Barack Obama puts his pants on one leg at a time and will bleed if you prick him -- but perhaps no other man could get thousands of San Franciscans out of their homes and downtown by 8 a.m. Before the morning dew -- we think that was dew -- had even evaporated, the plaza was swamped with thousands of giddy locals. The last 14 children in the city sat upon their dads' shoulders, ruining the sightlines for the crowd's shorter members. But this was not a down-in-front kind of day.
A number of city employees dotted the crowd. "We're government -- they're realistic," one city planner said when asked how he'd gotten off work. This would be happening, he insisted, even if it were John McCain being inaugurated up there on the big TV. Yet I think we both knew that if the Arizona senator had won, there'd be no big TV in Civic Center Plaza -- and the planner would likely be at the office, working extrahard as a matter of principle.
As the sound system went on and off the fritz, the festive crowd grew ever so restless. "Hey, we paid good socks for this," shouted one man. But any concern over the acoustics was soon eclipsed by the leering presence of George W. Bush on the big screen. The nearly ex-president was given a hiss worthy of a bad-guy wrestler and scads of shoes were silhouetted against the screen. Not five minutes later, the television announcer bellowed "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States" ... and at this point a man close to the front row unfurled and began to wave a large American flag ... "The honorable George Walker Bush!" The flag immediately ceased waving and was quickly packed away.
With eerily good timing that the soon-to-be beleaguered Obama could only envy, a falcon soared over the crowd right as the 44th president's image first appeared on the screen - inducing a bout of cheering. The San Francisco throng politely applauded all of the opening acts - Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with the backdrop of City Hall (fitting), Aretha, a classical quartet (thankfully Joe Biden did not ask Itzhak Perlman to stand up) - but clearly pined for Obama to get sworn-in so we could go about getting to work or drunk or come what may.
The cheers for our president were sustained and sincere. As to the reaction to his speech, this crowd would have been content if Obama had deigned to belch the national anthem (you can read the full text of the speech here). But the loudest cheers came at three distinct points: