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Visitors arrive as witnesses to history
Inaugural visitors began flocking into the District on Saturday, checking into luxurious Georgetown hotels, snapping photos of the swearing-in stage at the Capitol and lining up in the biting cold for a meal at the suddenly famous Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant.
“Barack [Obama] is going to be our first black president, and I’m going to be there the second he takes office. I think that’s awesome,” said Toya Williams of Birmingham, Ala., who stood at the foot of Capitol Hill to watch a dress rehearsal of Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony.
Mrs. Williams, 37, said she had brought her two children to Washington so they could be a part of history.
Authorities are expecting between 1 million and 2 million people - potentially the biggest crowd in the city’s history - for the extended inauguration weekend, despite bitter chill and forecasts for snow.
Hotel managers said the flow of visitors since Friday had been more like a trickle and that the cacophony of valet whistles and calls of “bellhop” would not begin until Saturday night or Sunday.
“This is just the calm before the storm,” said Tom Wernecke, a general manager at the Washington Marriott for the past eight years.
He said the hotel, on 22nd Street Northwest, has 20 additional employees on duty at least through Tuesday and had sent letters and e-mails to arriving guests warning of potential delays. The hotel had a few of its 470 rooms still available for Saturday night but was solidly booked for Sunday and Monday.
At the Willard Intercontinental Washington Hotel, spokeswoman Barbara Bahny-David said the influx of guests was slow and steady and that they were being greeted with such amenities as chocolate reproductions of the White House.
“The excitement is palpable in the lobby,” she said. “Our doormen are in their tuxedos, and everyone’s spiffy.”
Planning for the extended weekend at the Ritz-Carlton, on 22nd Street Northwest, began about a year and a half ago.
“This is our Super Bowl,” manager Kari Koskela said.
Long waits at restaurants and subway stations began Saturday and will only grow worse, exacerbated by unprecedented security measures. Bridges from Virginia into the city will be closed to private vehicles, as will much of the downtown area. More than 100 police agencies, some coming from as far away as Los Angeles, will provide security.
Toris Young, 32, a pastor from New Orleans who arrived Saturday at the Marriott, plans to use Metro subway cars and said nothing would stop him from seeing the swearing-in ceremony.
“We’ve got pretty good seats,” said Mr. Young, who has one of the coveted 240,000 tickets to the ceremony. “I think this is a great moment for America as a whole and really good for the world. It shows that the U.S. can still lead.”
The line outside Ben’s Chili Bowl, the U Street restaurant that Mr. Obama visited last weekend, extended half a block by midafternoon.
By Brahma Chellaney
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