Thousands of people with no inauguration tickets and little hope of finding any are chartering buses, planning road trips and scrambling for flights to Washington because they are determined to witness the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency.
"One way or another, we're going to be there," says Earl Heard, 56, of Gadsden, Ala. His wife, Anna, booked a hotel before the election, he says, but odds they'll find tickets are "slim to none."
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James Linton, 43, a Louisville businessman, chartered 33 buses to bring more than 1,800 people to the Jan. 20 festivities. Each person paid $300 for travel and lodging, but Linton has no tickets. "We're going to stand in the public areas and be a part of history," he says.
Demand for tickets far exceeds the 240,000 available for distribution. The National Park Service is planning for at least 1 million.
Most of Washington's 29,000 hotel rooms are booked. The American Bus Association expects a record number of chartered buses to converge on the capital. Airlines have added flights. "This is the Super Bowl times 10," farecompare.com CEO Rick Seaney says.
The event is "the fruition of a dream" for people who "endured years of trials and tribulations," says Christopher Reed, history professor emeritus at Chicago's Roosevelt University. "The need to be present is overwhelming."
Obama's election, says Heard, who is black, proves to his grandchildren what his parents told him: "You can accomplish anything. The sky's the limit."
Others with no tickets say they must share the historic moment:
• Walter Morris, 87, and his wife, Lela, 81, will take the train from El Cerrito, Calif. Obama's win was "beyond my wildest dreams," says Walter Morris, a retired physician who once lived in segregated Washington.
• Robert Gregory, 42, an Austin real estate broker, has signed up 45 people so far to join him on a chartered bus. "For me, it's like Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech," he says. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime event."
• Bill Adkins, 60, pastor of Greater Imani Church in Memphis, made hotel and flight reservations before the election. "I grew up riding in the back of the bus," he says.
"If God allows me to be alive on Jan. 20, I will be there."