home that I decided I would not be making my way downtown to witness history on January 20. I went back and forth about whether it mattered for me to be there “in person” or to be watching the event from my couch like the rest of America would be doing. And I came to the conclusion that we are all “witnessing history” just by being alive during this time. We are living this moment together and physically being in that throng of people wouldn’t have made the moment any more real or significant for me.

Will I look back and regret that decision? I don’t think I will. Friends of mine ventured out into the cold just to “see” it, but ended up watching on the Jumbotron, which isn’t really that much different from watching it on your television when you really think about it… is it? Plus, I got to see things up close and personal thanks to CNN and MSNBC. So, I don’t regret it at all.

What I might regret, however, was my decision not to attend any “official” Inauguration celebratory events (aka PARTIES). I definitely went to a few shin-digs to celebrate Obama, but they weren’t “balls” or anything like that. I’ve been seeing pictures that my friends have been posting on Facebook and it looks like a good time was had by all. There were tons of parties where gobs of young, Black, professional people were gathered together all in the name of history. I think it would’ve been good to be around that. But… I’m really just a quiet type of girl. I’ve realized that, while I like to have fun, I am really more attracted to a low-key lifestyle than a high profile one. Or, am I?

For years, I’ve felt this internal struggle about where I fit in. On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to be on television. I’ve wanted to be a news reporter for as long as I can remember. But when it came time for me to be in front of the camera, I decided that I preferred the writing and production aspect of the news… something more behind-the-scenes. I abandoned my journalism dream for law school and even when I got to law school, I had to decide whether I wanted to be a litigator or a transactional attorney. Law school is filled with type-A personalities (as I’m sure you can imagine) and tons of them wanted to be litigators… high-profile, quick on their feet, zealous advocates… the true rockstars of the legal world. I, on the other hand, was more attracted to the transactional lifestyle… the behind the scenes, thoughtful, much more low-key choice.

I’ve noticed that my party preferences are very similar. I could walk the red carpet or I could be at the small and cozy lounge located down the street from the big-ticket event.

Nine times out of ten, I’m going for the lounge.

The thought of preparing myself to look like I belong at a glamorous event is exhausting… the name-dropping at the door (you already know how I feel about that!)… the schmoozing… fighting to get through the crowds… it’s just so… not ME. So, I decided to avoid it.

And I was regretting that choice BIG TIME on Sunday morning. The night before, I’d been at what I thought was a “houseparty” (that’s the way the evite had described it), but what really turned out to be a 400-person private party with free food and free drinks. It was a great time. But I also knew of about 100 other black-tie and/or semi-formal events that were going on… including the BET Honors, which was being held in my office building and featured appearances by some big name celebrities. (You have to understand, DC is not a big-name celebrity sort of town. People slide through and then they slide right back out. So this Inauguration was a big deal to us natives and meant a whole lot more than just a moment in our nation’s history.) There were definitely no celebs at the “houseparty” that I attended, and we had a good time, but should I have at least TRIED to get into a more glamorous event that night? I really wanted to have an exciting story to tell my kids. Something more poignant than “mom went to a few casual parties and watched the Inauguration from her couch”…

Well, the best part about Saturday night was that the party started early… and ended early. I made it home by about 3am (I guess “early” is relative, huh?) and was able to hit the sack for a few hours before I woke up to attend church. Now, ordinarily, I wouldn’t have even tried to attend church after a night like the one I’d had, but I decided to give it a go since the word on the street was that the Obama family would be attending that morning’s service. Pre-election, he was slated to attend our church and he didn’t make it, so I wasn’t convinced that he’d actually show. My parents, who had some sort of inside scoop on the whole thing because they are on the Deacon and Deaconess Boards, suggested that I head over to the church around 7:30am even though service began at 11. I was a little skeptical, but figured I’d take their advice to be on the safe side. It’s a good thing I listened because when I arrived at the church, by about 7:50am, the line to get in the front door was wrapped around the block! I found my friend in the crowd and joined up with her and her two friends that she’d brought along. I figured that Obama would actually show this time because there were police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs, DC police, fire marshals, and secret service swarming the place. At around 8:45am, my mother called us to the front door. There was a secret service officer standing there, and he was joined by the President of the Usher Board.

“Where are my ushers?” he asked. “Kelli, are you ushering today?” (I’ve been a member of the Usher Board for about 2 years, but I rarely usher.)

“Uh… sure,” I say, walking through the front door leaving the cold and the crowd behind.

When I get inside, I see that there’s a metal detector set up at the front door. A metal detector… in a church? It seems strange, but I understood it was necessary. I spent the next few hours trying to direct people to seats so that counts could be taken. There were about a thousand people outside waiting to get in and only 700 seats in the sanctuary. Secret service let it be known that they would not allow more people than could be seated in the main sanctuary, so at 700, we were cut off.

Finally, we got everyone into a seat and they closed the doors. Service began and the ushers remained in the back to assist with any latecomers. I noticed that our pastor was missing. About 10 minutes into the service, the doors opened and Pastor came through. The ushers stood and watched. Following the pastor, was Barack Obama… the President-Elect (at the time) of the United States. By his side was Sasha. He stopped and greeted us individually, as did the First Lady who was flanked by Malia. Grandma Robinson brought up the rear. They moved quickly, but I did get a word in with all of them. And it was such a thrilling moment that it really all seems like a blur. I mean, I remember that the President seems much smaller in person. He’s extremely skinny, has a few more gray hairs than I remembered, and has large ears… and he’s DEFINITELY hotter in person than he is on TV. Good lawd! And I remember that the First Lady was absolutely stunning. She wore a deep purple sleeveless number and her arms are toned and fabulous… sort of like Angela Basset channeling Tina Turner in “What’s Love Got to Do With it” only less muscular. In-person, she’s very feminine, delicate, and petite, which are character traits that don’t always shine through on TV. The kids are just angels and they are all so gracious and personable. They stayed for the entire service, and after service was over, they shook hands and hugged and allowed folks to take pictures. It was really great.

Sure, there were a lot of people in town fighting to find their place in this moment in history. And some of them went to glamorous parties… and some of them met celebrities. But, I met the reason for it all. And I didn’t have to drop a name, or fight through throngs of people to do it. Best of all, I got my story out of it. I can tell my children that I not only met the President and the First Lady, but I met the First Kids, too… and Grandma! It was an amazing experience and one that I won’t soon forget.

After I church, I decided to rest. I’d been partying two days straight and really didn’t have the energy to do it all over again. Plus, I felt like meeting the President was the pinnacle of such a weekend. There was really no need to do anything more than that. My story might trump those of others who did nothing but party for the whole weekend.

So, instead, I stayed home and just reflected on things. I asked myself stuff like what do I want to get out of this life? And who do I want to be? Will I be happy having lived my low-key low-maintenance life? Or should I try for more? And, trust me, you definitely have to TRY to live a life like that! An acquaintance of mine who knows EVERYONE and was at the middle of all the Inauguration-mania, hitting four parties a night and rubbing elbows with mucho celebrities, even admitted that it was tough work getting into all those events. It takes EFFORT. Maybe that’s what I’m lacking… the energy, will, and drive to make that effort. Maybe that means I don’t really want or need anything greater or more glamorous than the life I’m living…


Anonymous said...

Wow. What a great experience!

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you met the President and 1st family! That's awesome!