A Landmark Inauguration at E. Houston movie theater

By Bonnie Rosenstock

Despite blustery mid-20s temperatures on Tues., Jan. 20, it was all sunshine and warmth on the blocks-long line at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on East Houston St. The occasion was the free televising of the Inauguration events and swearing-in ceremony of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States on one of the theater’s big screens.

Doors opened at 10:30 am for the 11 a.m. CNN broadcast, but the earliest arrivals hunkered down starting at around 7:30 a.m. They were rewarded for their promptness, patience and fortitude by having the warmest spot on line — the doorway under the marquee that provided a small, welcome measure of protection against the elements. And from the laughter and easy camaraderie of the group, numbering a determined dozen new best friends, they also had the best Lower East Side pre-Inauguration outdoor party going.

Ben Wolff, a stylist for the business professional, from Corona, Queens, was one of the first to arrive.

“When it’s freezing cold and it’s 8:30 in the morning, you make friends quickly,” he said. Bearing a box of chocolate-chip cookies, “for my peeps,” he soon became the most popular guy in the alcove and was named “the community organizer” by one of his fellow huddlers to unanimous approbation.

“I want to be with other people today,” Wolff said, echoing the oft-heard sentiment that people wanted to experience this historic moment with others. “Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime,” he said proudly.

Like many on line, Cynthia also came by herself. A painter from Uptown, she thought it would be the most fun venue because she likes the theater’s films and anticipated an interesting crowd.

“I didn’t want to watch it alone,” she said. “I watched alone as people were being hosed in Montgomery, Alabama, on my black-and-white TV in the 1960s and thought that today I do not want to be alone for this event.”

In the middle of the line The Villager spotted five women chatting together in a tight circle like they had known each other all their lives, but in fact, they had all just met. Dr. Eileen J. Ain from Greenwich Village, Melissa Magal from Williamsburg, Karen and Sue from the East Village and Victoria Walsh from around the corner were there because they all “wanted change,” said Ain. Ain, who has a family-therapy practice at 80 Fifth Ave., was asked if she didn’t have patients to see that day.

“Patients didn’t want to come during this time,” she said. “It’s too important for everybody.”

Magal took time out from her restaurant, Peter’s Since 1969, on Bedford Ave., to be here.

“I said to myself, ‘I didn’t get to Washington, I don’t care where I’m going, but I’m going somewhere,’ and I found this online.”

Walsh, of Walsh & Purdy, an architecture-and-design firm on nearby Suffolk St., was waiting for the rest of her firm to arrive.

“The entire office is coming. We want to watch it together,” she said.

The theater filled up with a multicultural mosaic of 300 people from all over New York City and beyond. Emotions were palpable, vociferous and of one mind. Loud cheering and applause accompanied on-screen appearances by former Vice President Al Gore, former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Ted Kennedy (before he had a seizure), the Clintons and new superstar Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s White House chief of staff. There were loud boos and derision for evangelical pastor Rick Warren, soon to be ex-President George Bush and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney, looking even grumpier in his wheelchair due to a back problem.

Emotions crescendoed during Vice President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and peaked during Barack Obama’s, with standing cheers and tears. When the Obamas waved goodbye to W. as his helicopter ascended to transport him and his wife to Texas, the audience also waved so long with full hand or single digit. As people slowly filed out of the theater after exchanging hugs and business cards with former strangers, the world would never be the same again.