I don’t sleep because I can’t. I keep looking at my phone thinking, in 12 hours this joker is actually going to be President. 11, 10, 9….
In the dark, under the covers I watch a BBC interview with White House photographer Pete Souza. He recalls photographing in Red Square, President Obama when he was just a junior senator. No one really knew him then, he tells us. Obama was milling about—alone, smiling, everyone ignoring him. Souza says he took the picture and thought for a minute, one day this man might be President. This may be one of the last times in his life he can be in such a public place and not be noticed. Souza pauses. He looks both pleased and startled by his prescience.
His earnestness and the photograph make me cry.
On Facebook, many have made Obama or his family their profile picture. The pictures show him smiling, or Michelle and him smiling. I choose a black and white shot. A Pete Souza. Obama stands alone in the rain, umbrella up. His back is to us.
I lace and tighten my shoes. “I’m going down there,” I tell my husband.
“Why? What if something happens?”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” I say. “I just have to see this.”
On the Ground
915 am – Noon
Fittingly, the day is overcast. On the walk to the subway, the city pavements seem empty. In DC, it is a legal holiday, but it’s not just that schools are out and some residents telecommuting, it’s chilly and still.
On the subway I have the seat of my choice. I sit across from a
Trump family. I know they’re supporters and not just tourists because the trio — a mother, son and grandfather–seem excited, like they are going someplace special, not just to the National Zoo to tap on the glass at Brazilian boas and two toed sloths. She gives me a nervous smile. I smile back.
Her long black hair is messy, like the rain already got to it, and she has given up, thinking, “To heck with it, I’ll be standing outside all day anyway.” I don’t think she says, “Hell. Just “Heck.”
Her father is talking loudly about diners. It’s as though he owns a hearing aid but refuses to wear it. The best food he’s ever eaten in his life was at Tasty Diner he booms. The grandson looks at him, and then peers at me through little glasses. He blushes.
A group of three young men come into our car. They are pale, and wearing jeans that are too long. One is carrying an enormous metal pole with an American flag hooked on it. The woman praises him and asks if she can get a photo of them—with their flag–. “Sure,” the flag holder says grinning sheepishly, “It’s just nice to see,” she murmurs. The flag, however, is drooping, and almost brushes the subway car floor. I wonder if he knows it’s an inch from dirt.
I disembark at Metro Center and so does the family. I lose them immediately, my eyes meeting instead a young National Guard Reservist stationed at our door. They are everywhere, men and women, one, sometimes two at each door for the long stretch of the platform. They are beautiful in that commanding precise way that makes you think if you trip or fall they’ll rush up to you, one to each side. If you drop your wallet, they’ll pick it up and chase you down, never losing stride.
Security, Protesters & That Black Guy Hawking Trump
Outside beyond F and G, the streets are sparsely inhabited by three groups : security (policemen and military), protesters and hawkers selling Donald Trump gear. The souvenirs consist mainly of buttons and shirts with Trump’s large moon face grinning up at you. It’s part night terror, part carnival caricature. A black man is one of three vendors. He has a giant suitcase on the pavement. His shirts are neatly folded but spill out on the edges as though someone has been rifling for an extra large. He and I are among the few black persons I have seen in two hours. There are some African-American police officers, but few protesters and almost no Trump supporters.
How’s business, can I take your picture?” I ask. He grins hard. I place him in my lens frame. “Business is decent,” he says. “Ok, not like Obama business. That Obama thing, that was just crazy.”
Culture Wars: Bathrooms and Babies
A young woman stands with this sign. She has a companion who recedes. They look out of place. Young but a bit dressed up, hesitant with no approaching pedestrians. No Trump supporters. No protesters. Her sign is large and as she holds it against her small frail frame, I stop to talk.
I ask her if she is concerned about Trump. “I lie in bed sometimes deploring him,” I confess. “I know you’ll tell me not to. But all I can think is how many girls did he send downtown, how many Eastern Bloc and Russian young model wannabees for an abortion? He’s such a hypocrite.” She nods; her large eyes focus on my face. “He’s just the President. They come and go, but God is King.”. She offers me literature, a pamphlet and card. I slide it into my satchel with the orange, and Jews for Jesus postcard thrust in my hand a block over.
I buy Hazelnut coffee at the nearby Panera, and get on the bathroom line with four others. I’ve taken forty three photos and walked for two hours.
A middle-aged couple next to me is chatting when the wife pipes up in my direction. “I was sure there wasn’t going to be a line here!” I turn to her and say, “Darlin there’s gonna be a little line everywhere.” She sighs. “Yeah I guess.” Then pointing, she whispers to her husband, “But look. Is that bathroom for men or women?” They debate it until in an unusual burst of convivial meddling, I choose to referee.
“They’re unisex I offer. See the shared line between the figures?”
“Oh,” the woman says quietly. “I don’t like that. “
“No, no,” I offer. “It’s one room. It’s just you! You know? A private bathroom.” I laugh. She laughs too but stops and mutters, “but I still don’t like it because —you know –men are so nasty.” Her husband is silent.
Later, I think about this lady. Her gray wispy hair and her husband’s wispy beard. Is this the culture war? That bathroom?
Protesters, Peaceful & Not
It’s after 10:45 a.m, but the crowd is still relatively spotty and spread out; small pockets of protesters mark their territory on different streets. Garbage trucks and barricades block streets around the White House and the Mall. There are checkpoint queues for those with tickets and separate one for those without. But this isn’t burdensome because there are very thin crowds at all the checkpoints . Neither type of line is heavily populated. They never snake or wrap the block or go far beyond my eyes.
Notably on the edges, however are protesters . They are now seated or linking their arms together to block some public access lines. Some wear face paint, others rainbow capes. Their numbers are growing as though breakfast and coffee were consumed with gusto and here they are energized. Signs begin to emerge. They cover the gamut of demands, from climate change funding to civil rights. One simply says, “Fuck U .”
From up the street, people suddenly come running toward me. Riot police move north in unison, their shields and batons ready. Helicopters whirl above. Donald Trump has been sworn in. I follow the moving police but never fully ascertain what has occurred. A man next to me is on his cellphone exclaiming “Some guy was bleeding up here. His head. The side of his head.”
I know that’s when I need to leave. And I begin my journey home.
The overcast day remained stubbornly dreary. I chose to hike the long distance between 12th and G Streets and Woodley Park. It was misting by then and the sidewalks up Connecticut Avenue largely empty. A small band of pot smokers meandered ahead of me at Dupont Circle. I never like the smell of pot, it’s like a wet unwashed dog with a bad chew habit.
One teen carried a mini placard with a green marijuana leaf painted on it. His friend befittingly plunged his hand into a bag of cheese curls and stuffed a few into his mouth.
When I arrived home, I turned on the television to see footage of policemen tossing tear gas into a group of rock-throwing protesters. The networks repeated the scene over and over again, a mesmerizing loop showed precisely when the rocks were thrown. The windows of a Starbucks and a Bank of America shattered.
After a day in which I skirted encounters mere blocks away from me, I froze. I watched the perpetrators on the screen. In their all black outfits and mouth-covering bandannas, they appeared to be ninjas. The broadcaster called them anarchists. This was now the news. Hours of nothing jolting to see had turned on a dime; mostly peaceful protests disintegrated.
Arrests numbers were at first disputed. One television station said 95 another 212. Before I fell asleep that night I heard the Police Chief’s final tally–six minor injuries to police officers from rock throwing, property damage to store windows, one restaurant vandalized and a limousine torched. A total of 217 arrests. And yes that–Donald Trump is the 45th President.