It’s one thing to hear sound bites from excited Obama fans on TV, but quite another to hear them from folks looking you in the eye. Photo by Travis Heying/ CP Photo
Washington - Out of the millions of people in and around DC's National Mall for the historic inauguration of the first African-American president, I estimate around two of them voted for Ralph Nader.
One of them is me, and the other's in the car with me driving up there.
I think I know what you're thinking. Aside from "How could you risk putting Sarah Palin in office?" you are perhaps wondering why I would celebrate Obama's win. But who can resist an orgy of hope?
At first it's hard in DC's downtown to get a sense of the vibe in the air - hard probably because the air is freezing.
I find myself with a lot of others weaving through what I think is called "bramble." Some people are pretty good at holding the branches back for the person behind them, while others forget their hiking etiquette. It feels like we're the largest group of people in history lost in the woods.
After a while my companion and I decide to find warmth and bathrooms at a restaurant. We've only been here a couple of hours, and the combination of cluster-phobia and hypothermia is already setting in.
At Potbelly's, near the Mall, we encounter a 45-minute wait for the bathroom. The only other option is a few thousand port-o-potties dispersed throughout the city.
I overhear a woman saying, "I knew it would be like this but I wouldn't miss it for the world." I realize I would miss it for a clean bathroom with a short wait and for feeling in my toes. I also realize I'm kind of a wuss.
But I've come this far and am determined to get as close to the ceremony as possible. The crowd, now in seemingly higher spirits as the weather warms slightly and the historic hour approaches, bursts into "Yes we can! Yes we can!"
It's at this point I feel a strange nostalgia for high school - particularly Grade 12, when my friends and I went to raves nearly every weekend, squeezing into long queues and huge crowds in the dead of winter.
I often wondered why I was spending my Saturday night this way - at least until 20 minutes after I dropped ecstasy. I really would've dug the slogan "Yes we can" back in those days. Kind of the way I loved everything for about four hours, and did pretty much say, "Yes I will" to any of my friends' reckless suggestions.
If you mix some beats with "Yes we can," it'd make for a very popular track. Oh, wait, it already is.
As we approach the Mall, I begin to feel like the crowd's drugs have started working, but mine haven't, as if I've been ripped off by some untrustworthy candy raver in fun-fur pants. They're all high and I'm not. It's hardly fair.
I can make out bits and pieces of the echoing speeches but mostly focus on the people around me, on how they look watching something they can't see, listening to something they can't hear.
But those around me don't seem to care. They're riveted and moist-eyed, making me feel like Dr. Seuss's Grinch, surprised that everyone's enjoying Inauguration Day even though "it came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!" (Or TV screen, decent audio and warmth.)
Later, wandering through the streets of downtown, I find people shivering on curbs or leaning against fences, faces reddened but glowing. There I meet Doddra Jenkins, a black woman who took a bus from Atlanta. She tells me she feels "unity in the air."
Jimmy Harlee, a black man from Greensborough, North Carolina, echoes the sentiment, saying this is "a day I thought I would never see or my father or my father's father would ever see."
And while David Jackson, a native of Harlem now living in a Pennsylvania suburb, is more skeptical - "There's still a lot racism" - he, too, says he finally "feels represented."
These are, of course, the kind of things I expect people to say, the kind of things I've heard in media sound bites. But I didn't anticipate how it would feel to have someone say them directly to me, looking into my eyes, seeing and feeling me looking back.
I'm no longer afraid to bring down people's buzz. I've lost the desire to do so.
Jenkins also says, "My skin colour is no longer a barrier." She looks at me intensely, seeming to study my face to see if her statement is true. Her expression suggests she's satisfied.
For the people I speak to, the slogan seems be less "Yes we can" than "Yes I am." Regardless of how liberal or, I suspect, neo-liberal much of Obama's presidency will be, he has already brought change.