N.E. inaugural ball caps Obama’s whirlwind day
WASHINGTON — With the first sign of President Barack Obama’s imminent arrival, the frigid wait in long security lines, the cash bars serving weak drinks, and the skimpy food seemed all but forgotten.
Thousands of revelers rushed onto the marble floors of barrel-vaulted Union Station to watch Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, take to the viewing stage for brief comments and an even briefer spin round the dance floor of the Eastern Inaugural Ball.
Biden’s praise for headline entertainer James Taylor — “Now that’s my generation!” — received polite applause from the New England crowd.
The audience was impatient. The midnight timing seemed a consolation gift after reports had circulated that the First Couple would not appear at the train station until 2:30 a.m., their last stop in a punishing schedule of 10 inaugural galas.
Moments after the Bidens departed, a military color guard took to the stage. The Marine Band struck up a martial tune, the notes echoing off the coffered ceiling.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said an announcer during a pause in the brass, “the president of the United States and the first lady.”
Sight lines disappeared as thousands of arms went up, holding cell phones and cameras to record the Obamas’ arrival. Flashes went off like artillery batteries. Women in sequins and pumps jumped in the air to get a better look at the celebrity couple. Men in black ties cheered like schoolboys for the elegant pair.
President Obama waved his hand to calm the crowd and took a cordless microphone from an aide.
“Did you enjoy today?” asked the president, his voice slightly cracking. Cheers went up again.
“Today was your day. Today was a day that represented all your efforts, all your faith, all your confidence, and what’s possible in America,” he said.
“They said it couldn’t be done and you did it,” said Obama. “And if we apply that not just to elections but to jobs, to how we rebuild our communities, then when people tell you we can’t employ folks who are out of work, you say …”
“Yes, we can!” rose the chorus from the crowd.
“When folks say, ‘Well, you can’t fix the health care system,’ you say…”
“Yes, we can!”
“There is something in the spirit of the American people that insists on recreating this country when we get a little off course. And that’s what’s powered this election,” said the 47-year-old commander in chief. “It’s what’s given our team the kind of energy that has allowed us to overcome extraordinary obstacles. And it’s what gives me so much confidence that our better days are ahead.
“As long as all of you understand that this is not the end. This is the beginning. And we are gonna need you tomorrow, we’re gonna need you next week, we’re gonna need you next month, next year and into the future, because government can’t do it alone. We’re gonna need you each and every step of the way. And if you’re willing to join us, then I think that we can continue this extraordinary ride,” he said, his voice rising, the last words nearly lost in the applause.
“This is the last event of inauguration day,” said Obama after a brief pause. “And so, since the first lady of the United States has been doing the same thing that I’ve been doing except backwards and in heels, let me ask her for one last dance.”
The Marine Band’s sagging rendition of “At Last” then accompanied the First Couple as they took a rhythmic turn on stage, holding each other close, their smiles magnified on giant screens around the cavernous hall. The “Neighborhood Ball” might have gotten Beyoncé singing the theme song. But New England literally got the last dance.
Kathy Jones of Newton, attending the ball with her husband, former Boston University School of Social Work Dean Hubie Jones, said there was destiny in the night.
“I predicted Obama would be the next president of the United States when I heard him speak at the Democratic National Convention in Boston,” she said. “I leaned over to Jesse Jackson, who was in the next box and told him, ‘You paved the way for all this. It’s all on your shoulders.’”
Melody Adams, a corporate account executive from Malden who helped coordinate the Obama campaign in Roxbury, called the inauguration day one of the most exciting of her life in spite of being frozen out of actually viewing the swearing-in.
“I had a coveted purple pass,” said Adams, one of about 5,000 elite ticket-holders, including songstress Mariah Carey, who were turned away when security equipment at the purple entry gate broke down. “I gave my silver ticket to friends.”
Adams ended up watching the inauguration along with other campaign volunteers in U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s office in the Russell Building.
“The end result was that we elected the first black president of the United States. Above all, that’s what this day means,” she said.
Among the non-New Englanders at the Eastern Inaugural Ball were a pair of 26-year-old fashionistas, Kenicia Cross and Angelique Michelle, who run an online wardrobe consulting business in Miami.
While schooled in the history of the struggle for voting rights, both women said the Obama campaign had a generational appeal as well, a signal that a new era had arrived.
“I’m very aware of the civil rights movement but things have changed,” said Michelle, a native of Washington, D.C., who wore a sheer black chiffon dress from Versace.
“More black people are now in office. There is more entrepreneurship, more business opportunity,” she said. “I base my support of Obama not on the history of the past, but on the reality of the present and what he can do. We need more black people going to college than are going to jail.
“I feel that with our new company, we have more opportunities,” she added. “I feel that with this new administration, anything can happen. You feel like you can do anything.”
Cross, a native of San Diego, wore a striking red Grecian gown as she watched a greatest dance hits soul band get the crowd moving. She said Obama represents something different to her than to her grandmother, who made sure she learned the sacrifices of earlier generations to pave the way for Obama’s election.
“To my grandmother, Obama is the first black president,” she said. “But to me, he’s the first cool president.”