Bill Ferguson had a close-up view of Barack Obama's inauguration, but don't ask him what the new president said in his address, especially toward the end, when the Baltimore City schools intern was reaching for the engagement ring in his pocket and preparing to get down on one knee.
One of just 10 people to win the inaugural committee's "Ticket to History," Ferguson managed to beat out more than 250,000 other Americans with an essay about how he'd like to pop the question at the inauguration.
The committee was apparently smitten with the idea of two 25-year-old former Teach for America volunteers making a commitment to each other - and a lifetime of shared public service - in the midst of Obama's swearing-in.
Luckily, the pitch worked just as well on girlfriend Lea Smith, who works on education issues at the Open Society Institute Baltimore. She said yes. "And started crying - a lot," reports Ferguson, a graduate intern for city schools chief Andres Alonso.
The proposal went over big with the inauguration-goers around them, too. "They started taking pictures and laughing," Ferguson said. "It was actually really inspiring. It was kind of amazing."
Even so, there was lots of stress before Ferguson got to that point, particularly as he smuggled the engagement ring past security inside his black knit Obama-Biden cap.
No wonder Ferguson - just about 200 feet away from Obama in the "preferred standing" section - had trouble concentrating on the new leader of the free world.
"I can't even remember the end [of the speech]," he said.
He's also a little fuzzy on just what he said to Smith in that narrow window between Obama's address and Elizabeth Alexander's poem. He thinks he began with, "I want to remember this moment forever."
Let's talk moist snuff
Among those who scored inauguration tickets in the coveted yellow section yesterday: Steny Hoyer's hairstylist.
So says another lucky constituent who also got passes from the No. 2 House Dem: Bruce Bereano, Hoyer's legislative assistant from 1975 to 1979, when Hoyer was president of the Maryland Senate.
Which means there was more than history and the peaceful transfer of power accomplished outside the Capitol. There also was lobbying - on the subject of moist snuff, as it happens.
Bereano spotted Del. Craig Rice, a Montgomery County Democrat and member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and bent his ear about a plan to change the way the stuff is taxed. (The tobacco wholesalers Bereano represents oppose the change.)
"I took the opportunity to work it," Bereano said.
"There was the interlude there before the music started, and the ambience, the majesty of the Capitol dome, and the setting and everything - maybe my lobbying would have a greater impact. It was so stirring."
Those gentlemen are ladies
Bereano beat the inauguration traffic by leaving his Annapolis home at 1 a.m., getting to the Union Station garage an hour later.
He spent the next five hours in his car, engine running so he'd stay warm.
"Just brought some work with me and brought some bananas and cheese and bottled water and took a nap," he said. "Two people called me at 7 o'clock on the cell phone to make sure I got up."
Using the Union Station facilities, Bereano noticed the line snaked out of the women's room, but not the men's.
"Sometimes it's good to be a man," he called out.
The joke was on him.
"I walk in the men's room and all these women are in there," he said. "One lady yells out, 'One America!' "
Spread the cream cheese
They're offering 10 percent off everything in Goldberg's New York Bagels in Pikesville all this month to mark the inauguration, but don't mistake the Obama Special as one more shmaltzy tribute to the new president.
"I did it to promote my business," volunteered owner Stanley Drebin. "I stay apolitical on those things. ... If I'm a Republican, I can say I'm doing it to make money. If I'm a Democrat, I can say I'm doing it because I love Obama."
But he's not saying which it is.
"It's called the customer bail-out plan," he added. "Spread the wealth - and the cream cheese."
Connect the dots
Maryland was well represented on the inaugural stage yesterday, even if you don't count Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer was up there, along with Rep. Elijah Cummings. Rep. Chris Van Hollen's mug popped up on national TV right behind Justice John Paul Stevens when VP Joe Biden was sworn in. And The Baltimore Sun's Paul West reports that Sen. Ben Cardin, who had a prime seat on the aisle overlooking the entire show, was happily snapping away with his digital camera and waving at friends in the crowd below. ... "Dick Cheney in the wheelchair was evocative of Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life," says Richard Cross, former speechwriter for Bob Ehrlich. ... Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer said he listened to the event on the radio at the Charlestown retirement community. "I think he was pretty good," he said. "And he's young, and he's got everything in front of him. He has confidence in himself, and that's good. He doesn't overplay it, but he lets everybody know he's the boss and he's going to run things and he's going to run it for the benefit of everyone."