Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ghost of Inaugurations Past

Inauguration is always in January, in the midst of the heart of Winter. Is this a method to ensure the true enthusiasm to view the peaceful transition of power?

I was in D.C. for Regan’s 2nd Inauguration, a remarkable visit. The West Virginia University Mountaineer Marching Band arrived as the state’s representative for the parade. We got permission to miss the first day of classes, hopped on 8 charter buses, and headed for the 4-ish hour trip from Morgantown to the nation’s capitol. We (all 300 of us) thought it was pretty cool to get invited for such an event, regardless of our political opinions. ’84 was the first time I had voted (even if it wasn’t for him).

We got into town, settled in and got the news that the parade was canceled. Damn! We were told the Wind Chill down Pennsylvania Avenue was 45 below zero. West Virginia does get Winter, but it definitely does not get Minnesota weather; no one would have even had warm enough longjohns for that long of a stint outdoors in those temperatures.

We watched the evening news, thinking “well, at least we’ll get to see a bit of the city.” We then heard it was so cold back in Morgantown that classes were cancelled. This gave us a good laugh at our fellow musicians who refused to miss one day of classes, who should have hollered “carpe diem!” and come with us.

The story ‘parade canceled’ hit the news. The scene switched to a gymnasium full of a high school band from Iowa (or Idaho?) in tears. These kids were absolutely, totally devastated. A few girls were sobbing in each other’s arms. Our initial thoughts were “give me a break, it’s not that bad!”

The journalist went on ... these kids were from a small high school, had gone through cut-throat competition to be selected, had spent several years worth of efforts with bake sales, band boosters, and events scrimping up money to go. They were sleeping in a gym; lord alone knows where they’d been sleeping en route. They had sat ~ holy god have mercy ~ on yellow school buses for three days just to get to Washington. To be told “sorry, we don’t need you, you can go home now”.

We looked at each other rather shame-faced, looking around our warm hotel rooms, clearly remembering the charter buses we’d ridden, all of which was paid for by the University’s Band budget invited because one of the Inauguration Committee members was a WVU fan. We felt so sorry for those kids.

Later in the evening, our director sent out a call for opinions: the committee was going to invite a few of the bands to perform indoors for the President, would we want to do so? Without hesitation, everyone I was close to said, “Hell, no!” We all emphatically recommended they track down the kids from the news and make sure they got to play.

One Inauguration Day, we took the now-free time, sent the buses around to a few different sites, did a little sight-seeing, and then headed back to Morgantown. It was so cold, the shutter mechanism in my old Canon FTb kept freezing shut; I got great pictures of Arlington National Cemetery. I never knew if those poor kids from the Midwest got to play for the President or not.

I hope so.

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