Leslie Lester has the bubbly personality of a QVC hostess, and she is plainly delighted to be on the train to D.C. with several hundred political activists of very disparate stripes. "I love it, that's our country," she says of her fellow passengers, almost all of whom are, unlike her, going to the inauguration. "There's protesters back there, Trump people up here," she says, pulling up Facebook on her iPhone. "On this train there are people with so many conflicting ideas, but we can be a peaceful group."
Lester points her camera toward the seat across from her. "You're pro-Trump, go wooo," she commands a father and son. And they do.
They are Charles Edward Scheurman, and his son, Jeremy. Both are headed for their first inauguration ever. Charles has a clear plastic packet with his tickets, affording access to the orange section, pretty close to the stage.
Charles grew up in Hamilton, then moved to Rosedale, and now lives in Catonsville. He owns Fast Eddie's Pit Beef on the 2800 block of Belair Road, which he opened 20 years ago as a sort of adjunct to his father and brother's gun shop. "There wasn't much to eat around there," he says, "so I decided to go into the food business."
Northeast Guns used to be about 20 blocks north—the family suffered tragedy there.
On September 11, 1991, Scheurman's father, Charlie "Eddie" Scheurman, was murdered during a daylight robbery of his gun shop by a group of eight or nine men in three cars. They shot Scheurman and a customer who happened to be in the store, then stepped over their bodies, smashed the cases, and stole about 50 handguns, stuffing them into a canvas duffel bag, according to news reports. Scheurman doesn't go into detail.
"Yeah, they caught the guys," he says.
Eddie had three gun shops. His namesake son has two pit beef stands. The third generation finds being a Republican in Baltimore County anything but lonely.
"There's pretty much a decent number of Republicans," says Jeremy. He says a friend's dad is friends with Congressman Andy Harris. "My friend is more of a 'Don't Tread on Me' kind of person."
Jeremy Scheurman says he's a Trump man, in part, because "Clinton represents everything wrong with the government." He says it has nothing to do with her gender.
"I would vote for Ivanka," he says. "She's really smart."
He thinks Trump hasn't gotten a fair shake. "I hate people who say just because he's rich he didn't work hard," Jeremy says of President Trump, who was chauffeured in a limousine to grade school. "Like, he got a small loan of a million dollars. But it's also like, if I loaned you $50 and you turned it into $5,000. I feel that a lot of people aren't really giving him a chance. I feel like, as president, he's going to win over a lot of fence-sitters. Maybe some moderate liberals. But a lot of people are just set in their ways."
Jeremy is skeptical about all the scandals that came out about Trump. The tape of him saying "grab them by the pussy" was followed immediately by all these women saying he actually did that—it seems much too pat and scripted to Jeremy Scheurman: "CNN, it's so biased, it's not even news. It's just opinion. Rachel Maddow flipped-out on air that he won. You can't do that!"
He says it's important as well to remember the deaths. "Some of them are pretty suspicious," he says, citing the case of Suzanne Coleman who, he says "died after an affair with [Bill] Clinton." He says it was supposedly a robbery, but nothing was taken, and "she was rumored to be pregnant."
Googling Suzanne Coleman's name today brings up a raft of conspiracy websites with names like "Clinton Body Bags," which purport to uncover the Clinton family's secret gangster history. In this (entirely fictional) world, the Clintons are not insufferable "front row" kids animated by nerdy, policy-wonk concerns and a sense of entitlement derived from decades of "smartest people in the room" fawning. No no: they are evil masterminds with island hideouts, who lead satanic pederasty masses in the basements of random pizza restaurants.
Coleman, a law student of Clinton's in the 1970s, was found dead of a gunshot wound in 1977, which was ruled a suicide. Later investigations failed to substantiate rumors of an affair with Clinton.
The person Jeremy says was gunned down in a coffee shop robbery was not Coleman, but a former intern named Mary Mohane.
Both women appear on various "Clinton Body Count" lists. All of the conspiracy claims surrounding all of these deaths have been repeatedly debunked over the past 25 years or more.
Yet they are repeated endlessly by anti-Clinton partisans, and the fact that actual reporting has found them baseless is cited as evidence that the mainstream media is, as Trump so often says, "dishonest."
Just outside of Union Station, Nick Phillips, a very large, very loud, bearded white guy who came down from Providence with 20 other guys on two buses, flies an enormous flag bearing President Trump's visage under the big Metro sign on the plaza.
"Scarves are twenty-five," he tells a prospective customer. "Thirty dollars for the big flag."
He says he could get a guy out here with a credit card machine in "two minutes." He is asked if the blue scarves with "TRUMP" knitted into them are wool. He pauses for a moment to think. "Yeah, I'll go with wool," he says.
Across Massachusetts Avenue, a thin young African-American man with a gold front is hawking red Trump T-shirts for $20 each, $15 for the ubiquitous red "Make America Great Again" ball caps, from a suitcase on the sidewalk. Cahlil Shelly says he voted for Trump and has followed him "everywhere" for the past several months. "I usually have a table," he says.
He got his stuff from a T-shirt shop in Manhattan, where he lives.
There is a definite divide among merch sellers. Most are tasteful, with Trump's name and visage, MAGA pins, the number 45 (he's the 45th president of the U.S.A.), the date. But some, maybe an eighth, are selling "Trump That Bitch" and "Hillary for Prison" stuff. A guy from Ohio says he's been here for two weeks. He's got a shirt that says "Hillary Sucks but Not Like Monica" with cartoons of both women on the front. They don't seem to be moving, even among the folks who are clearly big Trump fans. In fact, not much of anything is selling.
Once through the metal detectors, inside the free ticketed, "Mall Standing Area - Silver" between 3rd and 4th streets, the crowd is sparse. The square might be two-thirds full. Maybe less. Behind us, up the mall, it's sparser. Not empty, but thin. Nothing like this day in 2009, when City Paper reporters could not get closer than the Washington Monument, about a half mile away, in a crowd so thick you could barely lift a camera to your face. Tomorrow, as the Women's March musters more than half a million, Trump will tell a small audience of CIA agents that he had more than a million people here today, but that the "dishonest media" made it look like less. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, will then hold an impromptu announcement to repeat the same nonsense to the reporters there, before stalking off without taking questions.
During the inauguration ceremony, when Senator Chuck Schumer speaks, the crowd turns instantly hostile. They boo as he says the nation is divided.
"Despite all the challenges," Schumer says, "I stand confident in you, the American people…".
The crowd closer to Schumer, but not back here in the Silver section: "TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!"
Doug Woody, a substantial man with a full beard and a close-cropped haircut, is not booing. This is his first ever presidential inauguration, and the owner of a couple of Georgia-based e-commerce companies is marveling at the history and pageantry with a group of friends and family.
"My son is 11 years old," Woody says. "He's a future business leader and back in November after the election he said 'Dad, I wanna see Trump.' So I booked us some rooms at the hotel."
Braden, his son, sports a blue suit, red tie, Ray-Bans and a red MAGA cap, says he was drawn to Trump "because he always puts his mind to what he wants to do."
Doug Woody says the same of his son.
"He's invented a position at one of my companies," Woody says, with evident pride. "CCEO. I said what's that? He says Co-CEO."
Everyone gets quiet as Trump takes the oath of office.
They applaud a speech full of promises of protectionism and public works and more war on "Radical Islamic Terrorism." The president pumps his fist at its conclusion.
The parade is supposed to start shortly after, but it doesn't, and thousands of Trump supporters (and many opponents) are left to cool their heels in a misty near-drizzle for two hours facing a road full of armed men.
Atop the review box, the Frederick Douglass quote: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will."
The Wilson office building behind it is where the D.C. City Council works. Councilman David Grosso's windows have a series of letters in them spelling out "DC PROTECTS HUMAN RIGHTS," like a cryptic message from a hostage or an SOS drawn with shells on a desert island beach.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is here. Most of the City Council is not. The bleachers are about half full. Word is Trump is at lunch still.
"I was surprised at the speech," says Pete—"Just Pete"—a tall, lanky, retired Air Force pilot with a close beard and pencil-thin mustache, a red MAGA hat, and a black leather jacket over a white dress shirt and tie. "I thought it would be a little more conciliatory."
Pete, who drove over from Alexandria, Va., says he flew B-52s and was also a missile officer. His support for Trump is "more of a cultural thing in the military," he says. "I was well-aware of all of Trump's faults, but I saw the man as an agent for change.
"But also, it was a roll of the dice," Pete says. "The possible destabilization of institutions."
His friend standing behind him predicts "a sloppy administration."
A young man near the back of the crowd looks like a frat boy. White, fit, early 20s. He's got two buddies with him. They all have on jackets and ties. Two out of three sport the red MAGA hats. They are having a blast goofing on the crowd, especially the protesters stationed up front, but also the fellow Trump people.
"If I see that glowing golden mane," the leader says, "then I'll be happy."
The boys want a flyover by a stealth bomber. They love the fife and drum corps, likening it to the Tea Party rallies of their youth. "Where's the wall of meat?" one asks, speaking of a Bikers-for-Trump group that had pledged to interpose itself between the president and the protesters. "I came to see The Wall of Meat!"
As word comes that Trump will be in a limo, not on foot, the disappointment is palpable.
"Don't be in your car, dude," one of the frat boys says. "Be a champ and get out of your car."
A couple next to them, wearing matching blue "Make Sexism Wrong Again" T-shirts, smiles and says nothing.
The crowd boos as three open trucks full of cameramen rumble past, then as Trump's motorcade finally appears and the phones fly up to take videos, the crowd in back yells at the front-row protesters, whose signs are blocking what little view is possible. "Down in front! Down with the sign! Haters with the signs!"