Rajeev Chopra had no trouble remembering his Inauguration experience four years ago, when he found himself trapped in the Third Street Tunnel with more than 1,000 others while on his way to the Mall.
Chopra, a chief information officer for the Obama campaign in Chicago, chose to wait in what was later affectionately called the Purple Tunnel of Doom. Fellow staffer Alberto Manrique, a systems engineer, turned around and watched on TV in Chinatown bar RFD.
“I got to a spot where the president was that big,” Chopra said, holding his fingers an inch apart. “Berto was totally warm and I thought, ‘My God, what am I doing!’”
Four years later, the two sat in RFD with three other staffers -- what they said was an easy decision. Only a dozen others watched with them. The streets outside were mostly empty, and samples handed out outside of California Tortilla went untasted.
Normally busy Chinatown held its breath as hundreds of thousands braved the cold to see the president speak just blocks away.
“I was just looking for a nice, warm environment,” said Chinatown resident Morgan, one of the few others enjoying the events from RFD. “I didn’t want to brave the crowd and cold for hours.”
Morgan, who declined to give his last name, said he was inspired by Obama’s speech, which was both a defense of government programs like Social Security and Medicare, and a call for action on issues like gay rights and climate change.
“It’s a tough time with very divisive politics,” said Morgan, who said he doesn’t envy the president’s position. He added, however, “I think he’s a great speaker every time.”
During the speech, the president’s comments on climate change, gay rights and equal pay for women all received applause. A shot of Michelle Obama -- neatly dressed in a Thom Browne coat and dress -- received a whistle.
Outside, Peggy Gaines of Orlando wore a hat and scarf plastered with the president’s name. “He made some great points about America and unity,” she said, standing with her family. They also attended in 2009. “With so much going on, we need to unite as Americans and work together,” Gaines said.
Not everyone in Chinatown focused exclusively on the formalities. District resident Juan M., who came into the bar after the speech ended, said he was at the liquor store stocking up for an Inauguration party and would “watch the recap.”
Marcia DeSouza, of Gaithersburg, returned from the National Mall wearing a full Barney costume and kicked back in a Subway sandwich shop before heading back out for the parade. She said her outfit choice was mostly “about Romney’s PBS funding comment.” The other reason? It was warm.
Inside RFD, Chopra celebrated his warmth along with the Inauguration, despite the fact that he didn't use his ticket -- which was orange this time, not purple. This time, he said, “purple has been banned from all of D.C.”