A day of mud and monuments

Debra J. Saunders

1/23/2001 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
WASHINGTON -- You dress for comfort. Cushy shoes, gloves, a warm coat, a poncho in a pack in case the rain picks up. An umbrella. The right gear for inaugural weather. Then it's off to the Metro. A pro-vegan protester hands you a brochure before you step onto the downward escalator. You board a full train, packed with women in furs, moms in sneakers, students in jeans and teachers in windbreakers. There is even a woman with curlers in her hair. There are lots of 20-somethings, and in a way everyone is 20-something, feeling more expectation this morning than weariness. Riders tell their logistics horror stories from the night before when motorcades and blockades closing Pennsylvania Avenue made going anywhere a cold and wet ordeal. One guy had a flat tire, which he had to replace in the cold rain. A young woman was surprised that she finally managed to hook up with her buddies at a Metro station. A student from Michigan tells you that she had lined up an internship with GOP Sen. Spencer Abraham, but since he lost re-election and is now secretary of energy designee, she is hoping to get a slot at the Department of Energy. The platform at the Capitol South station is jammed with people, who mumble as they bump and flow their way onto two stairwells and an escalator. You find yourself swelling with love for this country, not just for the Republicans reveling in their return to power, but perhaps more so for the kid who hands out the vegetarian brochures and the parents who voted for Al Gore but take their kids to the Capitol Mall because they want their children to witness history. Add the Massachusetts teacher who takes her eighth graders to Washington to have their own moment amid the transfer of power. You walk in search of the your ticket gate and find yourself smashed among other bodies waiting for police to tell them they can cross the street. People have to wait, they say, until the buses move. "The problem," a man in a cashmere coat announces, "is that we're Republicans and we obey the law." Twenty minutes later, police allow the irate throng to squeeze between the unmoved buses. Participants vie for a good spot to run through X-ray machines. "I'm going to have let (Sen.) Mitch McConnell know that I"m not happy about this," says one swell. He is indignant that he has to wait, even though it will be more than two hours before George W. Bush takes the oath of office. Now you are near the Capitol. You slide down a muddy path, past families who stand wet, cold, swathed in plastic and glad they arrived early enough to get to the front of their roped-off area. Through fogged glasses, a father watches the parade of full-length furs and new boots of people headed to better seats. You look up to your right, and there among the scaffolding, looms the Capitol dome, just like on TV news. You wend your way to Section 8 and happily find a dry seat in the front row. There is one level of seats above you, and above that stands the platform on which Bush will become president. Above you, a young ham in a long coat warms himself by doing jumping jacks. The Capitol staffers who manage the event look elegant, clean and warm. In the press section, journalists take photographs of each other standing before the crowd, or with the dome as a backdrop. Two hours of sitting and waiting have allowed the cold and wet to permeate your hands and feet. You look at people standing on the sidelines, their fancy black shoes covered with mud. Around you floats a sea of sopping hair and red noses. In a recent interview, Bush revealed that he would be afraid to look at his father during the ceremony, lest he get all mushy. You aren't worried about tears: It is too cold to cry. Elsewhere, protesters show off signs calling Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft a "racist, sexist pig." Just in case you don't get the picture, there is a drawing of a four-legged Ashcroft. A hand-painted sign proclaims, "Georgie Jr. Can't Read This." The very folks who once derided Clinton administration critics as "haters" have become pretty good haters themselves. At the podium, George W. Bush raises his right hand.