Yalies began to gather outside the La Casa bus parked on College Street at 10:45 p.m. Monday. Light snow blanketed the quiet campus while down coats and dirty slush accumulated in the aisles of the bus. Boarding the 55-seat coach were mostly Latino students at Yale who paid the $30 fare to watch the inauguration live in Washington.
Standing in the queue outside Phelps Gate in my puffy black jacket, I felt like a burnt marshmallow. My jacket also acted as a backpack and purse for the day: The no-bag policy required that I bring a coat with enough pockets to hold my essentials for the next 26 hours.
Along with packing in passengers, the bus planned an efficient round-trip with the group sleeping for most of the ride. But at 10:56 p.m., as we loaded the coach, students were wide-eyed and nowhere near dozing off.
“It’s gonna be like Woodstock, only better!” one of my busmates exclaimed.
At 11:05 p.m., when everyone was on board, Yenisey Rodriguez GRD ’13 — a graduate student assistant at La Casa Cultural — took the aisle and informed us that Assistant Dean of Yale College Rosalinda Garcia (the director of La Casa) was “very ill” and unable to see us off. “There’s going to be thousands and thousands and thousands of buses at the lot,” she said. “It’s going to be madness.”
Thanks for the warning.
The student coordinators — Ben Gonzalez ’09, Susan Tovar ’09, Sonia Parra ’11, Mayra Macias ’10 and Mariel Novas ’10 — stood up to take roll, and I noticed that only a little more than half of the 45 names were Spanish-sounding. (It turned out that around one in three students on the bus was not Latino.)
Frank Sager, our driver for the first half of the journey, finally pulled away from Yale at 11:07 p.m., moving slowly through the snowy New Haven streets. But students were excited despite the snail’s pace.
“I wanted to go to the inauguration because I’m hoping there will be a feeling similar to the one on Old Campus on election night,” Gonzalez told me. “I wanted to experience that again.”
Tovar, who is an ethnic counselor, also said she was looking forward to the energy at the inauguration.
“People keep telling me that this won’t be worth it because it’ll be so crazy,” she said, referring to the 300-mile trek from New Haven to Washington, D.C. “But I think it will be worth it, because it’ll be so crazy.”
The first hour of the trip passed quickly as the bus rolled along Interstate 95 to the backdrop of chatter in Spanish and in English, clicking cameras —“Let’s think of names for the Facebook album!” — and the buzz of cell phones receiving text messages. Some students studied, their textbooks serving as a painful reminder of the classes and homework piling up back in New Haven.
But by 12:30 a.m., most students had fallen asleep. The only sign of activity came from the back of the bus when someone struggled with the on-bus bathroom door. (It’s push, not pull, it turns out.)
At 2:25 a.m., we pulled into a motel parking lot somewhere in New Jersey. While a layer of ice glazed the windows, the bus was warm inside, thankfully. Some students stirred from their naps, hoping to get off the bus to stretch their legs. Instead, Sean Friel replaced Sager as our driver and, again, we were right back on our way.
We drove through more tollbooths, past stretches of water and over the Delaware Memorial Bridge. At 4:45 a.m., we reached Washington.
Although the streets themselves were not yet crowded, every parking spot we passed was occupied. As we approached Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (where the bus dropped us off), I discovered where the crowds of people, missing from the streets until now, had been hiding.
Rodriguez had been right: What seemed like thousands of buses were waiting to park. Forty-five minutes later, we finally came to a complete stop.
Packing up our belongings and grabbing some provisions (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bottled water, fruit, granola bars), everyone was now wide awake with anticipation.
“I’m excited and cold, but way less tired than I though I would be,” Emma Sokoloff-Rubin ’11 told me.
“Yeah,” Amira Valliani ’10 said. “But ask us again in 12 hours.”