Inauguration #1

Epic day on the freezing mall

After gathering before dawn in the heart of the nation, some two million people erupted in joyous celebration Tuesday to hail President Barack Obama, praying he will usher in a better new world.
"Obama is the person we need at this time, at this point in history," said 74-year-old John Saunders, who brushed off two hip replacements and the biting cold to attend the inauguration. As a college basketball player in the mid-1950s in the deep south, Saunders remembered when he and teammates would stop at highway service stations and ask for restrooms. "We'd be told 'no, not for coloreds.'"
Today however, watching Obama take the oath of office, Saunders said with a big grin: "This is a realization of a dream."

Earlier, as a dark blue early morning sky hung over downtown Washington, DC at 5am, the normally sleepy capital resembled burgeoning tent city, almost like urban east Asia, with food and clothing stalls springing up on staid streets amid wafting sweet smells of meat cooking on grills.  

The crowds started to arrive aboard packed subway trains rolling towards the city; bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived and aching with cold, they rode in from the outer suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. And then bundled up in several layers, they streamed by foot down the city's wide avenues, single-mindedly moving in one direction.

Adding to the surreally transformed areas around K street -- Washington's lobbyist centre -- hard security barriers turned civilian streets to look like post-disaster zones. Military hummer trucks blocked-off cross streets and police, secret service and army reservists stood guard everywhere. 

Tight security and bitter chills of at least minus 10 celsius didn't put off the joyous atmosphere, however, as a tide of humanity flooded the city's National Mall.
"We were in the holding pen for a good couple of hours. Mashed in like sardines," observed Pamela Jones, 58, of the crushing crowds."When we finally got through it really was, free at last, free at last."

For African Americans especially, the extraordinary day -- a singular moment in the history of any country -- was one to marvel at. "I was in awe. You could see, we were all chanting an African man's name, in the capital, in a country where Africans were brought over as slaves," said Rosalind Campbell, 35, from Brooklyn.

"We couldn't stop crying. We don't cry much in our family, apart from when things get tough, and we don't have enough money you know ... but I couldn't stop crying."
Obama embodies "the legacy of those African slaves," she said.
"To walk around and see my elders experience this moment. I cried for now, and I cried for them, out of appreciation of the groundwork they laid."

Later at one of the 10 official inaugural balls, Obama's entrance was greeted by a wild audience, who listened to his speech in rapt silence and later cheered as Barack and his wife Michelle slow-danced to an Air Force brass band version of Etta James' "At Last."

"That's what you call Old School," Obama said afterward.

Speaking on his theme of getting younger generations involved in community service, and reaching out to their neighbours for the renewal of the American dream, Obama touched such a nerve that what had been a great party already -- with a stonking performance by Kanye West -- into something more. It turned into a patriotic love-fest, as the country's 44th president inspired the 1000 onlookers to work towards a better future.

Right after Obama finished his remarks, Sean Marfaire, 27, from Washington, DC was ecstatic, and he said, laughing: "I need a drink and a cigarette. I feel like I had just sex with America.