“Sides will not matter now matter makes no sense
How did a difference become a disease?” – Fugazi
As the word got out that I was planning to attend the 58th Inauguration Day of the United States of America, the official swearing-in of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President I began to field several texts, Facebook messages that all posed the same question. Why was I going? Why indeed.
I’m sure to some this made no sense, and perhaps it didn’t. I booked the trip at 2:30 in the morning in the midst of a fever. I also made the conscious choice to take Greyhound coach buses there and back and specifically through the Northern “Rustbelt” States, the “Blue Curtain” Pennsylvania, Ohio, Northern Indiana. Passing and stopping in towns, Youngstown, Gary, Pittsburgh, Cleveland many others. Dilapidated, shuttered homes and businesses on full display. The itinerary of this trip would see me on coach buses and layovers for over 60 hours. I wanted a trip that would cover as much ground as possible, I wanted to meet and talk to everybody I encountered along the way and one that would kick my ass. This trip would not disappoint on all accounts.
First and foremost I was going to bear witness. As much as I appreciate the sentiment and the cardboard signs and the hashtag #NotMyPresident, as of noon on January 20th, 2017 the man who should never have arrived at the White House would become our President representing all of us. This was the culmination of what I dubbed the “long, hot, angry, American summer”. I understood the boycotts, my friends who could not watch. For some it was a cause for celebration, for others it was horrible, it was an American tragedy that played for two years and ended with a man who had no experience, no diplomatic skills, a man who has consistently made this country less safe every time he opens his mouth, or fires off a tweet at 2AM. The “billionaire man-child”. A representation of a percentage of America’s dark ID, reactionary, dumb, fearful, spiteful, vengeful, angry. However large or small a representation is open to debate. As an immigrant to this great country I also wanted to stand at the Inauguration for my brethren of brothers and sisters who like me made the choice to leave everything behind and start anew in this country. Some unlike me who faced hardships I cannot possibly imagine. Fleeing a war zone, years spent in refugee camps, extreme vetting, years of uncertainty. Many refugees do not make a choice of which country they will be resettled into. They are told where they will be placed.
I focused my efforts on obtaining an actual ticket for the searing-in ceremony on the U.S. Capitol Building grounds. I wanted to stand side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder in a forced intimacy with people of whom I 100% disagree with on this one major decision, the person who they voted for.
My research informed me that to obtain a ticket I should contact my Senators. On December 8th, I emailed Senators Joe Donnelly and Todd Young. I heard back immediately from Donnelly’s office. “Thank you for your interest in receiving Inauguration tickets through our office. We’d like to provide you with additional information on the ticketing process….All requests will be entered into a lottery, and we anticipate that we will begin notifying individuals who have received tickets the week of December 20, 2016.” On the 4th of January I got an email back from Mr. Donnelly’s office after the lottery, “Thank you for contacting our office regarding tickets to the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Due to high demand, we are unable to provide you with tickets at this time.” I had yet to receive any communication back from Todd Young’s office. The trip was long since booked so I was heading to D.C. one way or the other. I was disappointed.
5:13 PM on January 11th, 2017, just nine days prior to the Inauguration I received an email from Senator Todd Young’s office. “I am pleased to let you know that Senator Todd Young has allocated 2 tickets for you and your guest to attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration on Friday, January 20, 2017 at 11:30am. The ceremony will take place on the West Front of the United States Capitol.” It was on. However my itinerary would have me arrive in D.C. at 4:40AM on the 20th. The caveat was I had to be at the Senate offices by 4PM on the 19th or my ticket would be forfeit. Now I had to get to Washington a day early, by four and secure some sort of accommodation for the one night. My wife and I hit the travel websites. We found one Southwest flight that would arrive hours before the cutoff time to pick up my tickets. If the shortest point between two places is a straight line then that was the exact opposite of what I was doing. My flight would leave Indianapolis, land in Orlando, Florida. Florida, the home of the “hanging chad”. I would get on the next plane that would take me to Dulles International airport in Virginia. I was excited, I would cover even more ground on this trip. We also found a hostel seven blocks from the Capitol building for only sixty-two dollars. Amazing. I was still going to take the Greyhound back home. #MrMitchellGoesToWashington
The night before my journey began a friend of mine picked me up and I spent the night at their place because it was far closer to the airport than my town. They also took me out to great steak restaurant and we played a board game. I have great friends.
The morning of the 19th began early for me. 4AM early. I got to the airport, printed out my boarding passes and went through security. I got a large coffee and waited to board the plane. The first flight was smooth and I got a picture of me with palm trees as my background. I boarded flight number two and watched out the window as flew along the Atlantic coast to Virginia.
I landed in Dulles and hit the ground running. I had less than three hours to get to the Russell Senate Office Building. I headed down the escalators to round level and put my name in at a shared airport shuttle. Dulles was an hour away from downtown D.C. I waited for twenty odd minutes and my name was called. I got into the van with five other people. I would be the last person dropped off downtown. I spoke to my driver. He was originally from Iraq and we spoke of Donald Trump’s promises on the campaign trail and what might or might not happen now that he was about to become the President. After near an hour after all the other people were dropped off we were near the Senate Office buildings but could not get right there because of street closures. We shook hands and wished each other luck.
As I was walking towards the Capitol building I heard singer Jackie Evancho practicing the National Anthem. On the ground in D.C. five minutes and a poignant beginning as the lyrics drifted through the air on a beautiful afternoon.The last time I was in the nation’s capitol was December of 2014. It was a cold night as I went to the National Mall and was greeted by the voices of “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s voices carrying through the night as they were practicing for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony the next night. Walking in the cold crisp air and making the pilgrimage to the Lincoln memorial, Washington felt inviting. I was wondering how it would feel on this trip.
Once at the Senate offices the lineup was extremely long and slow moving as people headed through the security check to enter the building. People were getting slightly annoyed. One U.S. Capitol officer kept coming out of the doors we were lined up at and telling us to go to one of the other doors. There were no lines at them he said. Nobody budged. I didn’t think anyone would leave this line for a chance at a slightly faster entrance. People so suspicious of their government are not going to be persuaded by one of their uniformed employees.
The Navy officer in the photo spoke with the Capitol officer in the photo. The guy from the Navy and his wife left to go to another one of the entrances. I for some reason, even though I was that close to finally entering decided to join them. Somewhere I guess I thought the conversation was more important than finally getting in the building. I walked with him and his wife and spoke to him about life in the armed services. He informed me that he was going to have a meeting with a couple of his Senators. Once we got to the other side of the building the lineup was just as long. I then ran back to my original entrance in the hope of getting behind the people I had left. By the time I got back they were inside. I asked the couple behind me if I could get back in line behind them. They said no problem. They were from the Columbus, Ohio area. We spoke about Ohio. About ten minutes later I was emptying my pockets and taking off my belt to pass through the metal detector. Inside!
I looked at a video directory board looking for where I needed to go and then several young staffers passed me. I asked them where office B33 was. They said it was in the basement. Fitting for a newly elected Junior Senator from Indiana I thought to myself. They got in the elevator and I followed. We all exited at the basement level. I was tripping out seeing the the Senators names outside of the doors. I passed by the Senate library and took pictures. I got to Todd Young’s office and didn’t knock, just opened the door and walked in. Democracy baby, no closed doors! Several young staffers were sitting at laptops. I spoke with the one at the first desk that I was there to pick up my Inauguration tickets. He handed me an envelope that read: “United Sates Senate Official Business” and also a sticker attached “Mitchell 2 NORTH STANDING” He looked at my State photo I.D. and then looked for my name on a list of what looked to be only twenty names. He crossed my name off. The woman behind him handed me a piece of paper that was the maps and guidelines for the Inauguration swearing-in ceremony.
I asked if the Senator was in. I was told he was not. I wanted to speak to him about the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. I thanked the staffers for everything and left the office. I wandered through the halls of the Senate Office building taking pictures and soaking up the importance and history I was currently walking through. The pull of what I was potentially missing had me back into the late afternoon sun. The U.S. Capitol Building was very near and I naturally walked in that direction. The front was completely cordoned off for the ceremony tomorrow but the back was still open.
There were many groups of people wandering through the plaza. A lot of students standing together for a group photo. In the distance I spotted a Donald Trump impersonator surrounded by a camera crew and headed in the direction.
Robert Mitchell Donald Trump
Suffice to say I caught up to him. There was a giant flatbed tractor trailer with several camera crews set up on it. They would be getting footage of Marine One taking off tomorrow. Having no goal or destination I was now free to wander as I desired and have always dug the fact the D.C. was such a great walking city. I wandered around the Capitol building and immediately spotted the “Don’s Johns” on the numerous port-a-potties lining the National Mall, my friends last night told me about at dinner. Seems someone felt the soon to be “Billionaire man-child” was so thin-skinned that they made the decision to cover up the companies name: “Don’s Johns”. Not only was the decision amusing but walking past the numerous port a potties and seeing the progression how the job to cover up the company name went was down right hysterical. First they used blue masking tape. However you could still see the name. Then they switched to a giant white sticker that not only covered up the name but also the phone number. So much for advertising. I also thought, once they remove that giant white sticker the owners company information is going to be covered in pieces of sticker. So the original advertising will have to be replaced, hope they factored that into the costs of the rentals. Anyways, they clearly ran out of the giant white stickers as they went back to the blue sticker. The further one walked down the mall the sooner they ran out of materials to cover up “Don’s Johns” entirely. Sad.
I began to see the merchandise vendors. The “Make America Great Again” red hat was in full force. There were also winter hats. When I saw the souvenirs with “45” on it my heart sank. Through the campaign, the debates, the transitions, the talk of the “emoluments clause” in the Constitution people were clinging to the hope that Trumpism would be stopped. Here we were on the eve of his Presidency.
I continued to walk along the Mall. I paused for this scene that played out before me.
I continued to walk. I was drawn to the new Trump hotel. The last time I was here it was still an empty post office. I was wondering if there were any protestors still out in front.
The scene was quiet. There were onlookers, some police and guests of the hotel. I’m sure a better writer would have something profound to write about this, all I can say it felt like the quiet before the storm. I continued to walk towards the White House. Finally preparations for tomorrow’s parade were being finalized.
As I neared the White House I came across this scene.
This is one of my favorite photographs of the entire trip. Here the sun is literally setting on President Barack Obama’s Presidency. I teared up a little while taking this photograph. I continued to walk through The Ellipse. It was hard to see the White House. I saw this much of it.
As the sun set on January 19th, 2017 I had this reflection, well progressive and liberal friends I have been in D.C. three hours wandering the national mall. I must say, it’s a heavy scene here. Trump flags, MAGA hats, now in white (fitting) and pink, you know for the ladies. The smell of cigar smoke is all around, amidst the ever present sirens of law enforcement and the roar of motorcycles ridden by “Bikers For Trump”. We definitely lost, and lost big.
Looking at the above photo I did not notice that the second amendment hat had bullet holes in it. Damn son, that’s a bad scene. It was the Obama’s last night in the White House I decided to have dinner at the Potbellies sandwich shop beside the White House, the first thing I had eaten over twenty four hours. It was warm enough, for me anyways, to sit on the patio. I pulled out one of my portable chargers and got my cellphone charging. I saw several people come over to the patio to chill, they were carrying or wearing their signs thanking Barack and Michelle Obama. It made me a little sad but so thankful that when I moved to this country Barack Obama was my President. There a lot of people in this country that will never truly or fully understand what Mr. Obama meant to a large number of people. I recharged and so did my phone. I left the patio and kept walking. I wanted to cover as much ground as possible that my two legs could propel me through. Security was tight as anyone can imagine. Tomorrow was a peaceful transition of power but make no mistake this was also a show of force to the rest of the world.
I began to head to the Lincoln memorial. My goal was to spend the last moments of the sunset inside the memorial. The further I walked down 17th street it dawned on me that the concert with a lineup of shitty musicians was happening. As I got to Constitution avenue I heard Three Doors Down “Here Without You”, full disclosure, I would listen to this song when my wife and I were separated while I was going through the immigration process to move to the United States. To hear this song tonight would change my memory of it. The closer I got and saw all the fencing I realized that I would not be able to actually get into the Lincoln memorial. The stage featuring all of these shitty bands was set up right in front. Have we not all done enough to Abraham Lincoln’s legacy? The sun was almost set and Three Doors Down finished their big hit. Then some twangy country music began with a giant shout to the United States of America! I spoke to a Secret Service agent inquiring if the Lincoln Memorial was open, he confirmed what I already surmised, one could not enter the memorial. He said he might be open tomorrow night. I kept walking along Constitution avenue and saw more souvenir sellers.
The T-shirt sellers hawking their wares were shouting out. “Hillary sucks! But not like Monica” and “Bitch I’m The President!” “Trump That Bitch!”
The second time the guy shouted out, “Hillary sucks but not like Monica!”, several little kids walked passed. America man. Intense. I thought that these guys selling and saying all this shit would have a bunch of pink shirts emblazoned with women empowering slogans on Saturday during the Women’s March. Having not been able to visit the Lincoln memorial I opted to walk pass the Washington memorial. The sounds of country music and the chatter and cheer of Trump supporters in the air.
I walked pass the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Much like the Trump hotel it was also not here the last time I was in D.C. the building is absolutely beautiful.
Just beyond the museum there was another guy selling shirts. As I walked pass I joked, “You couldn’t give me money to buy one of those shirts.” He laughed. We started talking. I introduced myself, he told me his name was Larry. He told me he was only selling the T-shirts to make money and he did not support Trump. We spoke of politics, I mentioned that I was from Indiana and Mike Pence was not a good guy and we, at least my friends and I no way in hell want to see him become President. I said that we were currently between a rock and a hard place. I also mentioned I thought that Trump’s ego might act as a check and balance. Maybe. He was surprised that I was not on board with Pence. Larry mentioned that when Sarah Palin arrived on the scene nobody knew who she was. I said, yeah who follows Alaskan politics here. I surmise not a lot of people were paying to Indiana politics as well, not until Pence signed the Religious Freedom Act at least. We kept chatting. I wished him well and best of luck. He wished me the same. I kept walking back through Pennsylvania avenue. The small amount of people tapered off as I walked passed the museums. A guy beside me lit a cigarette. I said hi. We began talking. His name was Frank and is a pipe fitter from Las Vegas who was currently laid off. He told me he was in D.C. with his wife who was here on a contract job so he was enjoying his first time in D.C. and the inauguration festivities. Frank told me he voted for Trump and he thought it would be fifty/fifty if it blew up in all our faces. I told him that I was gambling man it I placed it more at ninety-eight percent. We chatted a bit more and drifted off into the night. Now I had all of Pennsylvania avenue to myself. It was wonderful and surreal. The lights of the Capitol building far away in the distance.
As I walked around the Capitol building I thought of the history I walking by. The beautiful dome was only beginning to be built while Abraham Lincoln was President and during the civil war. It was a humbling and overwhelming feeling.
I began to wander through the neighborhoods near the hostel I was staying. What I saw lifted my spirits.
Those were only a small amount of the signs I passed by. I neared my hostel and checked in. I asked the guy working the desk if it were possible if I could keep my backpack in a locker tomorrow even though I was checking out in the morning. I mentioned I was attending the inauguration tomorrow and I would not be allowed to take it. He said no problem but he said guests should use locks. I said I did not have one but if someone wanted to steal my backpack all they would be getting is a some clothes and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. The couple of guys sitting on the futon in the checkout area laughed.
I was showed up to my room which consisted of seven bunks and were full. I had a top bunk. Another guy was currently in the room. I began talking to him and introduced myself. He said his name was Brett and he was from Perth, Australia and was nearing the end of a month long trip through the United States. He said the inauguration brought him to D.C. and he had been trying to obtain a ticket for the U.S. Capitol grounds but getting a ticket for a foreigner was not easy. I told him I had an extra ticket and I would give it to him. He was elated and was knocked back by my generosity. Brett said he would take me out to dinner. I said that would be great that I had not eaten much as I was traveling and then walking all day. We went to a bar down the street. It was super crowded but Brett got us two seats at a table that two other people were sitting at. We had a couple of beers and he told me he was a pilot. He was able to get a month off and had never been to America before. I asked him what his favorite part of traveling here was and he told me about visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Brett was able to talk to several of the rocket scientist who actually worked and built the space rockets. He excitedly showed me pictures of them on his phone. We spoke a lot of politics given the city and the event that was happening tomorrow. He told me he could care less who was President, it was not going to affect him but he did want to witness the inauguration. I finished eating and we walked back to the hostel. We passed by some Trump supporters. I took their picture. The guy wearing the Trump flag yelled “I hope you put that on Instagram.” I shouted back, “I already did. Hashtag, Fuck Trump!” One of the others shouted, “You want to see the Trump tattoo on my ass?” I responded, “That’s too much man! You went all in!”
Once back at the hostel I spoke with my wife and then climbed the top bunk to try and get a little sleep. The sounds of the constant sirens and helicopters lulling me to sleep. I had no idea what tomorrow would bring. None of us did.