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Early on, D.C. gets into party ambience



Published: Tue, January 20, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

Annoyances — in particular, traffic and parking — are sure to multiply today.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Forget the sold-out balls and A-list soirees: Ordinary Americans transformed Washington’s streets into one giant pre-party Monday stretching from the overflowing inbound trains at Union Station to the banks of the iced-over Potomac.

A town that tends to take itself way too seriously got a little giddy, and no one was waiting for Inauguration Day to get in on the action.

Homeowners tacked bunting to their porches, high school cheerleaders composed special chants for the new president, and a boys’ choir from Kenya wowed a streetcorner crowd with an impromptu concert.

“This is going to be part of our family’s history,” said Ian Pearce of Brooklyn, who explored the Capitol grounds with his 8-year-old son and other family members. “It will be passed on from generation to generation.”

Seventy-year-old Betty Bryant arrived on a charter bus from Augusta, Ga., and stood by the icy reflection pool near the Capitol making plans to rise at 3 a.m. today to take her place on the National Mall for Barack Obama’s swearing-in.

“I’m just really happy that I’m living to see this wonderful event,” she said.

A few feet away, a group of people broke into an impromptu chorus of “God Bless America.”

The city vibrated excitement, and, if only briefly, its curmudgeons laid low.

Just about anything qualified as entertainment: On a streetcorner not far from the mall, passers-by clapped and cheered the sight of a National Guardsman in fatigues doing push-ups.

The trials of the times were temporarily pushed aside — if not completely forgotten. A sign posted at one bus stop offered Obama congratulations on his inauguration and exhorted “Save $$$; Buy a foreclosure.”

The day was not without its annoyances — sure to multiply exponentially today. Commuters unfamiliar with the local Metro system queued up in long lines to buy fare cards. Street closures spread virally. Parking garage rates spiked overnight to $25.

Baggage-toting throngs arriving at Union Station found it easier to find souvenirs than taxis, prompting some travelers to head out on long slogs by foot to their hotels — if they were lucky enough to have a room. Those cabbies who could get through the congestion could only shake their heads.

“I have never seen such a mess,” muttered one. “I’m staying home tomorrow.”

A celebratory air prevailed nonetheless, on a day when even service projects suddenly seemed cool.

Obama had exhorted Americans to make the Martin Luther King Jr. Day a time of national service, and legions took him up on it.


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