Inspiration galore, a fountain of good will, even as we the passengers of a small seventeen-row jet from Portland, Maine, flowed into one of the outlying concourses at Dulles International and the throng there. Maine is largely white and the District thankfully is not and at this airport, a way station for the District (and it is) what grabs the attention right away is the mix, the presence of non-provincial culture, multi-ethnic vibrant and alive—color and movement of diverse people. You either love airports or your don’t and I do.
The comings and goings of others stirs my imagination. And this time, as my mind creates stories, I can’t help but assume what I see and feel is all because of the momentous occasion at hand, the swearing-in of the nation’s first African-American president, the first president of color and not just that, but every hope anyone has for this transformation into something other than what has been. Inside the terminal, where two female flight attendants in uniform stand on each side of a life-sized cardboard cut-out of President-Elect Obama and then lean closer, resting their cheeks against his, the sense of good will grows, tactile now, acted out as the camera flashes their photo those cheeks touching.
There are middle school and high school students from all over the country, 7,300 coming in with the Presidential Youth Inauguration Conference (PYIC). I know because I talked to four of them, 17- and 16-year-old girls, absolutely excited to be coming to Washington, D.C., and participating in the event. One kid, probably fifteen, complains about having to pay $158 dollars for a tuxedo. Another says he bought one on E-Bay for $50. It probably won’t last past the Youth Ball but that’s all he needs it for.
The throng moves under the signs pointing toward baggage claim. The throng begins to bunch up and I realize we are all headed in the same direction. The sign says baggage claim, but at the end of the walkway you come to a wall with small glass doors. The People Mover, announcing the arrival of the next shuttle. Movement stops, the crowd thickens. Its the first line, the first wait of my inauguration experience. Those ahead of me have already been waiting. How long I don’t know—ten minutes, twenty minutes. A crowd of hundreds is amassing and of the four doors, only two of them say Main Terminal. Scarcity of Resources. A People Mover arrives. One small glass door opens and twenty or so people file out. When the first person from our waiting group enters, the throng presses in to that one door, as if it is the only People Mover coming in the next hour. Nobody knows. There is no reassuring sign that tells us that People Movers will come every ten minutes or every five minutes.
The story changes to one of I am waiting and I need to get where I am going. People try to angle around the outside. One self-possessed man with a shaved head and earring, a muscular fortyish man, moves forward around others waiting and stands by the door. For some reason, a People Mover employee wheels out a woman in a wheelchair and when he does, the shaved head man slips in behind him and into the People Mover. Inside I see him shrug and gesture to another worker, then he moves forward and the People Mover pulls away. Minutes later, another People Mover arrives at the door to the far left and the throng moves left to funnel into that doorway. I am ten people away from the door in front of me and decide to stay and watch from here. In less than five minutes, another People Mover arrives at our door. The crowd behind me has grown again, but no bigger than when I arrived. Still people inch in, tighten up. Once on board, there is a collective sense of relaxation. Ah, we made it. And so the cell phones open and people begin to connect to others again, even as we all begin moving, on these odd (seemingly Star Wars inspired) shuttles. We are back to that sense of good will and celebration because our more basic needs are taken care of and our sense of not knowing when we would get to the next stop on our journey is replaced by a knowing sense of where we are—on the People Mover.