EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2009

Frenetic street scene awakens capital before dawn


WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's capital came to life well before dawn Tuesday, as out-of-towners and area residents alike overwhelmed mass transit and filled city streets to witness the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama.

Energized by the historic moment, tens of thousands of people turned this city's orderly grid of streets into a festive party scene. Ready to endure below-freezing temperatures, they streamed up from subway stations and thronged past parked buses, emergency vehicles and street vendors, bound for Pennsylvania Avenue and the National Mall for the inauguration.

"This is the culmination of two years of work," said Obama activist Akin Salawu, 34, of Brooklyn, N.Y., who helped the candidate as a community organizer and Web producer. "We got on board when Obama was the little engine who could. He's like a child you've held onto. Now he's going out into the world."

By 4 a.m., lines of riders formed in suburban parking lots for the Metro transit system, which opened early and put on extra trains for the expected rush. Many parking lots filled up and had to be closed.

Streets around the Capitol quickly filled with people, and security checkpoints were mobbed. The cold registered at 21 degrees Fahrenheit at 7:45 a.m.

Warming tents and other facilities on the Mall were late opening because traffic and crowds delayed staffers from reaching them. Ticket holders approaching the Inaugural site on Capitol Hill awaited security sweeps in a line estimated at thousands.

Connie Grant of Birmingham, Alabama, said she got up at 3:30 a.m. after coming to Washington with a group. Three hours later she was still on 7th street waiting for police to clear the way into the Mall.

She said the wait didn't matter. "I sacrificed and came here. To me, this is very historic. I just wanted to be here."

Christian Alderson of Berryville, Va., went to Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 to support the sanitation workers strike and said he was there when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

"That day was sorrowful," Alderson, 73, said as he stood near the mall. "This is a dream come true for me."

At the opposite end of town, Georgetown University students chanted "Obama!" and "Fired up Ready to Go!" as they walked down M Street toward the Mall.

Suburban subway riders also seemed to be in a jubilant mood, despite the early hour. In Fredericksburg, Va., an hour south of Washington, chants of "Obama! Obama!" rang out at a commuter rail station when the line started moving at 5 a.m. for the first trip into Washington.

World history teacher Calvin Adams of Arlington, Va., said he got up extra early so he could witness history being made first-hand and teach it to his classes.

"Eventually I'll teach American history," said Adams, 23. "I'll say, 'This is how it works because I've been there, I've seen it."'

The joyous mood was tempered only by delays and by the dashed expectations of revelers eager to get an up-close look at history.

Alice Williams, a 51-year-old teacher of gifted children from Kansas City, Mo., had coveted the purple tickets that would placed her in front of the Capitol. Instead, she was about a half mile away.

"We got blocked off; there was too much traffic and no guidance," she said forlornly. "I've been walking for an hour and a half. All I want to do is see my president sworn in"

One parade entrance was supposed to open at 7 a.m. The crowd, which was one-block deep, counted down at 7 a.m. The gate did not open. The chants got louder at 7:30 a.m., but the gates remain closed.

On the closing list Tuesday are all inbound bridges connecting the District of Columbia and Virginia, though authorized vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists are allowed. A sizable chunk of downtown Washington was shut down, and other sections didn't permit parking. The two subway stations near the National Mall will be closed for much of the day.

D.C. police have projected inaugural crowds between 1 million and 2 million. Planners say attendance could easily top the 1.2 million people who were at Lyndon B. Johnson's 1965 inauguration, the largest crowd the National Park Service has on record.