The best time to bear witness to a presidential inauguration isn’t necessarily at the precise time of the swearing-in.
“I mean, that’s why we’re all here,” says Louis Tomaino, from Connecticut, after poking his head out of an orange, body sized bag that supposedly reflects body heat. “But nothing beats this.”
Really? It’s Monday at 4:30 a.m. with a temperature around 30 degrees when Tomaino makes this assessment from a bench on the National Mall, where shortly before noon President Barack Obama will be sworn in for the second time.
In other words, in another seven hours.
“I know, I know, it’s crazy,” he says in the darkness. “I guess the thing is, this gives you the chance to experience everything, to see things no one else sees, to see first-hand how the crowd gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Indeed, by 5 a.m. the crowd of several thousand pushed against the last line of public viewing on the Mall has doubled. By 5:30 a.m., double it again.
But to the early arriving Cheryl Van Horn and her sister-in-law, Patricia James, it’s not about beating the crowds or getting a choice viewing spot.
“No, it’s not,” says Van Horn, from Washington, Md. “It’s about savoring every minute of this glorious day.”
Adds James with a laugh about the guest of honor: “He’s awake, too, you know.”
So are 17 high school students from Covenant of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco, who are here both to watch as well as report. They’re staffers from the Broad View, their school’s student newspaper.
“It’s just an honor to be here, you know?” says reporter Shirley Yang, 16, sitting in a circle with her bundled-up collegues. “It’s a learning experience, it’s being a part of history, it’s whatever you want to make of it.”
Darrin Davis, 47, knows exactly what to make of it. The owner of a realty company in Anacostia, he’s one of the numerous volunteer “captains” for the Presidential Inauguration Committee in charge of getting his team of fellow volunteers to distribute the flag-on-a-stick to the masses. Perhaps you saw them. Hard to miss, they were.
“Look at all those boxes,” he says, gesturing to a paddock behind him.
“You got hundreds and thousands of flags in there. In a couple of hours, they’re gonna be everywhere.”
“Patriotism,” Davis says with a grin, quickly adding, “and a great president.”
Two camouflaged gentlemen standing at one of the Mall entry points politely choose not to provide and adjective when assessing the president, simply because their orders don’t allow for that. They’re members of the Delaware National Guard, and they both happily accepted when asked to help provide security.
“Shoot, this is history,” says Kevin Murphy, after which his fellow Guardsman Willie Robinson adds: “This is America, baby.”
Murphy playfully rolls his eyes, and Robinson sees it.
“You don’t agree?” Robinson says, laughing.
“When you’re right, you’re right,” says a grinning Murphy, nodding.
Which us back to Tomaino, the guy in the orange body bag.
“I just think this is the right way to do it – get up early and see everything and don’t miss anything,” he says. “I mean, I’m glad the person who won, won, no question about that, but really, being here early means you’re really a part of it.”
Tomaino pauses before continuing.
“Call us the happy night owls.”