GOING TO AN INAUGURAL BALL
©1973, 2013 Mick CusimanoEvery four years a president is elected in these United States. Dignitaries arrive in limousines for this occasion. For Richard Nixon, celebrating his second term, however, there were 100,000 uninvited guests. There had been rumors in our college town that one last anti-Vietnam war protest was planned for Washington that weekend. My friend John said that it was imperative that we go down and protest Nixon's inauguration. John reasoned that it wouldn't accomplish much but at least we would register our dissent. Besides, it was a chance to get away for the weekend and down to the Nation's Capital. The sixties were winding down to an end, and we at least would get our last kicks in before disco and malaise set in.
It was a bit snowy as we hitchhiked south through New York so we stopped at the Traveler's Inn to warm up. This stunningly dressed singer from a lounge band came by and asked what we were doing. When we told her she got really excited. "Real live hippie freak revolutionaries!" she said. We looked around and were the only ones in the lobby. I guess she was talking about us. One businessman from I.B.M. offered us a ride to Maryland at 5:00 A.M. he had been drinking while watching the lounge act we discovered.
An hour into the ride we hit an ice slick on Route 81 driving at 85 m.p.h. The fact that this guy was drunk and speeding worried us. What really worried us was when the car spun around in circles and the driver ducked down on the floor. We were going to die in a few seconds and there was nothing we could do about it. BAM! We hit a guardrail and stopped. I bounced off the door and back onto the seat. A second later the door flew open and we saw that we had stopped a few feet short of a cliff that was a mile straight down. We got out of the car dazed and the driver put out a small fire underneath his hood with a cup of coffee. We got in and kept driving. The driver offered me a cigarette and for some reason I took up smoking again. In fact I finished every cigarette left in his pack.
Arriving in Washington we met some hippies smoking grass under the Washington Monument. Troop leaders from the Boy Scouts tried to divert their kid's attention from such decadence. Some ambassador asked us if we were there to take part in Inaugural riots. We assured him that we certainly were. We wandered through the Smithsonian checking out the dinosaurs. When we went to Georgetown we saw crowds craning their necks to see real dinosaurs: Henry Kissinger, John, and Martha Mitchell, and other Nixon era relics walking out of an inaugural party.
The next morning we joined 100,000 protesters marching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument to hear Bella Abzag and others give ant-war speeches. It quickly became apparent that this march was a ruse to keep protesters away from the main event: Nixon's Inauguration. We followed a crowd down a side street to where the parade was actually taking place. When the crowd we were in began hurling rocks and dirt at the parade it suddenly dawned on us that these were no ordinary tourists. As policemen waving billy clubs on horseback charged our way we discovered that the crowd consisted of Marxists, Weathermen, and radical Yippies. The police charged us on horseback driving wedges through the crowd dispersing the dissidents.
We got out of there and attempted to hitchhike down one side street. A huge limousine drove by. I recognized Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew. I stuck out my thumb and called out his name. He stopped and poured us a glass of champagne and told us he really liked the song Eight Miles High by the Byrds.
He said he wished he could be young again and switch places with us. We traded him our knapsacks for the limo and hijacked it to the Inaugural Ball where we crashed the party in borrowed tuxedos.
Actually, he just rode right past us without stopping, but the first story sounds better.
Hitchhiking home on Sunday we found ourselves on the Beltway with eight other kids. A van picked all 8 of us up and drove us 300 miles north. One guy told us that his band of Yippies were marching down the street with a fifty foot stuffed rat with Nixon's head on it until the police confiscated it. I wonder if it is still sitting around somewhere. Some day there will be a nuclear war and archaeologists will discover this modern day sphinx and think it was a monument of our civilization.
Another guy had been arrested and fined $25. Nixon who was sticking his head through the sunroof and this guy ran up to him and gave him the finger. He was real proud of his exploit. He was a hero for a day in this underground radical fringe. We arrived back at college exhausted at midnight. Exhausted I lay my head on the pillow. Suddenly, I heard a tapping on my window. It was Vice-President Spiro T. Agnew, larger than life, floating through the air singing "Eight Miles High!"