President Clinton probably hopes it was a good omen for his second term.
Literally at the moment his inaugural ceremonies began, the sun broke through the clouds over Washington for the first time in days and a bitterly cold wind finally died.The heavens seemed to be smiling on Clinton, and the crowds marveled. It was one of the things about an inaugural that likely don't come across well on television.
Yes, people at home normally have the best, up-close view of an inaugural - and one that is definitely warmer than standing outside in the January cold.
Still, hundreds of thousands of Americans trek to Washington every four years anyway to be there. They do see - and feel - some things that don't come through well on television. Here are a few I saw, ranging from the sublime to the exasperating:
- I sat much closer than usual at the swearing-in and luckily was assigned a seat on the second row (probably to make up for seats I was assigned in past inaugurals that were so far back the presidents seemed like rumors).
That seat was roughly a half-mile closer than some people watching on the Mall (where some even used toy periscopes vendors sold to help see over people standing in front of them).
From my close spot, I could see that some House and Senate members act like little kids on stage (I know, you probably think that isn't news).
But as they waited for the ceremony to begin, a steady stream of them took turns running up to the podium where Clinton was about to take his oath of office - and had someone take their picture, often playing like it was they who was to be sworn in.
Even House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., had to do that. Gephardt, a presidential candidate eight years ago, seemed to linger in the spot and almost had to be pushed away by others wanting a turn. Maybe that's an omen that Gephardt may run again.
- Speaking of cameras, the hard-bitten Washington press corps - who try hard to never show emotion and never ever clap for anyone or anything - pulled out an amazing number of Instamatics to click away as Clinton was sworn in. Inaugurals can bring out the kid - or souvenir hunter - in them, too.
- The military color guard marched in early and had to stand at attention for more than an hour, often holding the flags high in what had to be tired hands. At the worst moment possible - as Clinton was about to enter - a soldier totally dropped the American flag and people up front gasped.
He retrieved it quickly, but the flag then had its bottom flipped up over the top of the pole hiding the eagle on its top. Maybe that's an omen of how choosing presidents can seem to flip the country upside down.
- On the sublime side, after Clinton finished his oath, the huge crowd that stretched far onto the Mall toward the Washington Monument gave him an ovation with mitten-covered hands. The thumping from so many hands actually shook the ground (of course, the 21-gun salute by cannons helped the shaking).
- On the exasperating side, transportation to or around an inaugural is nearly impossible. Most roads in downtown Washington are closed all day. So people take the subway.
However, the subway was so crowded that as I tried to get off a train near the Capitol, there literally was no room on the platform to step off. People were backed up for a hundred yards from gates where they insert computerized cards to pay their fares. It took a half-hour to work my way out of the station.
Working my way through security also was a long process - and I had proper credentials and know the routine. But tremendously long lines of people in frigid weather stepping slowly through metal detectors and forgetting to remove their keys made many wonder why they had decided to come.
- Clinton helped remind them why. He has a knack - as do many top politicians at his level - of making it seem like he is looking directly at you, and waving to you, even though he's facing millions of people.
Many people in the crowds mentioned it - claiming that Clinton looked at them personally and waved. Their trip made them feel a part of history and of the government - which watching on TV just doesn't achieve as well.
If you want such feelings too, start making your plans for a trip four years from now. And maybe you can watch the heavens smile on a new president or hear clapping so loud that it makes the ground rumble for him (or her) too.