Visitors Pour Into D.C., Loaded With Luggage But Lightened by Hope

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009

They were rolling north, at the end of a four-hour drive from Durham, N.C., almost there. The rest of the car was focused on the directions to a hotel downtown.

Then the Washington Monument appeared in the distance.

Anjanée Bell pointed it out, but the others were distracted. So she savored her thrill in silence.

"That was the moment to say, you know, 'We're really here,' " said Bell, 31, the artistic director for a dance company. She had visited Washington before, but Bell said she could feel something different in the capital at that moment yesterday -- even if, technically, she was still in Virginia.

Inauguration fever broke out across the Washington region yesterday as thousands of visitors began filtering into spare bedrooms, rundown motels and four-star lobbies. They came with Obama action figures, with snoozing babies, with homemade signs and with a more noble view of the capital than most of its full-time residents can sustain.

And many came with memories that made this occasion -- the swearing-in of the first African American president -- seem wonderful and a little unreal.

"I lived through segregation," said Marion Garrison, 87, of Bakersfield, Calif. She and five friends were settling in at a Comfort Inn along New York Avenue NE. "I waited for this. It finally came."

Yesterday was expected to be one of the busiest arrival days for inaugural guests: All but 400 or so of the District's 29,000 hotel rooms were booked.

But the rush didn't seem to strain the seams of a city used to conventions and tourists. Highways flowed smoothly. Airports were busy -- Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport reported 28,000 passengers, up from 20,000 on a normal day -- but didn't feel Thanksgiving-crowded.

"I worked so hard on the campaign that I just wanted to see the fruits of my labor. I'm excited. I'm elated," said LaRue Henderson, 73, who had flown in from Atlanta with her daughter and a friend.

They were waiting at Reagan National Airport for a ride to a relative's home in Falls Church, where they will stay for the long weekend. The group brought along Obama T-shirts and caps, although they needn't have worried. Every business in the region with a roof and a cash register seemed to be selling inauguration souvenirs yesterday.

For some airline passengers, the celebration of Obama's swearing-in began even before they touched down. Len Solak, 59, of Albuquerque arrived at BWI wearing a homemade sign around his neck. "We The People get our country back in THREE days! (Loyal opposition is welcome, but cynics can go home!)," it said.

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