Oh My God We Almost Killed Dad

Note: This particular inauguration wasn't the same one. This was Warren G. Hardings, and I didn't even vote for him. Duh!

Note: This particular inauguration wasn’t the same one. This was Warren G. Harding’s, and I didn’t even vote for him. Duh!

Everyone should try to attend a presidential inauguration at some point in their lives. I highly recommend it. What I don’t recommend is almost accidentally killing your dad in the process. That really does put a damper on the inaugural festivities, it turns out.

Years ago, before kids, my husband and I were living in our snug little row house on Capitol Hill. We loved the city, loved having visitors.  Now, my dad isn’t a fan of big cities, or airplane travel. He prefers small towns, and likes to drive to his destination if he can. So though my mom had been to Washington DC numerous times to visit us, he hadn’t made it yet.

But one year we were able to get tickets to the inauguration, and that did it.  My parents booked their airplane tickets, and we cleaned and fixed up the guest room. Since this was my dad’s first visit, I wanted everything to be perfect. I chuckle now at my naiveté.

A bit of not so subtle foreshadowing there. See how I did that? Oh yeah, stick with me.

When we picked them up at the airport, I knew something was wrong right away. My father was ashen, and very, very quiet. It turned out that just prior to the trip he had come down with a very painful, albeit temporary, medical condition that made walking and standing difficult. Determined, he boarded the plane anyway. Because he’s tough as nails. Anyone else would have bailed out under those circumstances. Not my dad. 

So here was my  dad, having  gotten on an airplane and come to a large bustling city which he had always thought of as crime ridden (okay, it did have a reputation for a while there as the Murder Capital of the U.S.A., but, really wasn’t that bad any more! No, really!)  and in terrible pain despite being on some very strong medication, of the sort that you hear about people robbing their sweet old grandmothers to get.

So not only was he in pain but he was, to put it mildly, zonked out of his mind.

Great.

The morning of the inauguration, we awoke to freezing temperatures and sleet. Keeping score at home? Good.  Raise your hand if you think this sounds like fun! Right.  Didn’t think so.

Despite living within walking distance of the Capitol, we decided to drive there because of the pain my dad was in. So we got as close as possible, but due to tight security we were still a couple of blocks away. And then, we noticed our tickets were for “Mall Standing Area”. To the uninitiated, basically this means we were in the nosebleed section for the inauguration, and needed binoculars or maybe satellite to locate the President when he finally came out. I mean, we were practically watching the inauguration from Virginia. That’s how far back we were.

So I had to see the disappointment on my dad’s face when, after painfully hobbling for what seemed like forever, he saw where we actually had to stand. He was a big campaign supporter, and understandably felt like he should have at least been able to sit down. And maybe, you know, see something.

My dad stood there for a while in the freezing rain, practically in another zip code from the Capitol, looking more and more bummed out as he took in the circumstances. He was mostly just really, really quiet and I felt really, really awful. Awful for the pain he was in; awful that I couldn’t have gotten him a better ticket do he could sit down, awful about the weather which certainly wasn’t helping.

At some point, my dad asked my husband for the car keys. He said that he was going to start walking back toward the car, because he really couldn’t stand up any more due to the pain. Since the walk would take him past the Capitol Building, and thus closer to the action of the inauguration, my husband handed him the keys.

That’s right, in a  crowd of approximately a gajillion people (rough estimate), we handed a set of car keys to my pain medication addled father, pointed him eastward on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, where one wrong turn can land you in a world of trouble, and bid him adieu. In hindsight, it wasn’t the brightest thing we’ve ever done.

After the inauguration concluded about 45 minutes later, the rest of us started wading through the crowd, heading toward the car. And of course we arrived at the car to find… no one. The car was empty. My father was nowhere in sight.

With panic rising, we concluded that he must have somehow changed his mind, and walked home. Remember, we had given my dad the keys to the car, so we had no choice but to walk back to the house. And of course we got back to the house, to find him NOT THERE EITHER.

We had literally lost my father on Capitol Hill.

Did I mention the house keys were with the car keys? Yep, we were locked out of the house.  Thankfully, the neighbors were home, and we were able to borrow a coat hanger from them, which we then used to reach through the mail slot and unlock the deadbolt.

Still hanging on to a shred of optimism, we thought maybe he was upstairs asleep. Alas, he was not.

Now in full panic mode, we pondered what to do. The obvious conclusion was to start calling the police and local hospitals. That’s right, on the day of the inauguration when you can’t wipe your nose in Washington DC because security is so tight and all law enforcement and emergency personnel  are on Presidential standby, we were calling them asking the whereabouts of a “guy, in his 60s,about 5’11”, L.L. Bean coat? Snappy dresser? No? Haven’t picked him up? Okay, thanks. Can I leave my number just in case you… Hello? Hello? ”

While my mother and I were calling hospitals and law enforcement and getting nowhere, picturing all sorts of bad things (okay, mostly mugging),  my husband was walking back to the car with his extra set of keys, and a hunch.  And lo and behold, what did he find?

My father, sitting in the car, safe and sound.  With the air conditioner running.

Not his fault.  He was trying to turn the heat on, and he didn’t realize the heat in my husband’s car wasn’t working at the time. It turns out that when he left us, he didn’t go back to the car right away after all. We still aren’t sure where he was all that time, but the end result was we beat him back to the car, and so by the time he actually arrived at the car we were long gone. When my husband finally found him, he was sitting in the passenger seat, freezing, trying in vain to warm up the car, and looking glum.

My dad’s  conclusion? It wasn’t him who was misplaced, it was us. And he couldn’t understand why we were worried, because he was JUST FINE.

And maybe he was. Or maybe the muggers who like a nice of a pair of loafers or a tweed cap stayed home with hot cocoa that day. Or maybe my dad’s stern “Tommy Lee Jones at the Golden Globes” persona which he can turn on at will scared them all off.

So my husband brought him back to the house, and we thawed him out. Needless to say, we skipped the Inaugural parade. Dad was none the worse for wear, and he was actually feeling fine by the evening so we were able to go out to dinner. Despite pain, disappointment, near hypothermia, and possible aimless incoherent wandering through iffy areas which we were never able to prove, he managed to have a good time. And I think by the time he left he wasn’t thinking that DC was such an awful place.

Maybe. Or maybe he was just glad that he lived through it.

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