The cold hard facts of the inauguration

January 20, 1997

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Two things are certain to stick in my mind about the weekend festivities leading up to the 53rd Presidential Inauguration.

1. It was cold.

2. It was cold.

Oh, and I think they had a couple bands playing or something, too.

But yikes. I stepped off the Metro into an English Patient-like sandstorm of Mall dust whipped into a frenzy by winds manufactured somewhere north of Svalbard in Norway.

I believe I was one of 32 Actual Citizens stupid enough to show up on Saturday. This is not to say the Mall wasn't crowded. But most of the ranks consisted of working journalists and official people with official badges officially tied to the Clinton Administration. (You consider me a working journalist? Surely you jest.)


In fact, the Actual Citizen to journalist ratio was so low that I was positive I would get interviewed. I wasn't. But the family directly in front of me in the line to the Technology tent - the only warm spot on the Mall - was.

This afforded me a first-hand education into why people hate the press. The reporter asked the woman this non-made-up question:

"Do you have any advice to people on how to handle the cold?"

What with the wind and because her back was to me I didn't hear the answer. "Wear a coat" comes to mind as a plausible response.

Whatever it was this didn't satisfy the reporter because he followed up: "Did you have any trepidation coming out here in the cold?" Whether she was trepided or not I again couldn't hear; although I suspect she felt far more danger from journalists than the elements.

But by this time she was old news because there was some real, Actual Citizen drama occurring just to our right.

"I didn't realize the Capitol building was right there!" shrieked a roundish woman with round glasses and round red cheeks and a scarf round her neck.

"Yeah, it's right there," assured another journalist (she was, of course, being interviewed at the time).

"I just turned around and it was like 'Oh my God, there it is!'"

I don't know whether she thought maybe the United States Capitol building was located in Spain, or what - but it made for some real good footage.

"Yeah, you should have seen the look of awe on her face," said the camera man.

If she had wanted to get near the Capitol in homes of seeing her own congressman violating some ethics she would have been disappointed because the space was off limits to Actual Citizens for security reasons.

By the way, next time someone from the National Bomb Association starts yammering about their rights, ask what happened to the rights of Actual Citizens to come and go on their own publicly owned land as they please without being cordoned off by a chain-link fence for fear of weaponry.

What? Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to make a valid point. It's just that my blood boils when I am denied a good camera angle.

Anyway, the technology tent was pretty neat. I saw the television set of the future. It was about three-by-five feet with color so sharp it nearly crackled. They were playing "Batman Forever" in French. The movie disc gives the viewer 22 language options and allows you to watch unused scenes from the movie that were left on the cutting room floor.

Other exhibits included a live feed from the Shuttle-Mir mission in space; showed a live satellite shot of the Mall festivities, clear as a videocam; provided a scientific hologram of the planet, and allowed kids to play games of virtual soccer. And I have to admit I was impressed, because virtual soccer is virtually as dull as the real thing.

By this time though, it was pretty certain that I wasn't going to get interviewed - unless...just maybe. That's it!

I ran out of the tent as fast as I could, pointed and screamed "Look everybody, it's the Washington Monument!"

The Herald-Mail Articles