Attending the inauguration of our 44th President made me feel inspired and hopeful. My wife and I went as guests of the MBA’s political action committee (MORPAC) — and we felt like we witnessed history. The group we were with consisted of both democrats and republicans (and at least one libertarian) but all were moved and awed by the magnitude of the event.

One of the best quotes summing up the event: “What was once the ultimate impossibility will become the reality against which future generations will measure the magnitude of their aspirations.”

Obama and Michelle dancing at the Southern Ball. We were only about 50 feet away.

Hectic but fun

We arrived on Sunday evening (unfortunately having missed the concert on the Mall) and went to McLean, VA where we stayed with my wife’s aunt and uncle. Monday morning, we went to the Air and Space Museum for a private tour, arranged by MORPAC, and then spent the rest of the day on the Mall soaking in the vibe.

Lots of people milled around, and vendors sold all things Obama. We had dinner at Bobby Van’s Steakhouse and late night drinks at the Sofitel Hotel. We were lucky (we thought) to score “Silver” tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, which was supposed to give us access to a reserved standing area relatively close to the capitol. So we headed back to McLean around 1 a.m. to prepare for the big day.

Tuesday we got up early but after suffering through a slow commute on the Metro and having to drop our formal ware off at the MBA’s office, we didn’t reach the Mall until about 10 a.m. We foolishly thought that since we had reserved tickets, we would be able to still get into our section.

Not so.

As it turned out, if you weren’t in line by 7 a.m., you didn’t get access into any of the reserved areas. There were just way too many people, and the security gates did not seem staffed nearly well enough. After about 30 minutes trying to fight through the humanity, we decided on plan B and high tailed it back toward the White House to watch the swearing in at the Willard Hotel.

The Willard Hotel, one of the oldest in Washington, is located right across from the White House on Pennsylvania Ave., directly overlooking the parade route. MORPAC reserved a corner suite on the 10th floor where they had food and drinks set up in a very civilized environment.

We got there about 10 minutes before the swearing-in began and watched the ceremony from the suite. Not exactly what we had hoped for but certainly a lot more comfortable than standing in the 20-degree weather. We, like everybody there, were blown away by his speech and totally in awe at the size of the crowd that came to witness the event firsthand. We ventured out into the streets a few times but spent most of the afternoon at the hotel watching the parade, which passed literally right below us.

That evening, we put on our formalwear and to the Southern Ball, one of the 10 official inaugural balls. The event was held near RFK Stadium and had probably 5,000 attendees.

Susan Tedeschi performed, but everyone was there to see The President. Joe Biden arrived first around midnight, gave about a 5-minute speech and did a quick dance before leaving. Obama arrived at about 12:30 a.m., and the crowd went crazy. He basically thanked the crowd for their support and said “the work starts tomorrow!” He did a quick dance with Michelle and was gone probably 10 minutes after arriving.

I shot this video of his speech and dance:

While the ball itself was not that special, we were able to get about 50 feet away from the stage and got by far our closest view of the Man — a nice way to end the event. Got back to McLean about 2 a.m. and crashed for a few hours before our flight back to San Francisco.

View of the parade route from the MBA suite. That’s “The Beast,” Obama’s top-secret armored Cadillac limo. Said the General Motors spokesperson: “One of the specifications is that we don’t talk about the specifications.”

Parting Observations

African American Community
The fact that Monday was Martin Luther King Day and Tuesday was the swearing in of our Nation’s first black president was not lost on us or the crowd. I would say at least half of the people attending the inauguration were African American, and the pride and inspiration that community demonstrated was beyond words.

If Obama’s presidency does nothing else except inspire people of all colors that anything is possible with personal responsibility and hard work, it will be a success.

The Security and Crowd Control
The event must be judged as a huge success because no one, especially the President, was hurt. That being said, 2 million visitors made the city crowded and hard to get around.

However, despite the frustrations many felt with regard to the swearing-in tickets, the crowd was friendly and inspired, with no trouble makers to be seen. An amazing fact was, despite the gathering of about 2 million people, there was not a single arrest made during the event. Well done crowd!

It was cold. Enough said.

Everyone was hopeful. The businesspeople who thought things could not get any worse, and that Obama might inspire confidence began to find a bottom (after all, oil is at $40, interest rates are at 4.5 percent, and housing is finally starting to get affordable again).

The politicians were hopeful they could ride the momentum to enact meaningful legislation. People of all colors were hopeful that they will now be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Hopeful that the world may look at America with a fresh perspective and put aside old ways of thinking. Hopeful that maybe, just maybe, a wave of openness and transparency was sweeping the nation and the world.

It was awesome.

Air and Space Museum — Pre Wright Brothers plane.

The Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, in which adventurer Steve Fossett became the first person to fly an airplane solo, nonstop around the globe without refueling.

View from the suite, with Bush leaving by helicopter.

My wife Larie and me at the Willard Hotel.

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Jim Flaherty is CEO of CMBS.com and the creator of the Backshop loan origination system. He is a trained credit professional with experience installing enterprise underwriting systems for commercial real estate lenders, rating agencies and investors.


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