I Can't Feel My Toes

Bay Area News Web site editor Sajid Farooq began his long journey to the inauguration of Barack Obama before sunrise Monday morning.

Here's his story:

Finally got on my bus in Chinatown.

To say the bus is packed would be an understatement and to say I am one of the few non African Americans on the bus would also be an understatement.

It has wifi though, which is letting me publish as we drive.

Everyone here is bearing the coldest weather New York City has seen in ten years.

One local told me that Obama is bringing more than his politics to the East Coast, he is bringing the freezing cold Chicago winters.

Everyone on the bus seems to be going to the inauguration.

I am not sure that I can feel "hope" permeating the room, but I can definitely smell something. I showed up more than 40 minutes early for a 7 a.m. bus from NYC to DC.

It is the first bus of the day.

The only seat I could get was in the last row with my head butted up against the bathroom wall. We've gone three blocks and already four people have gone to the restroom. I can definitely smell something now. And it's definitely not hope.

But I can't get too down.

I am on my way to pick up my golden tickets that many people would do anything to get.

I have two tickets.

I won them thanks to my East Bay Congressman while working on a story for NBC. All that is required of me is to get myself to the nations Capitol by 1 p.m. Monday and pick up the tickets myself, with ID in hand.

The bus ride is supposed to take about four hours without a stop. We are driving down a crowded highway that will take us through Philadelphia and Baltimore. The East Coast is blanketed with carpets of fresh white powder. And all we can see through our fogged out windows is Washington Irvine’s “Sleepy Hollow.”

Our three-lane highway, which is bookmarked with rows of leafless trees, draped with snow on each end, is not too crowded.

There are about 52 people n my bus and the overwhelming majority, thanks to my elementary school finger counting skills, are African-American, young (in their mid twenties to early thirties).

The one advantage of sitting in the back of the bus is that I can see everyone and everything. I get to be a fly on the inaugural bus, which is fitting because I am probably one of the few on here, who is not making the journey for politics or change.

I take a wait and see approach to any politician and wish all of them well. I am going simply to observe and witness history in the making and I feel blessed to be doing so.

All the stories I hear around me are unbelievable. There is a man rom New York who is traveling with his 11-year-old, Mohawk wearing son. He is in his early forties and both are African-American. I watched as he sat on the bus and he tried to explain to his son the significance of their journey. I watched as he tried to explain why it was so important that the two of them went down to Washington D.C. together to see President-elect Barack Obama simply become President Barack Obama. I watched as his son listened, yawned and finally fell asleep. Peter was not discouraged. He smiled and put his jacket between the cold bus window and his son’s head.

Everyone on this bus has a story about why they are going. And while this is the first ever presidential inauguration I am attending I imagine every four, or eight years, everyone has a story and a reason for going.

I recently spoke with the mayor of my hometown H. Abram Wilson, who is an African-American Republican attending the inauguration. While he would not tell me who he voted for, it was easy to see that he was torn emotionally about the election results. I asked him about why he was going to the inauguration as a Republican and he said it was important to him as an American and as a human being to witness history, regardless of what he felt about the politics.

I also spoke with a man of mixed Caucasian ethnicity, who is a professor of history at the University of Chicago, about the inauguration. He said his lineage was one of the oldest aristocratic lineages in the country and that his ancestors fought in the Civil War on the side of the Union. But that said, he told me he did not care who won the election and in all honesty he was not sure whether he felt Obama was good or bad, politically, for the country.

But he said his interest in the inauguration was seeing something this country has not seen in its 233 years of existence, a non-White male from a broken home and a modest upbringing taking control of the Oval Office.

He told me irrespective of race or politics a person from Obama’s background and a man with his name opens a whole new door from young dreamers in this country that was not open before.

After fours hours on a bus we finally arrived in DC. The ride was cold but it honestly was not bad at all. And the sites along the way are amazing.

We hoped a cab to the Cannon Building, which houses members of congress.

We got here easily enough only to find the mall packed with people.

There are at least three lines of people wrapped around the building all waiting to get their golden tickets. It took me over five minutes just to find the end of the line.

I have never seen a scene like this.

And did I mention it's cold AND snowing - and yes, the line is outside.

While still waiting in line I spoke with someone at Rep. Jerry McNerney's office. 

They admitted they did not expect this insane of a crowd today and said that there was some bad planning.

As we approached the two hour mark of standing in line, I realize I can't feel my toes.

It's freezing freaking cold.

It is amazing to me though: what a good mood everyone is in. We waited in line for about two hours and barely crawled around the building when we finally got a call from McNerney's office saying to meet them across the street from their office. (You can see what is inside the golden ticket packets on the left).

They said they realized it was going to take too long to get the tickets but the important thing to realize was the process to pick up the tickets was not set up by my congressman but instead by the inauguration committee.

And there we were 30 minutes later with a formal invitation and two tickets in our hands. Suddenly the cold did not matter and the waiting did not either. Although to be honest the environment was so festive we really were not too worried about waiting in line. It was amazing to stand outside of the Cannon Building staring at all the historic buildings surrounding me.

Once we got the tickets it was time to warm up. There are a lot of people here from the Bay Area and it is amazing how quickly the smallest connection can open the widest door. A friend of a friend's co-worker knows a guy I happened to bump into. I only recognized the man because I have seen him on MSNBC and CNN several times talking politics. I said hello and we struck up a conversation. It turned out we both realized we had the friend of a friend's co-worker in common. He invited me into his office, two blocks from the mall, to warm up, get coffee and even sleep if I wanted to.

I did stop by because the crowd at the mall is insane. An old friend from back in the Bay Area, Mohammed Al-Adeeb, who is now a student at Georgetown, is my guide for my 48 hours in politics land and he is also kind enough to let me sleep at his studio apartment with my wife.

Vacant hotel rooms are no existent anywhere within a 50-mile radius of DC. Trust me I tried to get a piece of one. But staying with Al-Adeeb is a blessing in disguise. He has only lived on the east coast for four months but he knows the area well enough to let me know the hoards of crowds I see are not normal. There are streets shut down everywhere and at every corner there are people selling anything they can put Obama's face on.

Security is beyond tight. I saw one police officer stop a Virginia based cab and make his passengers get out of the cab. No out of DC cabs are allowed to operate until everyone leaves.

I met a DC based cab driver. He said in his five years working as a driver in DC, this crowd is not too crazy yet. But he expected Tuesday to be insane. He had a thick accent, so my wife asked him where he was from. He told us he was from Ethiopia and that he left because they had a terrible government. He said he was amazed by the American political process because the fact that leaders could be replaced without bloodshed was amazing.

And he said he thought Obama could bring stability and peace to Ethiopia. It was then that I realized how amazing everything that was going on around me was. Everybody from the Obama fans freezing in line to the taxi cab drivers for Ethiopia are convinced that Obama is going to fix something for them. Whether he does or not, I have never even seen someone inspire even the thought of change up front is amazing.

Contact Us