Virtual Inauguration

Below is a column I wrote 4 years ago about watching Obama’s inauguration. Well, if he can do a rerun, so can I!

A recent newspaper article talked about what to expect if you attend Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington. A record turnout is expected, the article warned, so viewing conditions for most people will be less than ideal. Be prepared to stand in a densely packed crowd for hours upon hours, many blocks from the main activities. Though it’s unlikely you’ll get close enough to actually see the events firsthand, there will be lots of “JumboTrons,” large outdoor televisions, so you should be able to at least watch what’s going on. Expect long lines for security searches, overcrowded buses, and expensive hotel rooms.

This was not exactly a picture that made me want to start packing my bags. But I am excited about this historic event, and I wondered if there was any way to create the “you are there” experience with less effort and expense. I realized that with a little planning and ingenuity, one could virtually create the same experience, all without leaving Ithaca!

Odds are that if you went to Washington, you’d have to get up early and ride a bus to get close to the action. So on inauguration day get up at 4 a.m. and go for a long bus ride. I realize no one would mistake the scenery of Ithaca for Washington, but it’ll be dark outside in both places, so what’s the difference? And since the buses in Washington will be packed, you should stand for the entire ride.

Next, try to create the right crowd ambiance. Start by inviting about 50 total strangers to your house. You’ll need at least as many people as it takes to pack your living room with people standing shoulder to shoulder. If you can’t find 50 people, no problem. Just plan on jamming everyone in an appropriately-sized smaller room, say a large closet. (You can’t all stand in the bathroom, though, because in the real Washington you won’t have easy access to running, much less flushing water.)

The swearing-in ceremony is at noon, but it’s recommended you get to your viewing position 5 to 7 hours earlier. So tell your guests to arrive no later than 7 a.m.  Subject everyone to a “thorough screening” as they enter your home. The Secret Service web page says among the prohibited items are: “firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons, aerosols, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, laser pointers, umbrellas, animals other than helper/guide dogs, structures, and bicycles.”

So if anyone shows up drinking a beer while riding a bicycle towing a structure filled with firearms, don’t let them in. (Actually, that is good advice anytime.)

Guests can bring their cell phones. Since the cell phone companies expect their lines to be overloaded, have your 50 guests yell over and over, “HELLO, HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”

An important part of this simulation is the weather. The typical temperature in Washington in January is in the low to mid-forties, though it could get down to the twenties.  This should be easy to recreate in Ithaca. Simply turn off the heat in your house the night before and open a few windows until the temperature drops to the right range. If it’s raining in Washington that day, attach a lawn sprinkler or two to your ceiling. (Remember, no umbrellas, so dress appropriately.)

Finally, the night before place a small television set high up in the corner of the viewing room. This will simulate a JumboTron as seen from a distance.

And that’s it! If you follow my advice, you will have virtually the same sensory experience as millions of other folk who had to spend a lot more money and travel all the way to Washington: Stuck standing in the cold shoulder to shoulder with total strangers yelling into their cell phones for hours and hours, with limited options for food or beverages, no access to bathrooms, all so you can watch an event on television.

Just don’t forget your Right Guard, and pray the power doesn’t go out.

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