When Obama came to town
It was the day the world stood still to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office and start his historic Presidency. Millions gathered on Washington’s mall to see him sworn in – including campaign staffer Patrick Reilly, who'd travelled all the way from Ireland to bear witness.
Patrick Reilly, 28 Jan 2009
Ringside tickets to history don’t come cheap. In fact they cost nothing at all.
Like millions of others I applied for the chance to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration in the flesh. I had worked on his campaign for six months in Texas. My name was put forward and entered into the proverbial hat.
To my delight, my inbox lit up with the words, “The Presidential Inaugural Committee is pleased to offer you the opportunity to attend the inaugural festivities.” Price – Free. Time stood still just like it did on the night of November 4, when Obama was elected President.
Fast forward to last Sunday (18) and this writer was aboard an Aer Lingus flight to JFK. Half full or half empty depending on your take, the plane was the usual mix of banter and insomnia.
Getting the Obama gig was the result of a chance meeting with an Austin native in a Croatian hostel. The Texan said his friend was well connected in the Lone Star State with Obama’s Campaign for Change. We swapped emails and he promised to put in a good word for the eager Irish traveller.
A month later his friend, Ken Flippin, emails me to ask when am I coming over. I packed my bags and touched down in Texas in April where my first encounter with Ken was in the airport. “You came all this way for Obama? Damn we are definitely going to win now!” quipped my new friend. Seven months later we’d bonded like brothers and witnessed history unfold along the way.
Downtown DC was a peculiar place to be in the early hours. Practically deserted, the city was surrounded by a veritable ring of steel barriers all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to Capitol Hill.
Numbers vary but a conservative estimate is that two million people descended on the US capital for the inauguration. LBJ’s record from 1965 was smashed. One man who was able to remember that occasion was a local taxi driver by the name of Fred. “I marched in Kennedy’s inauguration in 61,” recalled the sprightly 74-year old. “I’ve never seen anything like this though. People have come from everywhere just for Barack. You would think it’s good for business but it ain’t. Traffic is insane.”
Room rates were quadrupled in some cases and forget about finding a table to drink your glass of $7 beer. Still, would you really want to be anywhere else?
Come the morning of January 20th we rose at 4am and left our shared house in Virginia an hour later. Predictably the line for metro tickets was long even at 5.15am but the freezing fans were rewarded with a special edition pass featuring a picture of the new President.