Today those crowds on the Mall brought it all back. Throughout the 1990s I commuted to my job, just a couple of blocks from where the Inauguration took place. I ate many a lunch on the Mall benches as the tourists in their fanny packs and pastel knits and the fitness-conscious bureaucrats in running shoes passed in front of me.
My metro stop was L\’Enfant Plaza, named after the French architect who designed the harmonious plan of downtown DC. But there was nothing harmonious about the metro station, either in feeling or design. It was a cavernous place full of stressed-out people.
I was surprised today to hear visitors to DC say what a friendly, smiling city it is. That is certainly not how I experienced it. The metro, though clean and modern, carried sullen crowds, and the sullenness, I am sorry to say, had a racial component. Although I saw no overt incidents, there was nonetheless an unmistakable chill. Unfortunately, the feeling carried into my office, where the support staff was 100% African American, and the professional staff 90% white.
Maybe it was a failure of leadership. Maybe, despite the frequent baby showers and Christmas parties and bowling events, the professional staff was clumsy in its outreach efforts. Maybe we were naïve. But we never achieved a sense of ease or fellowship with the members of the support staff.
As I watched today\’s inauguration I wondered how much difference it will make in the way people interact on the metro platforms, on the escalators, in the offices. Will Obama\’s serenity and aplomb spill over into the country as a whole, making everyone feel more confident, more gracious in requesting and in answering those requests?
I know that this first Black president will make a difference in the way the US is perceived in the rest of the world. I know that he will make a difference in our foreign policy. He may make a difference in the economy. And I hope he will make a difference in the way people interact on the streets of DC, in the metro, and in the labyrinths of the bureaucracy.