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."
In Springdale, insurance executive Patricia Browne said she is going to have her guests -- former colleagues from Florida and Chicago -- stay in the home of her late parents. Browne said it was a way to honor her father, who would have turned 85 on Inauguration Day, and her mother, who died in April at 85.
"My mother supported Obama. She voted for him in the primary," Browne said. "Having people who are coming to Washington to witness the inauguration in the house gives my mother and father a chance to be involved, even though they are no longer here."
Others said they were excited about the idea of a house full of friends. Gibson says she's expecting to host at least 10 guests, offering them a "bed and bagel" experience. She's providing a variety of cream cheeses, unlimited hot chocolate, conversation in front of the fireplace and all the cozy corners into which they can fit air mattresses. During the day, Gibson and her husband, Mit Spears, also are offering their house as a temporary base for even more friends, who are staying farther out.
Marchlena Rodgers, 26, assistant director of admissions at Howard University, will be hosting her parents, sister and cousin in her one-bedroom apartment in the District. Her parents will sleep in her bed, she said, her sister will get the couch and she'll take the floor. The cousin? Not sure yet. "It will be like one big slumber party," Rodgers said.
That's one way to look at it. Other residents were a little more skeptical about these requests.
"All of a sudden, I'm everyone's best friend,'' said Valerie Ervin, a Montgomery County Council member. She said that after 20 years, her home is suddenly the place to be for her relatives, and she's expecting a brother from Rhode Island, a sister from Miami and a sister from Denver.
When her brother called, asking to stay, she couldn't resist a dig. "I'm like, 'So now you remember you have a sister in D.C.,' " Ervin said.
"I am getting calls from people I don't even like," said an Olney woman who asked that her name be withheld to keep from hurting any of the callers' feelings. "I'm saying, 'No. I have all the people I can take. Why don't you try calling a hotel in Baltimore?' If you weren't my friend before, you aren't my friend now."
Of course, some residents -- perhaps some who were on the losing side of Tuesday's election -- might want to get out of Washington during the inauguration just as much as others want in. Jessica Owens, 32, a private investor who lives in San Francisco, is banking on that.
She's looking for a straight-up trade: Any Republican who wants to leave town can use her two-bedroom apartment in exchange for a stay at a home in the capital.
"It's really nice in San Francisco in January. It won't be cold like it will in D.C.," she said. "Half of D.C. is the current administration and . . . there's no celebration for them. There's got to be someone who would love to have a long weekend on the West Coast."
Staff writers Aaron C. Davis and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.