I know I'm pretty much the worst blogger in the world, but I really haven't had anything interesting happen to me lately -- that is, until this past Tuesday. Below is an essay I wrote for the Armenian Reporter about my experiences in Washington this week. Enjoy!
When I woke up at 4 a.m. January 20, 2009, I certainly didn't think that at the end of the day I'd be sitting next to President Obama and Vice President Biden.
I had volunteered to work as an usher along the inaugural parade route. All I knew was that I had to check in at 5 a.m. and could expect to be on my feet and outside until at least 5:30 p.m. What followed were 14 of the most interesting, coldest, and exciting hours I've experienced since moving to Washington, DC 2 1/2 years ago.
I left my apartment around 4:30 a.m. and started making way down to 14th St. NW and New York Ave. NW, just a few blocks from the White House, where I’d be stationed all day to assist people to their seats in the bleachers that lined the parade route. I knew we were in a good spot, but I didn’t know how good it was until our volunteer team leader told us we were stationed next to the president’s reviewing stand. Suddenly, the prospect of not actually seeing the inauguration – there were no jumbotrons on the parade route -- didn’t seem so bad.
Our bleacher was directly in front of Blair House – the White House’s official guest residence and the Obamas’ last address before moving into the big house across the street. As 11:30 a.m. crept closer, a pair of moving trucks pulled out of the White House gates and another pair pulled in.
The inaugural committee staff flipped on the loudspeakers on Pennsylvania Avenue and set the radio to a broadcast of the swearing-in ceremony. I heard Barack Obama become our 44th president while sitting on a bleacher on an empty stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House, and huddling near three total strangers with whom I was assigned as a volunteer. Tears welled in my eyes and a chill went down my spine. I looked back toward the White House and smiled.
Soon after, the crowds swelled up from the National Mall to the parade route and I finally jumped into action as a bleacher usher. I’ve never seen a happier crowd. Even as I told people to please step inside and fill in the seats up top, they were perfectly content to oblige. There were Obama hats and blankets and scarves, pins and calendars and commemorative tickets, parents with their children, grandparents with their grandchildren – all American and all desperate for a glimpse of their new president. As each one passed, they all asked where they could get the best view of the president. I explained that I wasn’t sure whether he’d make his way down to our bleachers, the last ones on the parade route.
A short while later, when the parade announcer said President Obama would indeed be walking down Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to 17th Street – where my bleacher was rapidly filling up – there was a roar of approval from the crowd. Sure enough, when the new president and his wife walked right by our stand – with me front and center – the crowd pushed forward to get a glimpse and I got my own quick picture, thinking I’d gotten what I’d volunteered for: a chance to see the new president in person.
As the sun set and the parade continued on, my feet started to go numb and ache from the 13 hours spent outside in the freezing temperatures, I contemplated heading home. I'd seen most of the parade, snapped a picture of the Obamas and Bidens walking right past me on the parade route, and met some incredible volunteers.
I was leaning against a barricade, stomping my feet to regain feeling in my toes, when an inaugural committee staffer counted off five volunteers, smiled and said: "Would you like to join the President in his box?"
A volunteer I had never met hugged me and jumped up and down while saying: "I don't even know you but I'm so happy!"
We were ushered into the president's box and sat a few feet away from him and Vice President Biden in the seats the real VIPs had long ago abandoned in favor of going home to get ready for the inaugural balls.
Vice President Biden turned to our small group in the box, made a motion as if he were shivering and mouthed to us, “Why are you here? It’s freezing!” We laughed and pointed at him and said, “Because of you!” He laughed and blew us a kiss.
The highlight? As President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama left the box upon the parade's finish to return to their new home behind them, he turned to our small group waved and said, "Thanks for coming guys!"
We replied: "Thank you, Mr. President."
The next day, I was one of a lucky 200 who won a lottery to attend an open house at the White House. My boyfriend Vahan and I arrived promptly for our tour, made our way through several formal sitting rooms and suddenly came face to face with Michelle Obama, who warmly welcomed us – two Armenian-American kids from California and Michigan – into her new home. I told her I was honored to meet her, and she thanked me.
As we walked out the gates of the White House, I found myself standing in front of the box that just 24 hours before held President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, and me.
You can see more pictures in my Facebook album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2154142&l=3d861&id=1417897