Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The inauguration as seen from Playhouse Square

I should have known better than to show up at the Palace Theater’s viewing of the inauguration of Barack Obama only 20 minutes before he was to take the stage. I took my place among a row of other recent arrivals who were standing at the back and dutifully texting their friends stuck at the office to say, “Yeah, it’s packed.” Even though only Sen. Feinstein was speaking, no one had a moment to give me a comment; I felt like someone being shushed for talking through the previews.

Aretha Franklin earned cheers from the Palace crowd, twice; so did new Vice President Joe Biden, even though no one (except those in the back) listened when Sen. Feinstein asked the crowd in Washington to stand. The Palace audience sure stood, though, when Obama was announced. Stood, and cheered, thunderously, hands clapping high in the air, then listened breathlessly as Obama repeated the oath, and Chief Justice Roberts’ little gaffe over the first line faded quickly into the background as he concluded, “Congratulations, Mr. President.”

I did manage to talk to a few people after President Obama finished his address — such as C. J. Carter of Cleveland, who works at the juvenile court and brought a group of teenagers from the court's “day report program” to the Palace for the event.

“As a kid, I was forced to watch the inauguration of President Kennedy, and I remember it to this day,” Carter said. “I wanted to give these kids the same experience. It's like castor oil; it's good for them, whether they like it or not.”

James Heidmann, 13, of Solon, admitted that his mom had brought him downtown to watch the event even though it was a school day.

“We couldn’t miss a chance like this,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Sixteen-month-old Jill Tennant of Lakewood probably wins the award for youngest viewer at the Palace. Maybe in a few years, her big brother Owen, 4, will tell her about it.

“Who was inaugurated president today?” asked Owen’s mom, Jeri.

Owen, running around on the big marble staircase, stopped for a moment and looked up at me with as serious an expression as a four-year-old can muster.

“Barack Obama,” he said.

(Photo: Jeri, Owen, Jill and Tom Tennant)

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