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Local residents make the journey

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By Tom Wilmoth

LaCarol Wynne wasn’t about to miss the inauguration of President Barack Obama last Tuesday so Monday afternoon she and two others set out from Bedford for Washington D.C.

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    “It was so overwhelming,” she said of the event, which drew an estimated crowd of at close to 2 million people. “We didn’t get any sleep, but it was worth it.”

    Wynne’s group left early Monday afternoon and ended up stopping in a parking lot at a mall in Northern Virginia. From there they caught a bus to a Metro stop which took them on into the city. They had planned to return to their car Monday night and rest, but their trek back was delayed so they ended up not being able to get any sleep before hitting the Metro rail early Tuesday morning.

    Wynne said a highlight was being able to visit with the multitude of folks who had also arrived for the inauguration events. Wynne said those gathered looked out for each other, like the folks who saw she was cold and helped out. “I’m the kind of person who talks with everybody,” she said of the experience.  “They were all there to witness this historical event.”

    Wynne’s group ended up Tuesday morning spending five hours in a line before making their way to the Mall area for the inauguration. “My feet were frozen,” she said of the weather. “You were leaning on people you never met in your life.”

    She met people from Canada, Sweden and Haiti along the way. Her group arrived at the Mall around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, just in time for the events. She met one woman in her 90s who was determined to get there and witness Obama’s inauguration. “There were just so many people,” she said. “You’ve never seen so many video cameras.”

    And being present for the historic event was overwhelming. “As soon as I hit the Mall I started crying,” she said. “Everybody was just in awe.”

    She said there was a great calm over the crowd, that they were at peace “that you can believe that things can change,” she said, adding “that it’s going to get better.”

    Those gathered watched the ceremony on Jumbotrons and others climbed trees to get a better look. Others stood on top of the porta-potties for a better view. “They wanted to try and get as close as possible,” she said.

    “I wanted to witness America finally living up to its name,” she said, adding that it is a country for everybody, that a person of color can be President. “I wanted to see that actually happen. ...We’re all the same. ...We need to start living up to that.”

    Wynne, 47, worked for Obama’s campaign and said people will have to be patient. “He knows people are expecting a lot out of him,” she said of the new President, adding that he has also said there will be setbacks and mistakes. “To me, that’s a very honest man,” she said of those admissions. “That’s what I liked in his speech. He knows that it’s going to take everybody to do this.”

    She is looking forward to his work on healthcare reform. “That’s very important to me at this point,” she said.

From a student’s view

    Hadley Fields, a freshman at Jefferson Forest High School, experienced the inauguration from a different perspective. But her assessment of the event was the same.

    “It was the experience of a lifetime,” Fields said of watching Obama inaugurated as this nation’s 44th President. “It was just incredible I made the most amazing memories that I will never forget.”

    Fields attended the event through the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference. She arrived in Washington D.C. Saturday and it went through Wednesday. The conference events included hearing speeches by General Colin L. Powell, former Vice President Al Gore and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist.

    She particularly enjoyed hearing Gore speak. “He talked a lot about community service,” Fields said, adding that he encouraged the youth to get their friends to serve and “go out and make a big difference” in their communities.

    The students gathered as part of the conference got up early Tuesday morning, had breakfast, and went out to the Mall. They ended up in a position where they could see the podium and also watch the ceremony on the Jumbotron. “Everybody was just screaming and hugging each other,” she said of the emotion and enthusiasm displayed by those gathered. “It was so exciting just to see.”

    She also enjoyed attending the Inaugural Ball. “I have memories I will always cherish,” she said.

On the bus

    Coby and Case Pieterman of Thaxton went to the inauguration as part of a bus tour.

    “We both believed that the inauguration of the first African-American president to the United States was going to be a unique event,” Case Pieterman stated of attending.

    They first asked around in Bedford if there were any plans to go and  attend the inauguration.  But then they were alerted that two ladies, Sylvia Journiette and Priscilla Casey, were chartering buses from Roanoke to go to D.C., they quickly ordered tickets.

    Monday night, shortly after midnight, the “Midnight Express” buses of Abbott Trailways left a Wal-Mart parking lot in Roanoke for D.C.

    “After about six hours and two stops we pulled into the parking lot of RFK Stadium in D C. where thousands of buses had already found a parking space,” he explained. “Our bus hostess had bought us biscuits for breakfast and on leaving the bus she handed out a care package for lunch ‘to hold us over’.”

    Pieterman stated volunteers welcomed them to the city with a smile and guided them to an area about half a mile away, where they could board shuttle buses that brought them closer to the Mall. “It was fun walking with the crowds to the Mall. At one point, standing on an overpass, we could see the throngs of people on both sides. It was a big,   happy, relaxed and joyous crowd. There were quite a lot of vendors, selling food, souvenirs and hand warmers.”

    The Pietermans settled for a couple of Obama buttons.

    Arriving at the Mall at around 8 a.m. it was already packed.  “We tried to find a good spot near one of the Jumbotrons they had erected on the Mall, probably half a mile away from the Capitol, since it was clear that we could not get any closer.  While waiting for the big moment, we were being entertained with the re-run of the concert at the Mall held on the previous Sunday.”

    Although the sun was out,  the temperatures were still in the 20s and standing there for hours in one spot was doing a job on their cold feet. Finally they started to see some activity on the screen about the inauguration when different people were being introduced and seated.

    “The swearing-in ceremony was quick and we loved the inauguration speech,” Pieterman stated. “It was powerful, straight forward with the call to work on the country’s problems together. Despite the cold that we had to endure and the long standing and waiting for the moment we were happy we had decided to come. This was history in the making.” 

    He stated it will be important to get Republicans and Democrats to pull  in the same direction. “Let’s hope that Obama’s campaign slogan ‘Yes, we can’ will become a reality for the country’s good  and the rest of the world,” stated Pieterman.

    After the ceremony the crowds began to disperse and the group got some breathing space again. The screens announced that several museums on the Mall were open and ready to receive the chilled crowd for a little bit of warming up. On their way to the museum the Pietermans found a refreshment tent selling hot chocolate, which was “a welcome treat and just what we needed.”

    They wound up at the Air and Space Museum where many were finding a place to rest and get warm.  “After raising our body temperature we checked out the start of the parade on the Jumbotron screens again and were excited when the Secret Service let the President and First Lady out of their limousine to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he said. They had an opportunity to talk to many people on the shuttle buses and on the Mall and were amazed to hear that some of them came from as far away as Louisiana, Alabama, California, Oregon, Canada, Illinois and Georgia. 

    At the end of the day, their overall impression was that the use of shuttle buses from RFK stadium was very well organized.

    By 7 p.m. they had pulled out of the RFK parking lot and were on the way back to Roanoke where they, without any sleep for 42 hours, arrived shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

    “It was all worth it,” Pieterman stated. “It was a great experience that we will remember for a long time to come. We hope that it will be the beginning of  a very positive time for America and the world.”