Hey! How Are You? Long Time, No See. How About a Visit? Say ..... Jan. 20?

By Avis Thomas-Lester and Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 9, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama hadn't left the stage at Chicago's Grant Park on Tuesday night when telephones started jingling across the Washington area.

America, apparently, is looking for a place to crash.

"People who haven't called me in months, years, are suddenly calling and saying, 'Hey, I was just thinking about you,' " said Eric Tyson, 29, a pharmaceutical salesman who lives in Anacostia. "And then, as the conversation continues, they say they might be up for the inauguration and then they ask how many people are staying at my house.''

The same kind of conversation is happening across the region, as the inauguration of the first African American president -- whose diverse, fervent following filled arenas on the campaign trail -- has people from across the country and around the world planning to be in Washington on Jan. 20.

In Mitchellville, Elease Houston's nephew called from Atlanta. In Georgetown, Kyle Gibson received an e-mail from a buddy looking for a bunk. And in Northwest Washington, Astrid Trinh fielded calls from loved ones in four different European countries.

"My house has turned into a bed-and-breakfast for the inauguration," said Trinh, 46, an administrative legal assistant at a Virginia law firm. "I've got people coming from Belgium, France, Switzerland and Spain. I think there will be about 15. . . . I told people they could come and I'll figure out the beds later."

Trinh said she has tried to explain to these guests that they need tickets to attend the inaugural.

"They want to be . . . with the Americans to watch the reaction," Trinh said.

Every inauguration is a massive event, of course, but Obama's already seems different, bigger, even 72 days ahead of time. Hotels are filling up. For residents, that has meant calls from friends, relatives and even exes, looking for a spare bedroom or a spot on the floor.

Houston said she was happy to do it, glad to help family and friends enjoy the moment. She said yes to that nephew from Atlanta, and she is expecting a sister from Louisiana, cousins from Chesapeake, Va., and a friend from Ohio.

"I almost can't describe how Obama's election is impacting African Americans. For the first time, we feel like we are a part of this," said Houston, who is black. She said her sister, 14 years older, told her about unequal treatment that blacks experienced in Louisiana in the 1960s.

"You had to go to the back of the bus and stand behind the line and that no matter how many empty seats there were in the front section, all the blacks had to stand, crouch and cramp into each other at the back," she said. "In less than 50 years, we've gone from that to having a man who shares our heritage as president. It's a small thing for me to open my home to anybody who wants to be a part of this."

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