Thousands of people crowded together, extending from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and beyond. JumboTrons lined the National Mall on either side. The temperature hovered in the upper 20s. With the wind chill, it felt even colder. And then, at noon, after standing there and freezing for what felt like a considerably long time, Barack Obama took the oath and was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
This was January 20, 2009, and I was in Washington, D.C. for the first time. Standing on the National Mall for the first time. Seeing the Lincoln Memorial for the first time. Witnessing the inauguration of the president, a black man sworn into the highest office in the land — for the first time.
Samuel Jackson was there. Aretha Franklin was there. For goodness sake, Oprah, she of the single-most recognizable name in the world, was there. But what I still remember the most about that day nine years ago is how freaking cold I was standing there. How freaking cold I was, even as we huddled with the masses upon masses that gathered to take part in the historic event.
The funny thing about it is that I was just a freshman in high school at the time and I could not have given a hoot one way or the other about politics back then. Obama's inauguration, my young mind would have told you, was simply a cool thing to see, never mind the fact that it was a watershed moment for African-Americans — and really for all Americans — in the history of our nation.
Odd as it may sound, we actually weren't in town for the inauguration, though; it just happened to be going on during the five days we spent in the nation's capital. What we were actually there for — we being myself and a group of individuals from my Catholic high school — was the annual March for Life that takes place every January on or around the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion.
Don't worry, though; we're not about to jump into that hornet's nest.
Rather, please allow me to regal you with tales of what transpired over those five days in Washington, D.C. — outside of the inauguration and the march. Spoiler alert: it was freaking cold the entire time.
It began with the boarding of a bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Monday, Jan. 19, and the cute 10.5- to 11-hour drive that ensued. For the first couple nights, we stayed at a hotel in either the North Rosslyn or Radnor-Ft. Myer Heights neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia — I really cannot recall which hotel it was, but my best guess is the Hyatt Centric Arlington on Wilson Boulevard. In any case, we were very near the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which you might more readily recognize as the statue depicting World War II soldiers planting a flag on Iwo Jima in 1945.
The next day, Tuesday, was Inauguration Day. After taking in the festivities, we lingered around the National Mall, making our way past the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool to check out good 'ole Abe Lincoln and his marble-ous (get it?) monument.
I'm positive we stopped by the Vietnam Memorial, as well. One of my personal favorites, though, is the National World War II Memorial — the one that features 50 pillars with the states' names on them and a fountain in the middle (which was not running in 20-something degree weather, I assure you).
I feel like there's a great danger in boring you to death if we continue talking about historical monuments, however, so let's turn the page on that topic and get to some of the sexier items. What could be sexier, after all, than the lobby of The Washington Court Hotel on New Jersey Avenue? Or the view of the Capitol Building from my room in The Washington Court Hotel, which is where we stayed during the latter two nights of the trip?
Really though, ever heard of this place? It was just about the fanciest, most-amazing, most-spectacular, most-elegant — not to mention snazziest — place my 15-year-old eyes had ever seen. A quick glance at the photo gallery on their site shows me that they haven't missed a step in nine years either — they're still just as fancy today!
Another sexy item? The National Gallery of Art on Constitution Avenue. One of the days, a chaperone, myself, and two other students split off from the larger group (which was determined to miss out on the art museum and instead check out some less-sophisticated option, I'm sure) to see just what the gallery had in store. Lo and behold, there was Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait from 1889, which still hangs out in the gallery these days. There was also this:
I'm offering a virtual high-five to anyone who can name that painting down in the comments section below. I could try to figure it out myself, of course, but that just sounds like a lot of work and it's been a long day already, friend. Besides, just look at how long this post is getting, too.
With that thought in mind, let's wrap it and tap it (or maybe just the first part), and leave you with a couple of final suggestions for things to check out in D.C. The first would be the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — say that five times fast, why don't you? And don't worry about the religious aspect if that's not your thing; I'm simply including it because it's one of those giant architectural gems you can find in the nation's capital. Another good one, which this Trip Advisor review calls the "best example of Gothic cathedral architecture in the Americas," is the Washington National Cathedral.
And finally, a spot I didn't make it to until my second trip to D.C. (which coincidentally took place only two months later): the Newseum, a museum on Pennsylvania Avenue that is wholly dedicated to increasing public understanding of the importance of a free press and the First Amendment.
One of their cornerstones is the permanent Berlin Wall Gallery exhibit and on display for the remainder of 2018 is "1968: Civil Rights at 50" which features an original film about the protests by track and field medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Olympics.
Neat-o, gang? Neat-o, gang, indeed.