On the Night Before History…

Let me just say this: Occasionally, I can be a little “slow.”  Although I am, for the most part, intelligent and quick, there are times when I am just a sprinkle of blonde.  It takes me a minute to get what is oh so obvious or I say something that makes people suggest, “Uh… maybe you should have kept that little question in your head as just a thought.”

Having said that, I will admit this: I had been underestimating the IMMENSITY of the event scheduled for January 20, 2009.  I knew it was huge.  A black man (who’s middle name is Hussein) would be sworn in to the nation’s highest office.  This black man was virtually unknown to many Americans as recently as 2004.  This black man held the attention of the world on Nov. 4, 2008 as every human across the globe waited with baited breathe to see if he had won the gig.

Big.  

But, for some reason, I underestimated this.  So much so that  I found myself amazed by little hints leading up to the official inauguration.  And no, I am not even referring to the 2 million people who crowded the National Mall and how that one visual shakes you out of your slow realization that you are alive during one of the most significant moments in American history.  My moments of “Whoa…this is something” started on the  Saturday before the inauguration.

Hint 1: The stow-a-way

So, I arrive at the greyhound bus station at 7 am on Saturday morning, with the intent of getting on an 8 o’clock bus.  I do get on this bus.  Surprisingly, at as early as 8:30 a.m.  Smug in my brilliant idea to leave for D.C. several days before the big event, I peel off my gigantic coat and ease into my seat.  I look out of the window at the long line of other brilliant people who are leaving early and wonder if they all will fit on the measley 15 or 20 buses I see parked around the lot.

The bus quickly fills, each person who enters grinning as if the lotto ticket had the numbers they had dreamt up the night before.  Actually saying, “Yes!  I got a seat!”

At some point, another jubilant lotto winner gets on the bus and starts that last-person-on-the-bus slow dance down the aisle.  She looks into each set of seats and when she sees a person in it, moves on to what she thinks is an empty seat.  She does this several times until she is at the end of the bus.  She looks anxious.  Annoyed. Afraid.

She goes to the front of the bus and tells the bus driver that there aren’t enough seats.  He seems incredulous, explaining quite plainly that he has 45 seats and only 44 tickets.  Therefore, he has to have an open seat left.

The lady does the slow dance down the bus again.  This time she yells from the back of the bus: “Sir, I’m telling you there aren’t any empty seats.”  I think this woman was very excited to be a part of history because she immediately became frantic and turned into a cranky New Yorker.

“I bought this ticket two months ago,” she explained to the bus driver.  “I got here early just like the website suggested,” she seemed to explain to everybody on the bus.  “Somebody is going to get up out of MY seat.”  That last statement scared many of us.  And, with the exception of one of us, we were all on the bus LEGALLY.

I held onto my ticket and pulled my driver’s license back out of my wallet.  A little voice whispered in my head: “Something ’bout to happen up in here.”

The bus driver turns into a middle school teacher the day before Christmas break.  He rolls his eyes and sighs heavily as he gets out of his seat.

“Look,” he chastises with his voice and his eyes.  “I have 45 seats on this bus and only 44 tickets.  Who doesn’t belong here?”

Shockingly, no one speaks up.  I try to help out the bus driver and scan the faces of those around me, looking for eyes turned downward or random rummaging through bags so as to hide guilt.  No one flinches.

The bus driver repeats his question.  He doesn’t wait too long for an answer this time, though.  

“Alright,” he announces.  “I’m going to call out the tickets.  When you hear your name, raise your hand and your i.d. in the air.”  

This is something.  Folks mean they are going to this thing.

The bus driver calls the first name.  A lady raises her hand and the bus drivers walks over to her and CHECKS both her ticket and i.d.  He calls off the next name.

I start to feel bad for the stow-a-way and jokingly advise him/her: “Yo, you may as well do that walk of shame now.  Imagine how bad you’re gonna look when the driver points at you and KICKS you off the bus.”  A few people around me chuckle.  No one gets up. 

At around name #5, the bus drivers gets agitated because the stow-a-way still hasn’t taken the high road. 

“You mean, you’re not going to get off the bus?,” he asks the air.   He tosses the tickets on his chair.  “Well, I’ll go get the cops and maybe THAT will convince you to do the right thing.”

And the bus driver (who is admiringly dedicated to fairness and ethics) sulks off the bus.  

Everyone starts to get uncomfortable.  We all exchange looks.  Looks that plead, Would Barack be happy with us right now?  Is this really what he wants…folks sneaking onto the bus because they waited too late to buy a ticket?

Folks start grumbling.  The lady without a seat reminds the grumbling folks that she bought the ticket months ago and got up early to make sure she had a spot on this bus. Amidst the minor melee, I notice a tiny figure quietly hunch her back and scurry off the bus.  Right when I notice this, I turn to the lady next to me.  I want to point and whisper: “Look, it’s the stow-a-way,” but there is no need.  She looks at the tiny figure trying to appear casual as she walks back to the greyhound terminal.  We both shake our heads.

“A damn shame,” she mutters.

“I think this inauguration is going to be HUGE,” I counter.  She gives me that look that makes me want to explain how sometimes I can be a sprinkle of blonde.

Hint 2: A “broke” ATM

The night before the inauguration I am at Union Station, D.C.’s version of Penn Station.  Having spent most of the day out, I no longer have cash.  I do what every American does when this happens; I go to the nearest ATM.

I insert my debit card into the machine and press in my PIN.  And…

I get this bizarre, nonsensical message from the ATM.

I don’t have any money.  Sorry, slim.

I sort of look at the screen and wonder what I did wrong.  Maybe I pressed in the wrong PIN and the machine checked somebody else’s account and not mine.  So, I insert the card again and the machine reminds:

I. Don’t. Have. Any. More. Money.  Stop bothering me, please!

Huh?  I am at the ATM in Union Station.  It is a major tourist trap.  There are several pricey restaurants as well as a variety of fancy, overpriced retail shops all around me. Who forgot to put money in the machine?  He/she should get in trouble.  What a screw up.

While I am standing there, trying to figure out why the ATM is not giving me the money I asked for, a kind passer by reiterates, ” Oh, mam, that machine has been out of cash most of the night.  I think you may need to go down the street to Citibank.  I did that earlier.”

I hear what this nice person is telling me, but I am having a slow moment again.  I look bewildered when I ask no one in particular, “How come it’s out of money?”

The kind person looks like she wants to pat me on the head.  She is patient, however, when she slowly answers my question with one of her own: “Why are you here, Baby?”

She sees the answer in my brain.  Before I can share it with her, she nods proudly at me.  “Yep, that’s why all these other people are here, too.  And probably why there isn’t anymore money in the machine.”

This inauguration is going to be HUGE.

5 Responses

  1. Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

  2. ROTF LMAO! You. Are. Retarded. But, of course, i knew this. Re: Fourth of July, 2002, Coney Island. LMAO!!!!

  3. As always… who knew?

  4. This one cracked me up.

  5. this bus scene is great… well written, full of laughs and suspense. GREAT…. looking forward to reading more….

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