Right after Barack Obama was sworn in as president, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma turned around and exchanged a high-five with none other than Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
Baarsma, who was seated near Smith in the “orange section” — directly in front of the podium but a fair ways back — said the high moment from today’s inaugural ceremony was the swearing in, though he said Obama’s speech also was significant because it marked the end of the Reagan-Bush era.
It means, Baarsma said, that “the government is no longer your enemy,” and that the Constitution’s safeguards are protected.
“It struck a chord of optimism,” Baarsma said. “We’re in a difficult situation, but we can prevail like the pioneers prevailed. It was exciting.”
Baarsma was seated in front of Smith, and beside George Galland, a senior partner in the Chicago law firm where Obama once worked. Baarsma struck up a conversation Galland and discovered that Galland’s wife is friends with someone who served on the board of trustees of the University of Puget Sound, where Baarsma was a professor.
UPDATE: Correction just after the jump to note that it was not Galland’s son who was a former student, but the son of a friend who was a university trustee.
And the friend’s son went to UPS.
What did he study? Baarsma asked.
“Turned out he was a student of mine,” Baarsma said.
The day’s weather, with cold air and a blue sky, was similar to the weather for the January, 1965 inauguration of Lyndon Johnson, the last inauguration ceremony Baarsma attended.
“It was a crisp, clean, beautiful day,” he said.
It was colder today, though, and crowd was larger. The security was tighter, too, Baarsma said.
Baarsma was up at about 4:30 a.m., “pysched” about the day’s events. He and his wife Carol rode the subway in without a problem, and waited about an hour and a half in a security line.
It was in that line where Baarsma struck up a conversation with a Chicago Tribune reporter who ended up quoting the mayor in an article.
Baarsma noticed the reporter checking e-mail and asked, “Are you getting your e-mail, because I’m not.” After they started talking, Baarsma noticed the reporter’s notebook. They talked about Baarsma’s son, who lives in Chicago, and Baarsma spoke about the significance of LBJ’s presidency, which brought about much of the civil rights legislation that helped make Obama’s election possible.
Afterward, Baarsma dropped in on an informal gathering in Rep. Norm Dicks’ office. While he waited in a security line to enter the Rayburn House Office Building, he ran into Al Franken, the comedian turned politician who may be the next senator from Minnesota.