Twenty years ago I experienced my first presidential inauguration in Washinton, DC, and I got to see it all from the inside. A friend worked for the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) and signed me up as a volunteer, driving a Chevy Astro van. After a day or so, for some reason they actually hired me as a “talent driver,” meaning my job was to chauffeur celebrities. The only job-interview question was “do you know DC?” I did, of course, though only from the perspective of a cyclist. I didn’t mention I had never driven a car in the city, but didn’t see why that should matter.

It was 1993, the start of Bill Clinton’s first term. This was before digital cameras, and long before I had thought of photography as a hobby, so I took few photos. The first pix are from the night before the inauguration, at the Fleetwood Mac reunion. I spent the concert in a tent outside the auditorium, hanging out with the media types. After their performances the celebrities came into the tent to take questions. I got super excited when my boyhood hero Barry Manilow came backstage. He said a few words and then asked if there were any questions. I was shocked because not a single reporter had any questions. C’mon, people, it’s Barry Manilow!

Barry Manilow

I had one other Manilow moment the next night when I was waiting in the van by the Watergate Hotel. After hearing that Barry Manilow was in the hotel lobby, I was torn between “Oh my god Barry Manilow!” and “yawn, another celebrity.” But seriously, “It’s a Miracle”, “Could It Be Magic”, “I Write the Songs”, “Daybreak”, “Can’t Smile Without You”, “Copacabana”, “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You”? So I ran into the lobby, and there he was, with just a handful of assistants, and absolutely no fans mobbing him. I couldn’t believe I was the only fan in the room, and somehow I managed to blurt out “Barry Manilow! I’m you’re only fan!” … meaning, only fan in the room who is excited to see you, but whatever. And with zero experience hounding celebrities, I had no idea what to say next, so then I shouted “I’m a friend of Jimmy Carter.” … and now I have to explain that Jimmy Carter was not the president, but a lounge singer who performed at the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs when I was in high school. I remember going with a bunch of friends, one of whom was a musician who somehow knew him, and during the set our table got a free round of Cokes sent to us by the singer, which was pretty much the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. Anyways, Jimmy Carter’s big song was “Where Are You Now Barry Manilow,” and my friend explained that Jimmy was a friend of Barry Manilow’s, which was pretty darn cool. It also turned out he knew the Indian guy from The Village People. Did I mention this was like 1980 or 1981? So, back in the Watergate, Barry Manilow recognized the Jimmy Carter name as a mutual singer, and somehow we managed to say goodbye without further embarrassment.

Little Richard had also performed at the concert. He was the funniest celebrity that night. He would say these outrageous things that made everyone laugh, and then immediately follow up by turning all serious and commanding “Shut up!” He did that over and over, and it was funny each time.

Little Richard

The celebrity I was assigned to the next day was Marilyn Horne, Clinton’s favorite opera singer, who was to sing at the swearing-in ceremony. I picker her (and her small entourage) up early in the morning to film an appearance for “Good Morning, America,” which had rented out part of the Air & Space museum, the part above what is now the McDonald’s. Before taping, I found myself in the same area as Kenny G, who was super awesome and unpretentious.

Me and Kenny G

Judy Collins was also at the taping, and at one point I just said hi to her. Not a fan, but she was standing right in front of me. She looked me up and down to see if I was worth talking to, and turned away.

Here’s a shot of Joan Lundren interviewing Marilyn Horne, Judy Collins and Kenny G.

Good Morning, America

At some other point I was at NBC’s makeshift studio, and all I remember is Tom Brokaw walking past me with a giant river of snot hanging off of his nose, like he couldn’t wipe it off without ruining his makeup.

For the inauguration itself, I drove my charges to the Capitol building. The ceremony was on the west lawn, but I had to wait on the east side, with my handy-dandy walkie-talkie. It turns out the walls of the Capitol are so thick, communicating by walkie-talkie is not easy.

Marine One

The Marine One helicopter was parked behind the Capitol. We knew the ceremony was over when George Bush boarded and took off.

At the Ready

The next assignment was to drive my party to the White House, where they’d watch the parade from the White House viewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue. So we were in the motorcade that came before the parade. It was weird to drive down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, with thousands of people lining the streets, waiting for the parade to begin. Besides Marilyn Horne, the other celebrity in my Chevy Astro was Andrew Shue. I had been working with his brother John Shue the past few days (not a celebrity, but blond and handsome). John had kept mentioning that his brother was coming, but it didn’t dawn on me who his brother was or why he was famous until the whole thing was over. Andrew had been playing the role of Billy Campbell on Melrose Place (which I had never seen), and it seemed as if the week after the inauguration his face was on the cover of supermarket magazines everywhere. (Their sister Elisabeth Shue was not in town.) I should also mention that John Shue was the only one who realized that I had no idea how to use the freeways in DC. I was driving him from the PIC headquarters in southeast to Georgetown, and was taking the same small streets I’d take if I were biking there. John unfortunately was familiar with DC and was angry that I wasn’t taking I-395, the Southwest Freeway. At the tuxedo place in Georgetown, the woman at the shop told me how handsome John was. We had lunch at Boogie’s Diner (now the Apple store), during which he kept excusing himself to go to the pay phone in the back of the restaurant, trying to call Woody Harrelson, for some reason. (Keep in mind this was before cell phones became ubiquitous.)

Back to the pre-parade motorcade. The car ahead of me was the Walter Mondale limo, though I never saw him in person.

America's Mile

My only real responsibility was to not crash into Walter Mondale’s limo. I still marvel that I took so few photos, moderation being another quaint relic of the era. The photo below was also taken from the motorcade. I have no idea who the woman was in the front passenger seat. Probably a member of Marilyn Horne’s entourage.

Inside the Motorcade

I wish I could remember where I was when I took the next two photos. From the angle it looks like I was still in the van, perhaps parked at the end of the route. When I dropped off my passengers, I got to hang out in the middle of Pennsylvania Ave (well, I did have a badge, after all). Here’s Al Gore and Tipper Gore, the incoming vice president and second lady.

Al and Tipper

I even got a decent shot of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Bill and Hillary

That night I got to take my guests to the inaugural balls. I must have decided to man up and try taking a highway, but promptly made a wrong turn and ended up in Anacostia. As soon as we crossed the bridge, a cop pulled us over and asked me if I knew where I was. My van was filled with people wearing tuxedos and sparkling gowns. It was so embarrassing. The cop directed me back across the bridge, and soon enough we were downtown. We went to a ball being held at the convention center (the old one, since torn down). I remember dancing to Chuck Berry and Bruce Hornsby. Here I am hanging out backstage. The guy on the right was my military counterpart. I think his only job was to stand around and look diplomatic.

On Assignment

And one of only two photos of me with Marilyn Horne, looking glamourous and sparkly (her, not me).

Fame Becomes Us

The experience was all the more amazing because I had fallen into it so casually. I’m sure I’ll never again get to be so close to all these politicians and celebrities. At Obama’s first inauguration four years ago, the city felt like it was being run by a police state, with giant fences everywhere, and access controlled by Big Brother. It’s enough to make one nostalgic for the Clinton years. I’m tempted to take out my old inauguration badge and replace “1993” with “2013,” and see how far I can get…

What I Saw at the Inauguration… in 1993

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