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Life at the Inauguration

January 21, 2013

Every four years the country celebrates the election of a new presidential term in office. This is an exciting time, and no matter which side of the aisle you may sit, it always brings out a great deal of enthusiasm, hope, and promise.

We are now in the midst of the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. While it is toned down from the historic event of four years ago, it’s still a joyous week of events for his supporters and backers.

As Tennyson wrote in Ulysses, “I am a part of all that I have met,” the same is true in politics. The things we believe are shaped from our past, the people we’ve met, and the things we’ve encountered and observed.

My first inaugural experience was 1973 as a student at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. It was President Richard Nixon’s second swearing-in and the country was going through turmoil.

I spent most of Inauguration Day inside The Tavern near campus. An old bar and grill, and it was said to be the oldest structure on Pennsylvania Avenue.

From the inside of the tavern, one looked out large 18th Century windows that opened onto the avenue. The remnants of a horse and buggy depot were in the back where carriages obviously once brought guests.

President Nixon had just won a landslide victory and his power was never to be greater than on this day. Little did anyone suspect that two years later he would resign from office because of Watergate.

The second Nixon inaugural was a tale of two events. ‘All the President’s Men’ were celebrating an electoral triumph while many in the country called for his Impeachment.

Thousands demonstrated on the grounds of the Washington Monument while others watched the parade and cheered President Nixon’s motorcade as it made its way from the Capitol Building to the White House.

There was an ominous sign however. Stationed at every street corner along Pennsylvania Avenue were armed National Guard troops ostensibly to keep the peace and an eye on the crowd.

During the 1980s, nothing was more exciting than the two inaugural events of President Ronald Reagan. He turned Washington into Hollywood and everybody who was anybody from Tinseltown wanted to be part it.

The Reagan inaugurals were expertly choreographed and he was the first President to take the Oath of Office from the scenic western front of the Capitol Building. The excitement of the first Reagan inaugural could only be matched by the drama and mystic of the day, including the release of the 52 American hostages that had been held captive in Iran for 444 days.

Every Inaugural event brings memorable moments. The Inaugural Balls, while exciting and festive, are not easily maneuverable, and driving and parking around the city is impossible.

Aside from the usual political associations, I can recall interesting run-ins with actors Henry “the Fonz” Winkler, and Arnold Schwarzennegger, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, Entertainment Tonight Host Mary Hart, and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King.

Other memories linger, too. I had an apartment at the Watergate during the 1992 inaugural of President Bill Clinton. My apartment was perched high on the 11th floor facing Virginia Avenue, overlooking the entrance to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, host to many inaugural events.

It was easy to know when a presidential motorcade was about to arrive. City police would turn up 30 minutes prior to the motorcade’s arrival and position themselves at intersections to block traffic and pedestrians and allow the President unfettered access to his destination.

On this occasion, President Clinton’s motorcade was stalled as a flood of Kennedy Center traffic and pedestrians jammed the intersection at the circle in front of the Watergate.

Looking at the scene from my apartment, I had a bird’s eye view into the back seat of the presidential limousine. There sat President Clinton, with a clearly visible coffee cup in his right hand, balanced on his leg. In a few minutes, police had the situation back in hand, and the presidential motorcade sped off.

One never knows what or who you’ll see at a Presidential Inauguration.