By some unexpected semi-coincidence, I ended up in Hyannis this afternoon right about the time that Edward Kennedy's motorcade was going to pass from Hyannisport en route to the JFK museum in Boston, where his body will lie in repose for two days until his funeral.
At around 12:15, I picked up my niece to take her school shopping. The original plan had been Boston, but she said that the hip cool store she wanted to shop in was actually in Hyannis or Wrentham. Knowing that much would be on in Hyannis today, I suggested that we do that.
We got to the Sagamore Bridge at around noon, and already people were lined up with American flags and television cameras. As we drove on toward Hyannis, we noted that rest areas were beginning to fill with cars, and people were stationing themselves in their lawn chairs, just waiting to pay respects to Sen. Kennedy as his hearse and family drove by.
Hit a very busy route 132 and exit 6, en route to the mall... but also the route that the motorcade would take. People were beginning to line the road. Drove less than half a mile and pulled up at a gas station. A hundred yards down, a fire truck had parked perpendicular to the road, and extended its 100-foot ladder over it, from which was suspended a giant American flag. We stopped at the gas station nearby and decided to wait.
We weren't the only ones. In the same gas station were two young families, with kids. Knots of people across the street. Lawyers, office workers. The gas station owner told his mechanic it would be okay if he wanted to go to the street and wait. There was a certain kindness in his voice, the same kindness I noticed that people used after 9/11. Kindness in exceptional moments of adversity.
We parked there, and as we waited, more and more folks lined up. By 2:30 when the motorcade finally arrived, the busy road was packed. Rte 132 is fast, commercial, and ugly. Not a typical roadside stopping point, but that stopped no one.
How do you explain to a three-year-old why you've stopped by the side of a busy street for two hours? "Someone very important is coming in a black car." She shrugged, and took her bucket to the pine tree to collect pinecones.
At any rate, our spot was next to a fire department checkpoint, of sorts -- not a fire station, but just a spot where some six or eight trucks had pulled up, from Yarmouth, Marstons Mills, the Division of Conservation Resources, Dennis, and other Cape Cod towns.
When the motorcade finally arrived, the DCR forest fire truck next to us pulled out across the road to block traffic. The staties on motorcycles zoomed up and down the road to clear people to the sidewalks and median strip. And then, eight staties on motorcycles, with their blue lights flashing, led a short procession of Kennedys down route 132: a hearse, two limos, and a Peter Pan bus.
The fire chief called his men to attention, and they stood still and saluted as the motorcade passed.
After Teddy's hearse came the immediate family, in two limos. In both limos, the tinted windows were down, and the family, their faces torn with grief, waved weakly to the thousands who gathered. Such dignity, to grieve unhidden, before thousands. The faces of the family, a woman who I think may have been Kerry Kennedy (Bobby's daughter) and a young boy who is mostly likely Edward Kennedy, III (grandson), torn up like a sad drama mask, is an image I will never forget.
Glad to have been there at the end of an era. And perhaps the dawn of one, as well.