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Any morning that starts with a delicious brunch at Old Ebbitt Grill, especially when it’s bedecked with lots of bunting and flags and patriotic people, has got to be a good one. Established in 1856, the restaurant was a hangout for Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt and is still a fave with D.C. politicos. No celebrity sighting for me here, but just you wait.

Since the restaurant is just on 15th Street, steps from the White House, we took a short walk to join the throngs of people snapping photos right in front of the gates, then ventured down to 17th street on our way to the mall. Since the Daughters of the American Revolution‘s gorgeous Memorial Continental Hall is right along the way–1776 D Street, natch–my friends insisted on snapping a photo of me, fan that I am of the organization. Not two minutes after the photo–as we’re browsing all the vendors selling Obama hats, pins, shirts and all manner of photoshopped paraphernalia–a convoy of SUVs races by. I glance in one of the windows and see President H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, then watch as the swift moving line of cars turns into the secured drive of the White House. I wondered if No. 41 was going to help No. 43 pack?

The rest of the day we spent wandering a few awe-inspiring (even in 18-degree windchill) monuments like the WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, catching the chilly little animals at the National Zoo, and enjoying some people-watching and yummy Indian food in the Adams Morgan area.

What’s hard to describe is the palpable feeling that we’re all together at this amazing party. A bunch of “shiny, happy people,” as someone today described. It’s normal to strike up conversations and laugh with perfect strangers. There’s spontaneous dancing and singing breaking out everywhere. People are willing to help each other navigate the stressful reality of a city bursting at the seams. (Tonight we were the last five passengers on a shuttle bus whose driver was going to turn us away … until the onboard passengers squeezed in and sat on laps so that we didn’t have to wait in the cold.)

It’s an early start tomorrow for this non-early bird, and I’ve got some planning to do before I brave tomorrow’s Inauguration Day crowd. It’s a good thing that Rex has done some of the heavy lifting for me here. Hope you stay cozy for the festivities–I’m going to be the dork in front of a JumboTron with hand warmers, 19 layers and hat hair.

P.S. Hope everyone has had a terrific MLK Jr. Day. There have been so many wonderful stories written about what this inauguration means to families across the nation, but I thought today’s Washington Post article about the Caldwell family’s civil rights journey was especially meaningful.