John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

Inauguration memories

Today being Inauguration Day, sort of, it seems a reasonable time to reminisce about my own Inauguration Day experiences back in 1993.

(But first, a small rant: why are we having these Inauguration festivities today? I understand that January 20 — the date on which new Presidential terms begin, as mandated by the 20th Amendment — fell on a Sunday, but this isn't the 19th century. We're allowed to do things on Sunday now. I understand that the tradition, established at the beginning of James Madison's second term, has been to hold the Inaugural celebration on Monday in years when Inauguration Day happened to fall on a Sunday, but nuts to tradition. And if you feel you must perform a fake ceremonial swearing-in and hold the parade and balls on a day other than the actual Inauguration Day, why not do it the day before? If it was held on Saturday, people might not have to take a day off work or worry about being tired or hungover at work the next day. Or hell, do it in April, when the cherry trees on Capitol Hill are in bloom and people don't have to stand around outside in the cold.)

Anyway, in 1993, I was working for U.S. Senator Donald W. Riegle (D-Mich.), which put in a prime position to experience the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. My office was right across the street from the Capitol, and for some reason we didn't get a huge number of constituent requests for tickets to the swearing-in, so pretty much any staffer who wanted to was able to grad ticket off the pile and walk across the street to watch. So I did! My friends from the office and I ended up standing near the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, just down the hill from the West Front of the Capitol.

Inauguration map

That's, I don't know, 600 feet away? Not as good as being up on the dais, but close enough to see what was going on with having to resort to watching it on a Jumbotron.

I also had a chance to go to something not unlike an inaugural ball, the State of Michigan Inaugural Gala. What's the difference between an inaugural ball and an inaugural gala? Basically, the President doesn't go to a gala. But my friends and I got to dress up in elegant clothes and hang out in an elegant setting — they rented the entire Smithsonian Museum of American History — enjoying elegant music and elegant food, all in honor of the new President, which is exactly what we would've done at a ball, so close enough.

(Incidentally, my brother and sister-in-law did get to attend an official ball attended a similar gala sponsored by the State of Illinois* — I want to say it was the one held at the Grand Hyatt — and they got stuck in a huge line waiting to go down the single escalator to the ballroom of the hotel, so in that respect ours was probably better, since we could actually get into ours.)

My date for the gala was my sister. At the time, I was still (nominally) seeing my college girlfriend, but distance (she was still in college in Iowa) and political inclination (she was active in the College Republicans) kept me from considering her as a partner for the evening. My sister, on the other hand, was just down I-95 in North Carolina, and she was a Democrat inclined to for Democrats when her only other choice were Republicans**, so she made the trip up. When I reminisced with her about it yesterday, the first thing she mentioned about it was the terrible traffic. She's right, the traffic was terrible that evening — we ended up abandoning our cab and hoofing it the rest of the way to the museum — but man, what a thing to remember.

She and I also watched a bit of the Inaugural parade. My sister-in-law has been invited to an inaugural reception at a law firm whose offices overlooked part of the parade route. She turned the invitation over to us, and we stopped by. But it turns out that watching a parade from 50 feet up is no fun, so we didn't stay long.

In 1997, I was still on Capitol Hill, but I didn't do any sort of Inaugural stuff that year. I don't know why exactly … maybe there were no extra tickets to be had, maybe the State of Minnesota — I was working for U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) at the time — didn't throw a gala, maybe I was just blasé about the whole thing, having just done it four years earlier. In 2001 and 2005, there was no cause to celebrate the inauguration of a new President; and in 2009, I was living out in northern Virginia, and going to the trouble of trying to secure tickets and then making the schlep into the city seemed like more trouble than it would be worth. But I'll always have those memories of 1993.


* Quoth the brother: "That thing at the Grand Hyatt was the State of Illinois version of the thing that Michigan had, but the part about not being able to get down the escalators was correct. Plus, from what I heard, it was totally ridiculously bad compared to Michigan's. Among other things, they ran out of food. However, from people who did go to the official balls, the official balls are not nearly as nice as many of the other events such as the Michigan one you wrote about and various business and lobbyist sponsored events."

** Quoth the sister: "While I tend to lean Democratic in elections where the only *real* options are Democrat or Republican, I am NOT a Democrat. I do not belong to any political party. Never have and never will."
Tags: dc, family, history, politics, this day in history

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