Kellie Cook of New York City pushed her 80-year-old mother, Yvette Cook, in a wheelchair down 18th Street, as her two sons playfully lagged behind them. This black family came to the nation's capital to watch President Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony on Monday, Jan. 21.
"It was too cold to bring my mother the last time, so we're excited that we were able to come this year," Cook said as she pulled her mother's mink coat more snugly around her.
Like Cook, many people commented on how this year's celebration did not have the frigid temperatures of four years ago. That year, I went through two pairs of foot and hand warmers on the Mall as I joined more than 1.8 million people to watch the country's first black president take the public oath of office.
Like before, people of all colors walked gingerly to the parade and swearing in areas, pushing babies in strollers and elderly or disabled relatives in wheelchairs. Vendors sold commemorative magnets, photos and T-shirts on sidewalks and in the middle of streets. A few street musicians played on corners and one black family stood on the steps of Constitution Hall with signs that said, "Mr. Obama, we got your back" and "Dr. Martin Luther King is smiling today."
District of Columbia statehood advocates were around again, chanting on corners, but with extra excitement this year because President Obama's limo will finally have the city's "Taxation Without Representation" license plates.
A major difference this year was the crowd size, which was considerably smaller and made getting to the ceremony much easier. I had no problem finding a parking space at Metro or getting on a train, and the trains were not crowded like before. My sister from South Carolina was in town four years ago and this year as well. She said being stuck on an unmoving Metro train in 2009 was one reason she was watching it on TV this year.
For many people in general, the last inauguration was such a historic event that the massive crowds and travel delays were accepted in good spirits. Many of my friends, who would not have missed the 2009 inauguration for anything, were glad the president was re-elected, but didn't have the same passion to attend this year.
Although people I talked to who did not attend the 2009 inauguration were excited to experience this one, the crowd's energy was more low key. In 2009, people were almost giddy as they shared their food with strangers and enthusiastically struck up conversations with people they didn't know, to share in that historic moment.
To be sure, the enthusiasm at the balls I attended was evident, and those who had great views at the swearing in and along the parade route were in high spirits. But that fervor didn't seem to reach those much farther back on the Mall as it did in 2009.
A major reason is that there was only one Jumbotron around the Washington Monument, and its video and audio were jacked up the entire time. Before, there were several "working" Jumbotrons in that area. People were upset that they'd traveled from around the country only to hear screeching audio that often went out altogether.
"They'd better have it fixed by the time the president speaks," one woman said: It wasn't.
Droves of people became frustrated and left in the middle of the president's address.
Monday was also the official Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. That was not lost on me and many others. The president's address made many references to the values Dr. King held and the issues he fought for during the Civil Rights Movement.
"We are a great nation that must care for the vulnerable … freedom isn't reserved for the lucky," President Obama said. "Now more than ever, we must work together as one nation and one people."
I left after the president's speech because of the Jumbotron's technical problems. So before hearing Beyonce sing the national anthem, I walked down to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. A lot of others took the short walk, too.
Standing in front of the memorial, with the Potomac River in the background, it was a moving moment to hear people talking about how Dr. King's leadership helped pave the way for President Obama and so many others. Several people told me that, although the president's swearing in for a second term was very significant, the King holiday was not to be overshadowed.
I felt the same way. And I was wearing the T-shirt I wear every year on Dr. King's birthday, which says "I marched with singer Stevie Wonder to make Dr. King's birthday a national holiday." It's still hanging in there.