Jimmy Carter won a landslide victory (23 to 9) in Gloria Wagner's sixth-grade class mock election and when the President-elect sent the class an invitation to the inauguration, 11-year-old John Lynn thought "it was just something he sent everyone and we would never come."
But after a 68-hour nonstop bus trip from Lompoc, Calif. - otherwise known as "Flower Capital of the World" - the sixth graders from Fillmore Elementary School have arrived in Washington to see Carter inaugurated.
Rhonda Fallon, 11, who "never rode in a Greyhound bus before" recounted how they saw flying wild geese, a frozen dam and waterfall and "mountains that looked like the back of a camel" during their trip through the southwestern states.
The 31 children and eight adults, a principal, a teacher, an aide, a nurse, three parents and a professional photographer slept on the floor and seats of the bus. When they got to Virginia, the water in the bus froze.
What's been the best part of the trip so far? "The snow! It's the first time I touched it," said Greg Jackson. In fact, it's the first time most of her students had seen it, Wagner said.
Last fall the class wrote to both presidential candidates during the campaign as a social science project. Ford acknowledged their letters of support in October. But letters of support in October. But letters to Carter went unanswered although the children told him they had planted peanut plants and held a bake sale with peanut brittle and peanut cookies.
Despite Carter's lack of response, however, he won handily in the class election. Ann Dimitt, 11, voted for Carter because of "the way he talked and smiled and because he really acted like he wanted to be President."
Lynn O'Henley was one of the minority. She chose Ford, she said, because "he was more responsible."
Then on Jan. 3 Fillmore's sixth grade heard from Carter for the first time. It was an invitation to his inauguration. But there was no money to make the trip.
John C. Patmore, a bus driver, read about the children's inaugural invitation in the Santa Barbara news-Press. He telephoned Wagner and said he would try to get a discount for them from Greyhound.
Patmore came through with the discount and then the contributions came pouring in. More than $5,500 was collected from the community and "it was still coming in when we left Lompoc Sunday," Wagner said.
The last hurdle - where to sleep - was surmounted when the Quander Road Elementary School PTA offered to put them up. The inaugural visitors "are sprinkled around the neighborhood" among 17 families, said Quander Road PTA president, Betty Quirk.
Gregory Jackson thinks his Fairfax County hosts are "nice and sweet - they gave me a bed to myself," he said.
"Having a bed to themselves is a big thing for some of these kids," said Wagner, a teacher for 15 years. Fillmore is given extra grants by the federal government, she said, because many of its children come from low-income families.