Grace Publishing and Keylog Books are proud to introduce Our President, the debut release from social critic and essayist Jack M Silverstein. The book includes six Obama-related columns penned from October 2006 to October 2009; Silverstein’s Election Day essay; and the previously unreleased extended narrative chronicling the author’s trip to Washington D.C. for the inauguration.
From the Bush/Obama transition to the Jeremiah Wright controversy to the president’s Nobel Peace Prize, this slim volume covers everything 21st century readers will wish to know concerning the 44th president’s rise to office and his first year as America’s chief role model. It also features first-hand accounts of November 4, 2008 at Grant Park, and January 20, 2009 in D.C., welcoming the reader into these historic times with Silverstein’s trademark flair for crisp storytelling, pertinent observation, and social commentary.
Foreword by ESPN.com’s Scoop Jackson. Look for Silverstein’s newly-edited Bear Down and Get Some Runs in spring 2010, also from Keylog Books. Our President will be available online and in select book stores; stay tuned for official release date!
EXCERPT FROM PART I OF “A Trip to DC: The Tale of the Inauguration of Barack Obama”
For three months at the start of 2005, I drove around the West: Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas, south to San Antonio, west to San Diego, north to Seattle, and around the Northwest before returning home. You see the changing landscapes when you drive America, the way the country morphs and merges and melts from one scene to the next. It’s one thing to fly from a Chicago winter to a Miami “winter,” quite another to see for yourself how the flat lands of Oklahoma fade into the Texas heat, into the Arizona cacti, into the southern California palms, into the northern California redwoods, into the snow-capped mountains and pines of home-sweet-Idaho…
I saw a lot on that trip, saw a lot indeed. But I missed the people. Hardly met anybody I didn’t know going in. Hardly got a flavor for all the different people in this country of ours. Hopping into our white Buick and heading to the highway two days ago, I was determined to make that right.
Thankfully, that was not hard. Sunday night I shared the TV room with two of Mike and Robin’s Ann Arbor friends, and Monday around noon the five of us went with three more U-Mich folk to the Eastern Market (the market, not the train stop) for lunch.
Half way down the walk, I realized I had forgotten my wallet. I took Mike’s keys and hustled back. On the return I met three older folk, blacks, with cameras and backpacks and Obama hats, shirts, and buttons. I was all set to say hello, but they beat me to it.
“Hey young fella. Where are you from?”
“Ah! Our first from Chicago. Can we get a picture?”
“We’re trying to get pictures with people from as many states as possible,” one said as the other two stood next to me. “Say cheese!”
We walked and talked. “Pretty incredible, huh?” I asked rhetorically.
The oldest one, a man of about 65, sighed. “Growing up, not being treated as a man, as a person worthy of respect…and now, to have this…”
As we neared the market we shook hands and split off from each other. I quickly found Mike and the gang, but I broke from them just as quickly. “I’m going to go meet people,” I told them, and off I went. The market is an indoor spot that sells fresh food, both in parts and as ready-made meals. Just outside in a marked-off street was a market of another kind, little tents lining the curb selling every kind of Obama trinket possible; one man was just painting portrait after portrait, children leading their parents over to watch this man apply another stroke as he dripped paint onto his boombox. Everyone was smiling and saying hello. A European-looking man with a camera was collecting interviews for an Italian television station.
“If I can find anyone who can actually speak the language, that’s even better,” he told me. He was from D.C., and had worked the past four inaugurations as a videographer. I asked him how this compared to the others.
“It’s the people, this one. The people are here. In 2000, there were protesters, but really it was just a bunch of limos from Texas. Second time around nobody really cared, just like with Clinton’s second go. There was an excitement for Clinton in ’92, but this—you’ve got families coming from all over the country, parents taking their little kids because they want them here. You didn’t have that before.” I followed his hand as he motioned to the trinket crowd. “Just look around this street. Look at all the kids. Look at all the people in from out of town.” He took his camera off his shoulder—he had spoken with me long enough. “It’s people here. Actual people.”
I walked some more, sometimes striking up conversation, sometimes just listening, sometimes just watching. I sniffed out a good burger joint, a place called Mr. Henry’s. At the bar I talked to the man to my right. He was a D.C.-transplant but had been here long enough to confirm the “real people” viewpoint. After he left, I struck up with the white guys on the other side of the bar. Tom was wearing a blue jean shirt with the buttons undone half way up, a dangly earring swinging down from one lobe. Richard was quieter, less flamboyant. They were true locals, eager to give me the scoop on D.C.
“I used to walk my dog across the Capital lawn,” Tom told me as we ate our burgers. “We all did. D.C. is our home, and these spots were like our backyards. But they’ve cracked down. You can’t walk anywhere these days without a cop barking at you.” He waved his hands in front of him in a tell-me-Lord-because-I-don’t-understand kind of way. “They never even told us the new rules! It was just one day…you couldn’t go where you used to go. I tell ya—” He shook his head. “D.C. now is not the D.C. of fifteen years ago. No sir.”
We talked newspapers, cities, and presidential history. I told them how amazed I was to see Woodward’s byline, and Richard, who had spent some time in Chicago, asked me how the papers were doing. Meanwhile, Tom spoke excitedly about what to see while in town. “Most overlooked spot? The Jefferson building at the Library of Congress. Incredible. If you sight-see at only one place, make it that. You can spend all day there and still miss out.”
The talk returned to Obama, as it would all weekend.
“Look at this place!” Tom exclaimed, guiding my eyes towards the tables behind us. “This is our ‘Cheers.’ We call it our kitchen where we don’t have to do the dishes. And it’s never this packed. That guy has this place buzzing! It’s really something special.”
I’d met briefly with Mike after lunch, joining him as he gave his friends Emily and Emily and Pete a ride across town, but soon after he returned to the apartment to spend some alone time with Robin and I set back on foot.
I walked and I walked. I sought out the Jefferson building but it was soon to close, so I stayed outside. It was nearly five o’clock, only seventeen hours away now. This time tomorrow, I kept thinking. The sun was coming down, but there was still plenty of good light, and when I walked to the back of the Jefferson building I saw people and people and people out on that “back porch,” posing for shots along those great stone stairs and ledges. Jefferson walked these steps. He was here, watching that sun drop to nothing, just like this, just like I am…
And then I saw it! Three friends were setting up a picture with the Capital behind them and the Monument even further when a stranger approached the guy holding the camera. “Would you like to be in the picture?” he said, offering his open hand.
The cameraman’s eyes widened. A smile blossomed. “Aw, could you?”
This was happening everywhere. Folks just volunteering to take other people’s pictures! Four, five, six, seven times I saw it during that walk early Monday evening. Eight, nine, ten, and every time with smiles and sincerity and hand shakes.
“Where you guys from?”
“We got here yesterday!”
“Can you believe it?”
“It’s really happening!”
A pair of 20-year-old French guys with a video camera and a boom mic were interviewing Americans. They were happy and they were smiling. I loved it. Being a proud American has not been easy these past six years. It’s something you have to justify to foreigners and countrymen, and even yourself, the yearning to announce to all around: “Yes, I have been shamed by the ugliness we created, and yes, I am angry with our leaders for using us the way that they did, and yet, yes, I am still proud to be an American, even now, always and forever.” Walking the Capital grounds, watching as my people snapped each other’s photos and sought each other’s stories, watching as they hugged and shook hands and made connections long-thought impossible…it was nice to feel that way again. It was nice to not feel I had to hide it.
Monday the 19th, nearly midnight. Seven of us on mattresses in Mike and Robin’s living room, all of us here to see tomorrow. Mike suddenly yells: “Twelve hours to go!” We all cheer, and Mike and Robin high-five, and then hug, and then kiss, and then high-five again. “Remember where we were eight years ago?” he says to her. We all do.
I am thinking about Studs and Hunter, about Halberstam and Wiley and Ivins, about Royko and Algren. Wondering what they would write, what angles they would take, how they would spin this whole deal and make it their own. And then back, back to my last eight years, back to being a college freshman, a raw columnist, a here-to-have-fun camp counselor. Back to the women I’ve loved, the ones who broke me, the ones I let down. Back to the road trip. Back to North Star. Back to Nana and Papa and Killarney. Back to the Rocks. Back to the time I gave away in Indy, and now forward, two years and counting in Chicago. A graduate school grad. A disciplined writer. A focused teacher.
I am thinking about Grant Park. I am thinking about Barack. I am thinking about the future. The next eight years. The next hundred days. But mostly I am thinking about tomorrow, about this-time-tomorrow, and everything you get when the sun comes up.
copyright jm silverstein and keylog books, 2009