We awoke before the sun at 6 a.m. and it wasn't early enough. The streets were empty, save for the military guards in the middle of closed avenues.
The brisk, pre-dawn walk to our ticketed entrance was direct and straightforward. We arrived at our purple-ticket gate and began to follow our line back from the entrance, in pursuit of its end where we could take our place.
Its length was baffling, surely there was some kind of mistake, we thought, as it wrapped around a corner and passed yet another full city block. We continued, as the line entered into the Third Street tunnel and stretched on along another treacherous distance, we began to laugh at the absurdity of its magnitude, something out of a dark Far Side comic. After following this atrocious line for nearly one mile, we reached its end and took our place.
As we waited, we chatted with our neighbors, a couple from Kansas, two women from Los Angeles, a mother and her two daughters from New England, and a couple from Calgary, Canada. All of us speculated on what had gone wrong, and what was at the root of this ridiculous situation.
All the while, droves of people filtered past still coming to join our line. At around 8 a.m. the line began to move, we walked forward 50 feet, then stopped, waited another 15 minutes, then another 50 feet of progress. By 9:30 a.m. weary of the slow pace of movement, we started to consider contingency plans.
The crowd thickened and started to become a little rowdy, booing and yelling at people who were walking ahead in the line, fearing they were cutting in. At 10 a.m., after standing in line for over three hours, we decided to leave and seek out a place to at least hear the ceremony.
Our quest to find a viewing spot took us all over the Mall. We crossed under the Mall via the same Third Street tunnel we had been waiting in. Then along the southern side, made our way east as quickly as possible, weaving in and out of closed streets and massive crowds of people, all converging on the Mall.
As the U.S. Marine Corps band began at 11:30 a.m. we both became a little anxious about finding a viewing place. Our pace slowed as we entered into a truly gargantuan and dense crowd moving west along Independence avenue. Just before noon, we arrived at the southeast corner of the Washington Monument, and with luck squeezed into a spot that allowed us viewing of a Jumbotron and plenty of volume from its speakers.
People were sitting in trees and on top of rowed up Porta-Potties with hope to see just a little bit more. Police and the mob yelled at them to get down as they obstructed many others' view. The atmosphere was jubilant, but tense as all the last observers came to their brief standing position.
As the ceremony began, roars of cheering were followed by near silence as each point of the ceremony passed.
The controversial Rick Warren gave a simple and welcoming invocation, Aretha Franklin followed with "America (My Country 'Tis of Thee)." Cheers rang out as Joe Biden took the oath.
Barack Obama was sworn in and the crowd exploded. A hush came over the crowd when Obama's speech began. Huddled in with thousands of people, we listened to his great lines roll out over the largest congregation of people on the Mall in history.
People around us cried as the elation of the moment soared through us. Just as quickly as the crowd had silenced and stood still, after the end of Obama's address, hoards of people began to make their return trip out and away from the Mall, to myriad destinations across the country.
We stood and sang the "Star Spangled Banner" as masses of people flowed out and away past us. We were in no rush, so we stood around near the Washington Monument and let the crowd die down.
We climbed up the hill to the central eastern side of the Washington Monument, and looked down to the Capitol across the vast mass of moving bodies.
The wind picked up and chilled us through our layers and we waved good bye to George Bush as his helicopter flew over the Mall, leaving Washington, D.C. We applauded his departure heartily and waved him away with encouraging words.
Later we walked all the way down to Frontage Road then worked our way back up the Hill on Independence Avenue, all the while pressing through massive crowds of moving people.
We were thrilled and exhausted as we returned to our friends' house for chili and a comfortable seat to rest our dogs. We drifted off to afternoon naps, with the cool calm that Obama had been inaugurated, and nothing bad had happened to our new leader in chief in his steps into the office of President of the United States of America.
Susan and Harrison Forrester are covering the presidential inauguration for the East Oregonian Publishing Group newspapers.