- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thousands of people came to the capital for the inauguration wanting to be able to say “I was there” for the historic moment.

But “there” - even for many ticket holders - ended up being in front of a television screen a few blocks away from the Capitol.

“There was no way to get in if you weren’t jumping fences and punching people out,” said Nathan Brewster from Memphis, Tenn., who held a blue ticket for a space on the Capitol’s southwest grounds.

He and some friends got to the Mall at 8:15 a.m. (having started in Alexandria at 5:30 a.m.) but gave up at 10:45 a.m.

“It was pretty much the point of no return,” said his travel companion, Meredith Futhey of Knoxville, Tenn.

Mr. Brewster and Ms. Futhey, along with dozens of other blue ticket holders - who ended up calling themselves “The Blue Ticket Club” - spent the inauguration ceremony in front of one of 38 TV screens at a packed Capitol Lounge, a bar and restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue, two blocks from the Capitol.

“I’m disappointed, but at least it’s warm in here,” said Michelle Davis, also at the Capitol Lounge. She traveled for the occasion with her husband Donald from Houston.

While Ms. Davis was disappointed, she was relieved to be no longer in the sea of people with little or no guidance on where to go from police officers and other staff.

“I’ve never seen so many people in my life and I never want to see that many people again,” she said.

The Mall had filled by 9 a.m. and shortly thereafter spectators trying to enter on the southwest side of the Capitol found themselves in near-total gridlock.

“I just hope nobody gets trampled,” said Lauren Hudman from Santa Fe, N.M. She and friend Kathleen McDonald had silver tickets but gave up shortly after 10 a.m. as the line in front of the silver gate didn’t move. “We’re going to find a restaurant and watch it on TV.”

Which is what police officers had started telling the crowds.

“The Mall is already full. There is no way to get in,” said police Officer Michael Rathbone, stationed at the intersection of Second Street and New Jersey Avenue in Southeast, a couple of blocks from the Capitol. “Go home. Watch it on TV,” he advised.

The Jackson family from Chicago, though, was not ready to throw in the towel and watch the ceremony and parade on television.

The family, which lives near the Obamas in Chicago and have seen Mr. Obama around the neighborhood, had come to the District hoping to witness the swearing-in. Son Cornell, 12, even gets his hair cut at the same place as Mr. Obama, the Hyde Park Salon.

But alas, after booking airline tickets that mother Vernetta Jackson said “were not in the budget,” the family canceled and then re-booked so they could witness history. But they were still many blocks from the Mall about an hour before the start of the ceremony.

Maybe they’d have better luck with the parade?

“We are trying to make it to the parade later. Then we’ll head back to our hotel in Baltimore and come back down to try and sightsee where it isn’t so crowded on Wednesday.”

But the Jacksons, like many visitors, took the huge crowd in stride. Just being in the District yesterday was enough for many.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Louise Selandanan, who brought a group of middle schoolers to the District from Delaware. “We’re just here to breathe in the atmosphere.”

Back on Pennsylvania Avenue where restaurants had named dishes in honor of the inauguration from Obama cookies to Obama burgers, Ms. Davis was crying as she watched - albeit on TV - history being made.

Her late grandfather - who was black - experienced discrimination when he tried to move into an all-white Houston neighborhood in the 1970s. The deed even said blacks could not own in the subdivision.

Then, just last week she was telling her grandson that because of the path that Mr. Obama has paved, the 8-year-old one day could be president, too.

“Nobody ever told me I could be president when I was growing up,” she said between applauding and crying tears of joy. “We’ve come a long way.”

So maybe, for Ms. Davis and others, being “there” was not about a geographic place at all. But rather a place in history.

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