As inauguration draws near, thousands head to Washington
National Guard soldiers and airmen from more than 25 states take an oath at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., on Friday to make them deputized "special police officers" for the 57th presidential inauguration to take place Monday.
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Camille Carlos got on a bus in the middle of the night, spent hours pushing her way through crowds, waited in long lines to use smelly portable toilets and tried to stay warm by taking turns using hand warmers shared among friends.
After all that, she didn't even get to see what she'd come 268 miles for: the 2008 swearing-in of President Barack Obama. Her first view of the new president came late that night when she returned to her North Fayette home and flipped on CNN.
The day was cold, it was exhausting, it gave her sore feet -- and she can't wait to do it again.
Ms. Carlos, 52, is among an estimated 800,000 expected to trek to Washington Monday for Mr. Obama's second swearing-in. Most, like Ms. Carlos, will have no tickets and will find themselves in a massive crowd on the National Mall. If they're lucky enough to find good spots they'll be able to watch the swearing-in on 21-foot screens towering overhead.
Three thousand constituents requested 10,000 tickets from Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., but he had only 400 to distribute.
House members each got 198 tickets, many of which went to state officials and campaign volunteers. Most offices implemented lottery systems to distribute the rest.
"Some people had rather compelling stories of how hard they worked. Some of these people did hundreds of hours of phone banking" for the president, said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills. "These are volunteers. They don't get paid. They do it out of a sense of wanting to make their country better, and I feel like that person should at least get to see the president sworn in."
Lawmakers also made it a priority to provide tickets to constituents whose efforts to attend the 2009 inaugural were thwarted by a logistical nightmare that became known as the "tunnel of doom." Thousands of ticket-holders were directed into an underground traffic tunnel where they were trapped for hours and missed the inauguration. Officials blamed the incident on unanticipated crowd-control problems.
Other ticketed attendees in 2009 were directed to line up at a security gate that was never opened to provide access. Carol and Martin McWilliams of the Bucks County borough of Langhorne were among them.
"We were so excited. We drove down the night before, stayed in a hotel and awoke at the crack of dawn to get in line and they never opened the gate. You could see this whole open space inside the gate where we were supposed to be but nobody ever let us in," said Ms. McWilliams, 67.
"It was a great disappointment but we were still thrilled to be anywhere near the event, to be part of that day," she said.
Her colleagues at the New Jersey Education Association, where she is a secretary, can't believe she's going back.
"One co-worker said, 'I can't understand why you'd put yourself through that again,' and I said I'm just so excited to go back,'" said Ms. McWilliams, who scored her tickets through Mr. Casey's office.
Those without tickets will have a better shot of viewing the president later Monday when he participates in a parade from the Capitol to the White House.
More than 2,800 groups applied to participate in the parade. About 60 have been selected to participate, including Boy Scout Troop 358 in Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania is among eight states that will be represented by custom-designed floats. Pennsylvania is being highlighted because it is the birthplace of Vice President Joe Biden. The float will depict the Liberty Bell and the state seal.
Ms. Carlos had a good view of the 2009 inaugural parade, but it wasn't easily attained.
"We went there with determination, determination, determination. It took us all day to squeeze through there but we got all the way up to the barricades. Let me tell you, it was hard," she said. "But it was worth it and that's why I'm going again."
Arthur Keys has attended so many inaugurations he's lost count. The first was Jimmy Carter's in 1976 and what he remembers most about it was the chill. At 28 degrees, it was among the four coldest inaugurals on record.
"I'm used to the cold. I wear my Pennsylvania long johns," said Mr. Keys, 67, who has homes in both Amity, where he is a farmer, and Washington, D.C., where he serves as president of International Relief and Development, a nonprofit humanitarian organization.
With each inaugural he has attended it has become more frustrating to navigate crowds and get through ever-increasing security but, he says, it's worth it to see history in the making.
"It's really a bipartisan thing. You see Republicans and Democrats there, and there are a lot of things to participate in," said Mr. Keys, who planned to attend the swearing-in, view the parade and then head to the official inaugural ball at the Washington Convention Center.
There are hundreds of thousands more like him traveling from all across the country and from other parts of the world to celebrate Mr. Obama's second inauguration.
"We are a nation of ritual, and any time there's a public demonstration of ritual people want to be there," said Joseph Valenzano, assistant professor of communication at the University of Dayton. "Inauguration Day is a real moment in history. It only happens once every four years and this is President Obama's last one."
He compared Inauguration Day in D.C. to New Year's Eve in Times Square.
"There's celebration. It's a feel-good time, and people want to be part of that moment," he said.
Ms. Carlos -- who dressed her best, wore a mink coat and carried a designer handbag to the 2008 inaugural -- said she has "a little obsession" with presidential pomp and circumstance.
"I like seeing it. I like the dignitary part. I like the whole process," she said.
She finds herself a little disappointed in Mr. Obama, who didn't meet her expectations during his first term in office.
She said she attended the 2009 inauguration thinking that this new president would do more for the economy. Instead, she found herself laid off from a job she loved after 20 years with FedEx.
"I just thought Americans would be doing better off [under Mr. Obama] but it just seems like we're stuck in the mud," she said.
Still, she remains a supporter. She hopes he'll do more in his second term.
The theme of this inauguration is "Faith in America's Future."
While the public swearing-in will be held Monday, the president will already have been officially sworn in during a private ceremony Sunday, the actual start of his second term.
First Published January 19, 2013 12:00 am