George V. Reilly

The Other Inauguration

Twenty years ago tomorrow, I attended Bush Senior’s In­au­gu­ra­tion. By accident.

I was on my first solo trip to the United States, having arrived in New York the previous week. There I had purchased a 30-day unlimited standby ticket with Delta. It cost me only $400, as I could produce my round-the-world ticket.

For no par­tic­u­lar­ly good reason, I decided to start the 30 days with a trip to Washington DC. There were museums there and it was nearby.

I hadn’t been paying close attention to the news, and it was only when I got to Washington that I realized that George H.W. Bush’s in­au­gu­ra­tion was to be be held the next day. Even so, I had no difficulty finding a bed at the Youth Hostel. It was the biggest deal in town, so naturally I went.

In practice, this meant standing on a grassy knoll on (I think) Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue for several hours, waiting for Bush’s motorcade to pass. It was bitterly cold and no one around me seemed to be enjoying themselves much. My only real memory of the day is watching the enormous flag across the street, fluttering in the wind. The flag hung ver­ti­cal­ly; I think it would have lain like a crumpled rag had it been flown hor­i­zon­tal­ly. Eventually, Bush’s car crawled past, eliciting some cheers from the chilled crowd. I left then, to go somewhere warmer.

I had little feel for Bush Senior at the time. Reagan had not been popular in Europe. We thought him a dangerous cowboy, likely to provoke a nuclear war with the Russians. I thought Bush was probably little better, but I wasn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly engaged in U.S. politics at the time.

In retrospect, of course, he seems marvelous compared to the other President Bush.

(Before I wrote this post, I assumed that the in­au­gu­ra­tion was always held on the third Tuesday of January. Actually, it’s been held on January 20th since 1937.)

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