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How Close Do You Have to be to "Witness" History?

Crowds watching Obama.
Timothy A. Clary, AFP

Listening to Morning Edition today I was intrigued by Ina Jaffe's reporting from Kentucky where she had met up with a group traveling to the inauguration. What struck me was how despite the tremendous effort the group is making to come to DC, none of them have tickets and will most likely be watching the ceremony from a mile or two away on a jumbotron. Ina said that didn't matter, they were coming to witness history.

This got me thinking. What does it mean to actually be at an event? There have been a lot of events over the years that I've attended, but didn't actually participate in or witness with my own eyes. I'm wondering do they still count? Here are my top 3:

# 1) The Running of the Bulls, Pamplona, Spain: I was there for the festival of San Fermin, got red wine stains all over my shirt, and slept in a public park where they wake people up with sirens to let them know when the bulls are coming, but I didn't technically run with the bulls, I was more of a bystander (a guy with a huge scar on his stomach from a bull horn convinced me not to do it).

#2) Steve Miller Band Concert, Washington, D.C.: My wife and I went with some friends who had gotten us all lawn seats. We ended up getting there late and wound up sitting so far back we couldn't even see the band performing. It was almost like we were listening to a CD of them rather than a live show.

#3) Phillies World Series Parade, Philadelphia, PA: This past October when the Phillies won the World Series, I took my family to the parade. We sprinted to Broad Street hoping to catch the team on the big float, but ran into a huge wall of people blocking all potential lines of sight. We had to settle for just cheering without actually seeing anything.

When it comes to the inauguration tomorrow, people here in D.C. will be participating in all different ways. Some will be seated by the steps of the Capitol, some like the group from Kentucky will be watching from the jumbotrons on the mall, and others will be attending viewing parties with friends. Wherever they end up watching from tomorrow, each will have to decide for themselves if they were there.

As for me, I'll be there watching and listening to every word of Obama's speech from my prime vantage point in front of a TV at NPR's headquarters (which technically is even closer to the Capitol than some people will be who are on the mall). So yeah, I'm counting that as "there."