by by Bess Kalb

illustration by by Emily Fishman

Between Louisiana and First St. on inauguration morning, there are people in overcoats packed like chickens in a factory farm. The evening news that night and for the next several cycles will refer to the events in the five square blocks surrounding the Purple Gate access point to the Capitol lawn as a "nightmare," a "fiasco." The talking heads will term it all "Purplegate." They'll refer to one waiting area as a "tunnel of doom," which it was. There are the people, tired and furious, who will not be admitted, despite proper documentation, to the Capitol Lawn. The story is over there, and here, in this half-block, are the people between, who stand in cathedral silence apart from all that.

It is 10:15, and nobody is moving. Nobody looks ahead or behind because it's probably all the same and if it's different, there's nothing anyone can do. A cold front that blew eastward from the Great Lakes settled over Washington this morning, keeping everything at 21 degrees in direct sunlight, and the movie stars in the seated section will all be wearing hats on their hairdos. Later, a woman working the coat check at the Post Office Museum will sigh when a man hands her a snowsuit with suspenders. She'll tell him that at Reagan's first inaugural, the weather was much more decent and she didn't wear anything but a little jean jacket.
A man in a ski parka gets squeezed sideways apart from his wife, whose hood is up and doesn't notice. A red-nosed boy holding a floating hand leans into the back of the down coat in front of him, closes his eyes, and drifts off for some time, twitching against the occasional downdraft. "If you give in to it," Tina Fey once wrote about love and freezing to death, "you just start to feel kind of numb and warm and then you just get sleepy." Here we are, morphed into that selfless mass, huddled together, staring upward into the bright cold.
At 11:30 there's movement ahead and somebody shouts, "Here we go!" The people reanimate, and awareness spreads. A woman in a purple hat turns to the man linked through her arm. "Well. When was the last time a million Democrats got together just to stand around politely at the Capitol?"
He didn't know.
"Unfamiliar territory," he said.

Give me your tired, your poor, your BESS KALB '09.5