Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration: The View From A Porta-Potty

It's not often you mount a public bathroom to get a better view of a black man on a JumboTron, but like the pundits are saying, these are exciting times. What better way to honor America and our new president's call to service than to climb on top of a reeking privy and try to see over the crowd, I said to myself, so that's what I did on Inauguration Day. It didn't really work.

I wouldn't have bothered, except that being such a shutterbug made me lose the rest of my entourage in the hustle and bustle. As many of you know, left to my own devices I usually gravitate to the least sensible option, so I pushed my way through the masses and hoisted my way up in the wake of a thirtysomething couple who'd had the same idea a moment before. We couldn't see any big screens or anything, which they'd sprinkled all over the Mall, but we could see the crowds better than anyone standing at ground level, so we just listened to the PA system and tried not to let too many others up there with us for fear of tipping the damn thing over.

I took a few pictures, including one of some National Guard soldiers trying in vain to direct foot traffic, but mostly there was nothing to do but wait and try not to get too cold. Then the characters started showing up. It wasn't exactly our Porta Potty, and we couldn't tell people not to come up unless actual collapse was imminent, so first one then another started joining us. (This was in a semicircle of maybe twenty identical units, all equally filling up with onlookers.) First came one guy with a few gold teeth and some very neatly pressed jeans, plus a cowboy hat and ranch boots, who called over and over for "Larry!" to join him. (I couldn't ever figure out who Larry was.) He tried to jump from the top of the bathroom into an overhanging tree, but gave up when he realized the branches wouldn't support him. It was weird being up there with that guy. He wouldn't sit down even when it was clear the roof was crumpling under his feet.

Some kids came up here and there. One woman handed me her little son, then her other little son, and I had to grip them (no doubt uncomfortably) under the armpits and hoist them up before she tried to follow. At that point it was pretty clear the thing was unstable, so I handed them back down and she left. Over the course of the festivities we had anywhere from two to five people up there -- I sort of straddled two of them by sitting where the tops touched. At the end, after I jumped back down, I looked into one of them to survey the damage and could see the roof had basically caved in. You couldn't stand up in there any more. Luckily, I never had to use one.

There wasn't a whole lot to do except listen the whole time. Rick Warren was obnoxious. The wind was cold. Obama's speech I thought was pretty average -- I think it may, in the history books, come off a little better on paper than it did in person. The musical number starring Yo-Yo Ma was great. I don't have a single favorite moment of pure being-there experience. The whole thing was awesome to see, especially because of the size of the crowd.

I'd post my pictures, but I'm so old-school that I only took black-and-white film shots. You'll have to come by if you want to see them.


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