Strangers who passed Brenda Harmon, Robbie Dancy and Jill Bryant couldn’t help but smile.
The trio, decked in sunglasses and hats adorned with studded images of Obama, sat on a piece of cardboard leaning against a tree on the Mall, a makeshift love seat. One of the women, with a pink Coach bag beside her, wore a full-length mink coat.
“Y’all doing it luxury style,” said one man as he snapped a picture of the trio, who had driven hundreds of miles for three days of fun.
“All you need is a roof,” said another.
Dancy, 71, laughed and said, “We did have a roof. We broke it down.”
Dancy, who lives in Utica, N.Y., said she’d missed the first inauguration and was determined to bear witness to this one. Seeing President Obama take the oath of office on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday was extra special for her.
“I was here 50 years ago for Martin Luther King’s March on Washington,” said Dancy, who visited the King memorial on Sunday and pondered just how far the country had come. “I feel really blessed to see this happen in my lifetime.”
On the stairs of the Newseum, a tense political discussion broke out when Jessica Anderson revealed to her aunt and mother that she hadn’t voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012.
Jessica, 30, who lives in Fort Washington and teaches at a private school in Virginia, said she resents that people assume she must have voted for him because she’s black.
“I don’t agree with him,” Jessica said.
It bothered her that Obama seemed more concerned about helping foreign countries — including boosting U.S. troops in Afghanistan and offering aid to other countries — when so many people were struggling here. Too many people had gone on welfare during his first term, she said.
“Don’t expect me to say everything he says is great because he’s black,” Jessica said. “And I give grief to people for voting for him because he’s black.”
Her pronouncement shocked her mother, Robin Anderson, 54, who works for Giant and described herself as enormously proud that Obama had been elected twice.
“I’m going to push you down the stairs,” Robin joked.
“She’s not kidding,” her daughter said.
Iris Murdock, 62, a retired schoolteacher from Baltimore, had started out well before dawn, driving to her daughter’s home in Hyattsville. There the two women boarded a Metro train on the Green Line and set out to their first presidential inauguration. They emerged at the Federal Center station before 7 a.m., when it was still dark, white lights twinkling on nearby trees as a gathering crowd bundled up against the cold. Murdock supported President Obama. But she saw the inauguration as bigger than that. “It doesn’t matter what political party you are, it’s part of being an American,” she said. “You stand in line to vote. You have to see what the rest of it is like too.”As she talked, a group of middle-school children carrying souvenir-size flags trooped past her. A few carried composition books. A smile spread across her face. “I’m a retired educator,” she said. She beamed in the still-dark morning. “Look at them.”
“I got a picture with Obama!” Inez Jones screeched. “I’m posting it to Facebook right now.”
Obama smiled. And smiled. And smiled.
It was a few hours before the parade. A breeze blew and the commander-in-chief’s legs flapped. He tilted to the left. Somebody adjusted him. Somebody fist-bumped him. Everybody laughed.
The cardboard cutout of the 44th president was leaning against one of the Fojol Bros. food trucks parked outside the Old Post Office.
People lined up for photos.
Jones, a 48-year-old Washingtonian who works at Gallaudet University, tapped her smartphone. “I’m going to put a comment on Facebook that me and Obama hung out today,” she said.
“And you had a good time!” another woman said.
“Yeah, we had a real good time,” Jones said.
Benjamin Sherman marched through a crowd heading to the Mall clutching a box full of packages with the president’s face.
“Obama condoms!” the salesman hollered. “For hard times!”
Sherman had traveled from New York to sell his wares among the button and T-shirt vendors.
People passing by chuckled at Sherman, founder of Say it With a Condom, but few took him up on the offer of $5 per souvenir.
The company also sells Mitt Romney condoms.
Misty Willis’s husband kept sending text messages to her hot pink-covered iPhone.
“He’s feeding me all what’s going on while we’re walking,” she said as she stood in a mass of people at 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue trying to find her way to the Mall. “When he left the church, all the good details, what they’re wearing, that they’re drinking coffee.”
Her one-man news service kept it going all day: “The Obama ladies are wearing a lot of J. Crew,” read one text. “It seems to be news for some reason,” read another.
Her husband was happy home in Texas. “He says it’s great on TV,” said Willis, 36.
But she wanted to be here.
The crowd roared, and her phone told her why: “They’re driving up the parade route in reverse to go up to the Capitol,” she said. She barely caught a glimpse as the limos whizzed by. But it didn’t matter. This day, she declared, “is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Noreen Mallory arrived from Philadelphia full of hope but without one thing: a ticket that would get her to a prime viewing spot on the Mall.
So Mallory, a 47-year-old writer, sat outside the infamous “Purple Tunnel of Doom,” as it was dubbed during the 2009 inauguration, trying to come up with her Plan B. Suddenly, a gentleman leaned over one of the concrete barriers.
“Here,” he said. “I have an extra. Why don’t you take it?”
He pressed a piece of paper into Mallory’s hand. She was stunned. A yellow ticket.
She stared at it for a few seconds. Before she could even stammer out a ‘thank you,’ her benefactor melted back into the crowd.
“Oh my God,” she said staring at the ticket. “Did that just happen? It’s a ticket!”
She flipped it over, mouth agape. “I am blessed.”
Rhonda Grimes, with a Canon D60 and long lens in hand, prowled 15th Street near the Treasury Building looking for the right place to snap photos of the Dobyns-Bennett High School marching band.
Grimes, the Tennessee band’s unofficial novice photographer, had been studying photography books and taking online tutorials for weeks to prepare.
“I am so nervous,” she said. “They are gonna walk by so fast. It’s 30 seconds of excitement, and then it’s over. It’s a once in a lifetime moment.”
Her daughter, Hannah, plays the clarinet in the 313-member band. The group made their way from Kingsport, Tenn., in seven tour buses.
“We are so honored to be a part of this,” said Grimes, taking practice shots as she waited for her moment to capture the band’s role in history. She checked the results, adjusted her lens and then kept shooting, looking for that perfect spot.
There was a noticeable deflation among the throngs at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW after Obama’s limo passed and he didn’t get out. But then Vice President Biden’s smiling face was visible through another limo’s window.
“We want Joe!” someone shouted. Others joined in: “We want Joe! We want Joe!”
“He’s getting out!” shouted Troy Hawkins, a 29-year-old landscaper from Capitol Heights.
And he was. Biden, his wife and others from the vice-presidential limo got out near the Commerce Department, a phalanx of Secret Service nearby. Biden waved and gave a thumbs up, then disappeared around the corner.
“Man, it was crazy,” said Hawkins. “My heart’s still pounding.”