Obamas Take a Walking Tour, Electrifying Parade Crowd

Onlookers Who'd Lined Up on Route Starting at 4:30 A.M. Finally Get Their Picture-Perfect Moment to Remember

President Obama walks along his motorcade and greets an enthusiatic crowd.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009; Page A15

Shivering parade spectators squealed their delight when President Obama hopped out of his bulletproof limousine on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday despite security concerns and walked six blocks on the way to the White House.

In an intimate touch along the 1 1/2 -mile route, the new president and first lady Michelle Obama exited the black limousine with the blue USA1 license plate at Seventh Street NW. They walked five blocks to 12th Street and then thrilled the throngs when they emerged at 15th and G streets. They were accompanied by Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill. The Bidens sauntered for another block before returning to the vehicle on the home stretch toward the presidential review stand.

The crowd erupted rapturously each time.

"Oh, my God!" a woman shrieked at Seventh Street. "Obama is getting out of his car!"

At 12th Street, people shouted, "He's walking! He's walking!"

Up to that moment, the parade spectators had seemed like they were on the losing end of the inauguration sweepstakes. Hours after people on the Mall had already decamped for someplace warmer, parade spectators were still waiting for the first military bands to shove off. The parade was delayed because Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) collapsed at a congressional luncheon Obama attended.

But seeing the Obamas stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, he with a jaunty red scarf around his neck and she waving her green-gloved hands, made the locale seem far preferable to viewing events on a Jumbotron.

"We got what we came for," said Kenneth Armstrong, who drove with his family from Birmingham, Ala., and had arrived at a parade security checkpoint at 4:30 a.m. to get their prime spot on the route.

"We were right up front when he walked by. What more could you ask for?"

The first inaugural parade honored the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. But security and safety have loomed large as a concern in the decades since President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

Since then, only Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have walked the entire route, during his 1977 inauguration. Ronald Reagan rode in an open car, while George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all walked short distances. In 2005, the first inauguration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush walked only the last block.

Yesterday, hundreds of people tried to keep up with the Obamas by running along the sidewalk at the same pace, but they were stopped by a barricade at 10th Street.

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