Friday, January 23, 2009

New York, Washington DC and everything in between

I didn’t sleep last Friday night. I spent most of the night in Old San Juan with some friends. After some illegal activity that I cannot disclose here, I went home. With my laptop and a small lamp providing some dim light, I finished packing my suitcase. Sometime after 5am, I left for the airport.

It was a chilly morning. Little did I know that in just under 7 hours I’d be yearning hopelessly for “chilly” 70 degree F weather. As I drove over the bridge on Kennedy Avenue, Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” began playing on the radio- a sign of things to come.

I got on the plane, popped a Xanax to deal with my fear of flying and headed north to the Big Apple in a chill-pill haze. What’s that, captain? Smooth flying with just a tad of turbulence? Just the way daddy likes it.

So, I got into NYC Saturday morning. It was really cold but it “seemed” like I could handle it. I emphasize the word ‘seemed’ because a couple of hours later I was standing outside talking on the phone with a friend from Long Island, when I began to shiver uncontrollably. My New Yorker colleague began to laugh and quickly declared “Ah, your Puerto Rican ass can’t handle this cold!” (Fuck you, Richard). After dinner I had some beers and then went to bed in a house in Queens. Following morning, I loaded onto a bus full of strangers headed for Boston.

The drive on the Peter Pan Bus didn’t give me the “On the Road/Jack Kerouac” feel I had hoped I’d get. This became even more clear when some redneck across the aisle began to smell his own armpits and then said “I need to take a shower, I feel dirty”. Way to go, buddy.

Boston seemed unimpressive, to say the least. I thought the home of Samuel Adams Beer would be more to my liking but I can’t say that it was. Perhaps my disappointment has something to do with the fact that I was only there for a few hours and most of the city was buried in fucking snow.

Trying to get into the TD Banknorth Garden was a bitch because they wouldn’t allow cameras. Now, this was a big problem because I didn’t have a hotel or any other place to leave the camera. After giving the prick old security man the batteries and after a lot of ‘No sir’s- we got in. The show was phenomenal, as is to be expected from the mighty Metallica. Next stop: 9 hour drive to Washington D.C.

Upon my arrival I noticed there was a tangible energy in the air. I overheard some guy at Union Station say “It’s really crowded but everyone’s in such a good mood acting all nice”. When I got to the hotel, some elderly African American lady out front greeted me with a smile and a hello.

On the following morning, Inauguration Day, I got up at 5:30am and before checking out, I helped myself to a Continental Breakfast (Who the fuck coined this term anyway?). As the sun began to peek over the Maryland skyline, I took a taxi to the train station and boarded a very crowded train to L’Enfant Plaza. There were so many people. It took about 2 hours to walk a distance that could have taken 15 to 20 minutes on any other day. Spirits were very high, though. At some point an employee with a megaphone started giving out instructions and then asked “Can y’all hear me?” At this point, the crowd began chanting “Yes we can” repeatedly. It was very heart-warming and I began laughing out of nowhere.

Walking through DC, I suddenly felt the urge to listen to The Rolling Stones' “Gimme Shelter”. It was so fucking cold. This is when I started to realize why so many people were in awe of my decision to be in DC on this day which I made as early as April 2008, when I was an employee for Obama for America. The cold, the long walks, the overwhelming crowds, crowded train stations- all of this required a lot of patience and endurance, but I didn’t mind at all. I saw so many smiles on so many faces that I couldn’t help but wear one on my face as well.

According to reports, there were 1.8 million people at the Inauguration. I settled in a spot close to the Washington Memorial. I was very far away but the so-called jumbotrons (PA systems with huge screens) made me feel close to what was happening about a mile away in front of the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building. I saw U2 perform two songs, something I was not expecting. At the end of “Pride (In the name of love)” Bono began shouting ‘Let freedom reign!’ over and over. It was a beautiful moment that made the hairs in the back of my neck stand up.

And so it was, under a partially cloudy sky just past noon and under the gaze of nearly 2 million people and countless around the world, that Barack Obama became the most powerful man on Earth. I’ve never heard such a joyous rupture of screams and applause as I did that instant after the new president pronounced “So help me God”. I turned around when I heard some woman behind me giving thanks to God out loud for having witnessed this day. I almost hugged the old lady because it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t though; I kept it cool.

After the excitement wore off a bit, I was faced with the predicament of having to get back to the bus station. It reminded me of one of those scenes in movies where they’re trying to evacuate a major city and its just pandemonium everywhere. That’s about the only way I can describe it. At some point I heard some guy say “People, please! We helped this man become president, let’s help each other get outta DC!” Truer words could not have been spoken given the circumstances.

Something curious to note: I saw this guy that looked like he was 17 or so, wearing a McCain/Palin T-shirt. I thought it was a tasteless thing to do but I have to admit the bastard had some balls pulling off a gesture like that. I’m sure he zipped up his sweater more than a few times, especially considering we were in a town like DC.

On the final stretch of my endless journey to the bus station I saw none other than a Mr. Bill Murray walking in a hurry dragging a suitcase behind him; very cool. I wish he hadn’t been in what appeared to be a crazy, booze-enhanced dash to the airport to get the fuck out of the capital city. Oh, well…next time, Bill.

So for the last couple of days I’ve been in New York, walking around the place having a good time. The energy of the city that never sleeps combined with a smack of cold air to my face has made me think of that Leonard Cohen song, “Famous Blue Raincoat”.

“New York is cold but I like where I’m living…”

Once I get back to PR, I’ll continue work on my band’s CD Release Party. Maybe something memorable will happen in the time I have left in NYC. Who knows? I’ll be in town for two more days of mindless wandering, excessive spending on food, jaywalking and unknown nomadic explorations. Yeah, that’s right… just the way daddy likes it.

No comments: