The first week of January I got a phone call from my mom, telling me that she and my grandma were going to send me to the inauguration and the Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala! Two weeks later I was on a plane meeting up with my mom, aunt, and cousin’s family in DC.

My mom, aunt, cousin and I went to the Gala and had a great time – we got all dressed up and there was fantastic people-watching. The food was almost shockingly good and the people at our table were friendly and fun. We saw Dick Durbin and had our photo taken with Ernie Banks who was super nice.

The next morning, Inauguration Day, Mom and I got up early and took the Metro to The Mall. Four hours, miles of walking in the freezing cold, a fence jump and several potentially-dangerous crowd bottlenecks later, we were sandwiched into an area on the rise above The Mall. Mom could see just the edge of one of the Jumbotrons and I could only see the back of the guy in front of me. But, the loudspeakers were clear and it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Everyone in the crowd was in good spirits – the energy was amazing – and when President (!) Obama gave his speech, everyone was teary-eyed. It was totally worth the cold and the crowds and the not-seeing-anything to be present, even if far away, at such a historic moment.

After the speech people started to clear out of The Mall, so mom and I fought our way forwards so we could finally see the whole crowd. It was breathtaking – millions of people as far as the eye could see. We made our way back to Union Station, fighting through crowds that were being funneled to specific Metro stations (no thanks, l’Enfant Plaza). We walked in front of the Capitol and saw people sliding around on the iced-over reflecting pool. We got trapped at the escalators for Union Station for about 40 minutes, but when we finally got back to Melissa and Norman’s, we had happy people and warm food waiting for us. We spent that night talking with one of Norman’s friends over dinner, then collapsed into bed.

On Wednesday, Mom, Aunt Jo and I went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch. It was recommended to me by one of my friends who lives in DC. However, the week before, Obama had eaten there, so the crowd was crazy. Police had part of the street cordoned off, there was a big ‘Obama’ ice sculpture, and the line stretched down the alley. We didn’t have any other plans though, so we waited for an hour before we got in. The chili and half-smokes were really good, but probably not quite worth an hour wait in the cold

Once we got back to Brookland, I walked to Catholic University and met up with my friend Chris, who also was in town from LA for the inauguration. Chris’s brother teaches music composition at CU, so we met outside his classroom then visited for awhile in Steve’s office. Then, after making plans to meet back at Steve and Emily’s apartment for dinner, Chris and I went downtown to the International Spy Museum. The museum was pretty cool, and impressively designed. After we’d had our fill of listening devices and dead drops and ring guns (?), we walked around the corner to a pop-up store and bought tons of cheap, cheesy Obama swag.

Dinner at Steve and Emily’s was great – steak, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted veggies and ice cream with crumbled pretzels for dessert. This crumbled pretzel thing – I had never had it before, but it is now a must. Steve is a genius.

Steve and Emily had just been to India, and they brought Chris a singing bowl. After a few tries I got it to sing – a nice bright clear tone. Steve and Emily had one too with a lower rounder tone. Chris and I played the bowls for probably longer than was necessary, but they were so much fun!

Thursday, Mom, Aunt Jo and I went to museums. First, we went to the Museum of the American Indian for lunch at the Mitsitam Café. Emily had recommended it, and it was really good. The cafeteria is arranged into sections, with each featuring foods from a specific geographic region. I had a hard time choosing. We looked around the museum a bit afterwards. The exhibits were well-designed and the building itself was gorgeous.

We also checked out the Air and Space Museum – the only place on my must-see list for the trip. We saw a lot of cool old engines and planes and other pieces of aviation history. My nerdery satisfied, we went back to Brookland, and Aunt Jo and I picked up the girls from school and day care. Mom and Aunt Jo got dinner together, and I hung out with the girls. Melissa and Norman came home in time for dinner and we had a nice last night in DC.

This week-long trip was basically the best gift I’ve ever been given in my entire life. Thank you Grandma for the Gala tickets. Thank you Mom for the plane tickets. Thank you Melissa and Norman for your hospitality. Thank you Aunt Jo for being there so we could all spend time together outside of once- or twice-a-year holiday gatherings. Thank you USA for electing Obama. Too cheesy? Maybe. But it’s true.!