Menus Subscribe Search
inauguration

Inauguration Day: Remembering the Purple Tunnel of Doom

• January 18, 2013 • 10:38 AM

We have no idea who is singing the song above, but we probably stepped on his toes four years ago. Sorry, man.

A friend from grade school had grown up to work in the White House, and knew a few people in Obama’s campaign. He got two tickets to the swearing-in and offered me one. The two tickets were not the same. Entrance to the inauguration was color-coded. A ticket’s border indicated which entrance to use.

My connection’s seat was close up, on the side of the capitol steps facing the House of Representatives. Mine was further back on the other side, the Senate side.

At that entrance, the waiting crowd had to fit in a pinched intersection. To avoid a scene, police had created an overflow line that dipped down to the innocuous tunnel.

Unfortunately, some communication got botched, and when the time came to let us in to the ceremony, no one opened our gate. The purple ticket gate. Then no one came to open it. Then no one did anything at all, except wait for someone else to make a decision.

An hour passed. Then two. Rumors spread that we were moving, then not. They were credible enough to keep everyone from just going home.

Some entrepreneurial types came through with hand warmers of the type skiers and hunters carry. They were bags of chemicals that you shake until they heat up, lasting maybe 15 minutes. To everyone’s credit, no one gouged on prices.

The hour for the swearing in-approached. We had been standing in an underground tunnel for four hours, in January. No one’s feet worked. My hands didn’t work. I kept dropping my ticket. It was no colder than any cold East Coast day, but the sense of a broken promise was frustrating, which made the cold feel colder.

With a half-hour to spare, I decided to walk out of the tunnel and toward the gate. At the gate, everyone was crushed together. I was alone, so could make progress; people holding hands were not going anywhere. I got to the gate. I had made it just in time! The cop looked at my ticket, shrugged, and said he didn’t know what to do, and he was sorry. Game over.

A moment later, an antique cannon fired a few yards across a glen, on the capitol grounds, and the ceremony began.

The huge PA speakers for the inaugural faced toward the president. Behind them, none of us who had picked our way to the mouth of the tunnel could hear the address.

The police there began to get tetchy, and the crowd got frustrated. A lot of people had come from a long distance to attend.

I walked away from the gate for safety; I didn’t want to be pressed against the chain link fence set up around the closed gate, if the few thousand people behind me started to push harder. A block away, I found some sun,and sat down on the sidewalk, figuring I would at least try to warm up.

Ten yards away, perhaps twelve, a man in his fifties stood up and started yelling. It was worrisome. Frustration had peaked.

He was roundish, with a fanny pack and a puffy winter coat—if anyone has ever dressed more like a tourist in DC, I can’t say I’ve seen it. A few of us decided to go calm him down. Closer, he was yelling in curious cadences. He had a wire in his ear that would have suggested the Secret Service, were he not so out of shape. A radio.

It took a second to realize what he was shouting; none of us, after all, knew what Obama had planned to say.

In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”

Later, some people with him explained he was a lay preacher from North Carolina. The guy was about a sentence behind Obama, I’d guess, and the Southern pulpit rhythm was not an act. Frozen and bloodied! Nothing but hope! If the guy was a Revolutionary War reenactment type, it would make sense. I didn’t ask.

So the crowd started to lean toward this guy, then surrounded him, and listened to the whole thing via ventriloquism. Everyone went to pieces. It’s amazing what four hours in a cold tunnel will do to one’s sense of irony.

The preacher’s voice rose a decibel every line or two, full of brio. By the end, our little frozen band was at an emotional pitch I  associate with the U.S. hockey team beating the Soviets at Lake Placid.

Years later, I think that moment worked because it was so perfectly snotty in its way. Offended entitlement—but we have tickets!—and flash community, in perfect balance.

This year, according to predictions, inauguration day is expected to be warmer.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


July 29 • 12:40 PM

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it’s probably in your local river.


July 29 • 12:00 PM

Mining Your Genetic Data for Profit: The Dark Side of Biobanking

One woman’s personal story raises deep questions about the stark limits of current controls in a nascent industry at the very edge of the frontier of humans and technology.


July 29 • 11:23 AM

Where Should You Go to College?


July 29 • 10:29 AM

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.


July 29 • 10:00 AM

The Monolingual American: Why Are Those Outside of the U.S. Encouraging It?

If you are an American trying to learn German in a large German town or city, you will mostly hear English in return, even when you give sprechen your best shot.


July 29 • 8:00 AM

The Elusive Link Between Casinos and Crime

With a study of the impact of Philadelphia’s SugarHouse Casino, a heated debate gets fresh ammunition.


July 29 • 6:00 AM

What Are the Benefits of Locking Yourself in a Tank and Floating in Room-Temperature Saltwater?

After three sessions in an isolation tank, the answer’s still not quite clear.


July 29 • 4:00 AM

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays.


July 29 • 2:00 AM

Geographic Scale and Talent Migration: Washington, D.C.’s New Silver Line

Around the country, suburbs are fighting with the urban core over jobs and employees.


July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.