ON INAUGURATION DAY, the Obamas looked stunning — the President in his subdued topcoat, Michelle in her gold coat-dress, the first daughters in joyful color.
I noticed this from my living room floor, feet elevated on the hassock to alleviate a knife-like lower back pain, a fashion icon of a different sort in my brown plaid flannel pj’s and periwinkle fleece bathrobe.
Of the many offerings available in Savannah to watch last Tuesday’s historic event, experiencing it at home, alone, was not on my list until Inauguration morning, when a creaky hobble into the kitchen to make coffee took away my breath, as well as all “leaving the house” viewing options.
So much for a community Inauguration-watching experience at the Johnny Mercer Theater surrounded by hundreds of random fellow locals. So much for using my quasi-media member status to crash a viewing at a local school and capture the reaction from the next generation of leaders. So much for a small gathering of friends on the Eastside, fortified by home made chili.
So much for my original plan for a column about the Inauguration.
And so I was stuck watching it alone on TV, punctuated by a few text message exchanges and a longish phone call with a friend trapped in her office, comparing what she could see streaming on her computer with what I saw on CBS and NBC.
It turns out I was not alone in watching the inauguration while home, alone. According to The Nielsen Company, nearly 37.8 million people watched the day unfold on television sets in nearly 29 million private homes. Those numbers exclude people watching via online streaming, as well as “viewing that occurred in offices, schools and other public spaces.”
Viewing the inauguration in my bathrobe didn’t dampen my fascination with the proceedings, but it won’t make good telling in the decades to come.
After the ceremony was over, the TV stayed on but the routine weekday returned. Tuesday afternoon became business as usual, interrupted more by the inconvenient back problem and an online Scrabble game than by breaks to watch the luncheon, the parade, and the pundits’ comments about history being made.
The data from The Nielsen Company lead me to believe that “business as usual” was the most common way that Americans celebrated President Obama’s inauguration. With US population hovering near 304 million, (2008 estimates, factfinder.census.gov) even if we add in all the non-household viewers, all the computer-streamers, and the 1.8 million seeing it live in Washington, there’s no getting around it—during Obama’s swearing-in ceremony, most Americans were doing something else.
Delivering mail, driving a bus, going to the bank, making a sandwich in the lunch rush, examining a patient, patrolling a neighborhood beat, ringing up toilet paper and milk in the “8 item” check out line, changing a diaper, filling a gas tank, filling out unemployment paperwork, meeting a deadline.
No flag waving, no fanfare.
Millions of Americans are thrilled that Barack Obama is president, whether for his policies, his ancestry, or both. Millions of other Americans are not too happy that Obama is president, probably for the same reasons.
Either way, Americans watched, or didn’t, and then went back to whatever they were doing before. Or maybe they thought about trying something new.
No one lost their composure. No out of control behavior on either side. Pretty dull stuff.
Obama’s inauguration was history, but it wasn’t so shocking to our system that as a nation we couldn’t keep going in our normal manner.
Late on Tuesday, I scheduled a therapeutic massage and a corrective back training session. The trainer is either a genius or a magician — I’m back to normal and have some new routines to keep me that way.
On Wednesday morning, President Obama went to church and then went to work. Like him or not, there’s no arguing that he has been busy during the first week in his new job. Head down, moving forward, getting things done. Pausing a moment to acknowledge the moment and its historic implication, and then getting on with the business at hand, just like the rest of America did.
It was a routine day that was deserving of the waving of a flag. cs