The nation’s capital was place of joy despite the cold and congestion.
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORTER
WASHINGTON — Area residents visiting Washington faced frigid weather, long lines, crowds of anxious people — and smiles from virtually every other visitor to the nation’s capital.
Those smiling and courteous people were in the capital Tuesday to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
“This was such a beautiful thing. It just paid off and was well worth it,” Youngstown resident Renee Spence said, reflecting on the day.
Just past midnight Monday, 88 Youngstown-area residents boarded two buses intent on joining the festivities, but found, as did more than 1 million who crowded into the city, that getting near the site of the historic event was the battle.
The trip was sponsored by Jerusalem Baptist Church of Youngstown and organized by Kitty and Ricky Monroe. No one in the group had a pass to the secured area, but Kitty Monroe said that made no difference.
“Just being in the same area where [Barack Obama] accepts the presidency is very exciting,” she said.
Pamela Brown, wearing pearls in honor of first lady Michelle Obama, said that she was going to make the trip no matter what because history would not escape her.
“I am just pleased to be here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wouldn’t miss being a part of history. This is something to be excited about,” said Brown, of Youngstown.
The “Youngstown 88” entered the District of Columbia shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday with the understanding that remaining together would be virtually impossible.
That notion was confirmed upon entering Washington’s Metro transit system where there was little room to breath — moving was out of the question.
Shalayah Sanders, 26, said the crowds were not annoying; they were in fact inspiring after she saw the number of people under 30 taking an interest in the future of the country and rallying around a new president.
“Even though we would not be able to get close and right up there where he would be, just being around so many people coming together and [getting] involved was special,” she said. “This was very, very important just to see a black president sworn in.”
Every member of the Youngstown contingent did make it to the area around the capital — albeit in much smaller subgroups than the initial 88.
Once in the area around the National Mall, members of the subgroups were lost in the crowds as they stopped to buy merchandise from the vendors lining every street around the Capitol.
Vendors sold anything to which President Obama’s face or name could be affixed. Shirts, hats, earrings, buttons, bookmarks and even condoms were being sold to Obama supporters.
Besides all the signs of support being offered to visitors, there were signs of disdain for outgoing President George W. Bush being offered as well — also for a small fee. Signs asking for the arrest of Bush or banners speaking out against his actions in office were easily spotted.
The Youngstown 88, in groups as small as three or four, navigated through the gauntlet of sales pitches, slow walkers and spectators in search of the area where Obama would take his oath of office, but it would prove a task too great for some.
Walking toward the mall, the Youngstown crew found many streets blocked off.
Attempts to circumvent those barricaded streets met with yet more closed streets and directions to keep walking.
Beverly Bailey, 65, of Youngstown, has had two hip surgeries in recent years and was being helped along the course by other group members shortly before 11 a.m., but she was determined to see the president take the oath of office.
“This is just history to me. I didn’t think I would live to see Obama make it this far. It’s just an historic event that I did not want to miss,” she said.
Bailey maintained that resolve until her legs refused to go any farther and gave out, taking her to the ground, outside a McDonald’s restaurant more than two hours into the trek around the capital.
Bailey was helped to a nearby chair and ultimately watched the inauguration from a large television inside a small restaurant. Still, she smiles at the opportunity to have been close to the event and said she would do it all over again.
Many of the Youngstown 88 watched the inauguration from places they did not anticipate.
Jason Woods, Joshua Monroe, Frank Bond, and Jasmin, David and Alemah Paige all watched the event from the lobby of a Marriott Hotel along with seemingly hundreds of other people. The hotel allowed spectators to take to the bar area, lobby floors and sitting areas to see the president’s speech.
By the noon hour, Spence had been walking more than three hours and made it to within 100 yards of the Washington Monument with Ricky and Kitty Monroe.
Spence stood feet away from a large monitor in a full-length brown fur coat and matching hat cheering at the slightest mention of President Obama with the throngs of others also gathered there.
After listening to Obama’s inaugural address, Spence snapped photos and prepared for the arduous walk back to the train and ultimately back to the bus, which left at around 6:10 p.m., headed back to Ohio.
It took some of the Youngstown 88 a solid hour to walk back up 18th Street to the Metro subway and train area to make the ride back to the bus.
But Spence said she would make the trip all over again to witness what she had just seen.
“It all paid off,” she said. “This piece of history will live with me.”
Marvin Monroe, also an event organizer, said Spence’s joy and overall reaction to the inaugural proceedings can likely explain how so many people could be so happy under such strenuous conditions.
“We all made it here to witness this,” he said. “Just being here is more than enough.”