Still no good jokes on this comedian bus—though some are trying valiantly. (Behind me, for example, a group of young comics is passing the time by writing a script for a film that involves a White House staff inaugural switcheroo, starring Scarlett Johansson as a naked mover and Macaulay Culkin as Malia Obama). Anyway, about that whole inauguration business:
I was seated in the Orange Zone for the swearing in ceremony. Or, to tell the whole truth, I had been handed a lucky “Orange Standing” ticket the night before the inauguration by a tuxedo-clad Seattle friend who I randomly bumped into near Dupoint Circle, and then used this ticket to weasel my way into an Orange seat with a good view of the inaugural podium. So, more accurately, I was squatting in the folding-chair portion of the Orange Zone.
My squat: a not fantastic, but also not-too-shabby, seat several spots in from the aisle. I figured there I wouldn’t attract too much notice from the military ushers (black winter coats, white sashes, USHER arm bands, rigid—or maybe frigid, given the temperature—uprightness) who were checking tickets. And I was, fortunately, right. Next to me, in continued adventures in randomness, was Steve Blankenship of Silverdale, who works at the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. “This is really fantastic,” he told me, and I agreed. “I feel honored to be here,” he told me, and I agreed with that, too.
Blankenship got his ticket through a pastor in Salt Lake City who got his tickets through Orin Hatch’s office. It was a bit of a chaotic scene there in the Orange Zone—especially after Tom Hanks sat down right behind us and gave all the frenetic picture-snappers one more object to view-find—so I never was quite able to understand how Blankenship, an Obama voter who doesn’t much like the politics of the religious right, was so tight with a Hatch-connected pastor in Salt Lake City. Part of the difficulty was that our conversation kept getting interrupted, as when Hanks jumped up, walked up to Blankenship, who was seated near the aisle, and said something like: “Hi, sir, I’m Tom Hanks. How are you?”
All eyes turned in our direction, trying to figure out why Hanks would suddenly be introducing himself to a man who—and this is no slight but simply fact—looks far more like a corrections officer than a guy who would be moving in Tom Hanks circles. “Sir, your hat," Hanks said loudly, in a self-conscious stage voice. "It’s poofing too much. I can’t see.” (Laughter all around as Hanks, good naturedly, tried to de-poof the gray ski hat, and Blankenship, also good naturedly, consented to the de-poofing.)
It turned out that Blankenship comes from a Republican family and used to vote Republican himself before sitting out the last two presidential elections in disgust at Bush. I asked why he’d become such an ardent Obama fan. “I never changed,” Blankenship told me. “It’s just the Republican party changed and left me behind. I question, if my folks were alive today, whether they’d be Republicans.” Why? “They like to divide people,” he replied. “It’s like an exclusive club these days.”
Blankenship is pro-life, and knows Obama is pro-choice, but he doesn’t care. “It’s not like it’s exactly a pro-life or pro-choice choice,” he said, sounding like he should pursue a sideline in campaign sloganeering. “Government deciding people’s values—I don’t like that.”
Around us: ladies in mink coats, their plush scarves wrapped around their well-cared-for (and in many cases well-scalpeled) faces; less well heeled people with tears already waiting in their eyes; parents with kids they were instructing to pay close attention.
“Ladies and gentlemen please be seated,” an announcer boomed.
We all sat, as instructed. Gloved hands prepared to clap. Behind us, the crowd standing on the mall sent up a huge, cheering laugh.
“Sit down?” they seemed to be saying with their million-plus voices. “Who the fuck is that guy talking to?”
We in the ticketed section all got it, and we all laughed, too.
(Up next: if I’m lucky, an actual funny joke from this comedy bus; Obama’s speech, which I didn't love; and that supposedly-awful poem, which, like I said, I sorta liked. And: photo above via StrangrFlickr.)