President Obama’s second public inauguration this week sparkled with great musical talent and a glinting promise in the president’s address to the nation.
Or so they tell me.
I failed to see any of it live, instead traipsing around the perimeters of a sealed off National Mall with a couple of friends. Eventually, we gave up and headed home.
In the spirit of taking a break from my eat-in posts, I’m going to tell you a story of what I did see that day (and show you in a video if you keep reading).
As I joined the crowd outside one of the jammed Metro stations following my surrender, I encountered two ad hoc entrepreneurs.
“Get your Obama hats!” One of them called. “Only five dollars!”
“Hand warmers!” Said another. “Just two dollars!”
The difference between these guys and the hawkers of oversized buttons or fragrant soft pretzels in the streets was that the former had a captive audience. Up and down the staircase to our left, their patter tumbled over the would-be Metro riders and sometimes turned into a conversation.
None of us really needed hand warmers or hats. We had bundled up only to find a milder-than-expected day. Not to mention that we all expected to be on our way any minute.
The kid started to negotiate. “Okay, a dollar-fifty for two. Buy one for the left hand and get the right hand free!”
The crowd tittered.
“How are we supposed to give you money?” Someone shouted back.
“Just throw the hat to us,” called someone else. I thought this was a marvelous idea. Those damn hats were getting a lot of air time and we didn’t have a ton of patience.
“My hands are warm,” a woman muttered.
Our entertainer/tormentor finally threw the last hat — a tacky white stretch cap — into the crowd, and soon disappeared. The herd waiting to go home returned to our occasional conversations and intense focus on the glass doors ahead of us. We sucked in a collective breath whenever they opened for a few minutes to let in a slice of the crowd, then let out a sigh as security officers swung them shut for what felt like hours.
Then we heard a familiar voice from somewhere overhead: “Hand warmers! Just a dollar!”
We looked up to see the vendor standing on a landing above the doors. The herd erupted in laughter. The teen grinned at his audience and stretched up his arms, looking like something between Richard Nixon and the two-termer himself. We could just make out the orange plastic packages he was still trying to push.
The price went down to fifty cents and then a quarter, at which point people actually started to fling change toward the landing. Heads swiveled from the Metro entrance ahead to the show above, laughing and shouting suggestions to the sellers and the money-throwers.
Check out the video below for the reaction when the payment hit its mark and the goods were delivered.
I may not have seen Beyonce or James Taylor, but I had already experienced the first Inauguration in 2009. Four years and many political struggles later, the anonymous vendors and the unified crowd were enough for me.