Got to be there?

The Baltimore Sun

For weeks leading up to the November election, Alison Velez Lane spent evenings and weekends volunteering for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, even traveling across state lines to help sway voters.

"[It] gave me great hope. It showed that Dr. King's dream for me to live in a world where I am not judged by the color of my skin but the 'content of my character' is alive," said the Baltimore attorney. Lane, 46, also felt a personal connection to the candidate. "President-elect [Obama] is eight months older than me," she said. "Our educational backgrounds mirror; our professions are identical."

So it's no surprise that Lane hopes to witness the inauguration of the country's first African-American president up close.

She is not alone: Here in Maryland, all across the nation and around the world, the inaugural ceremony has drawn huge interest, and it has the potential to break attendance records.

While President Bill Clinton's first inauguration drew about 800,000 attendees, the Obama inauguration on Jan. 20, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, could draw millions to the nation's capital.

"There will be 240,000 people with tickets for the swearing-in ceremony, but in past years, the overflow has spilled onto the National Mall," said Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Commission on Inaugural Ceremonies. "We're not doing crowd estimations, but certainly there is space on the Mall to account for large numbers of people."

Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will take the oath of office on a stage above the West Terrace of the Capitol building. Biden will be sworn in first, at about 11:45 a.m., and shortly before noon, Obama will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president.

"The Constitution mandates that the president has to be sworn in by noon," says Florman. "There can't be gap."

Afterward, there will be speeches, a departure ceremony for President George W. Bush and a luncheon for about 200 people, hosted by the joint commission. The new president will then join the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue.

The theme for this year's inauguration is "A New Birth of Freedom," which commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The words of the theme come from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and express Lincoln's hope that the sacrifice of those who died to preserve the nation would lead to "a new birth of freedom" for the nation.

For Marylanders eager to participate in the festivities, there's still a small window of time in which to plan for the big day. You'll want to make a to-do list and check off everything from snagging accommodations to arranging transportation and grabbing a bite to eat that day.

First, you have to get there. Bus lines and Amtrak are preparing for brisk business.

"We have an infinite number of tickets," said Abby Wambaugh, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based Greyhound bus company. "We'll add buses as necessary to our schedule. We have the capacity to be flexible."

Wambaugh said the company has already received "a large influx of calls" for chartered buses, but has not seen a huge spike in ticket sales yet. "The majority of our customers purchase their tickets two hours before the trip," she said.

Karina Romero, a spokeswoman for Amtrak, said the train company plans for now to maintain a normal schedule, but is "closely monitoring" activity to see if additional trains will be needed."

"We have seen an increase from Virginia and the Carolinas coming to D.C., and some trains have sold out," she said.

For those who want to stay overnight in the nation's capital, there's still the option of snagging accommodations, say hoteliers, though time is of the essence, and it helps to have a budget that can handle these tough economic times.

"We're sold out of standard rooms, but we still have suites available, as well as our Presidential Suite packages," says Satinder Palta, general manager of the Mayflower Hotel, four blocks from the White House, on Connecticut Avenue, and dubbed the "second-best address," in Washington by President Harry S. Truman.

The historic hotel has welcomed many U.S. presidents and luminaries for inaugural fetes. Obama also has been a frequent guest.

"He started coming here about a year ago, and stayed about 10 times during the campaign," said Palta. "Mrs. Obama has visited us, too. And we are hoping they will return."

Indeed, the hotel has rolled out an inaugural package fit for a commander-in-chief.

A three-night stay in the hotel's luxurious Presidential or Mayflower suites includes limo service; his-and-her signature inaugural jewelry and fashions from Burberry; Dom Perignon champagne with Baccarat toasting flutes from Tiffany & Co.; an in-room massage for two and 24-hour butler service. The cost? A cool $51,000.

Palta adds, however, that the hotel has options for those seeking a little less fanfare, but who still want a top-notch stay. For them, there are rooms priced at $1,500 per night, with a minimum three-night stay.

With a prime address on Pennsylvania Avenue along the inaugural parade route, the Willard Intercontinental hotel has long been known as "the Residence of Presidents." Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this turn-of-the-last century, elegantly renovated property has hosted Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and both Bushes.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was also a Willard guest. He penned his "I Have a Dream" speech while staying there in August 1963.

"We have guests who come for every inauguration, regardless of their political affiliation," said hotel spokeswoman Barbara Bahny, who added that rates begin at $949 and the hotel requires a four-night minimum stay. "Our ballroom has already been booked. We throw an amazing party."

A number of Washington restaurants are also capitalizing on their plum location along or near the inaugural parade route.

TenPenh, which has an Asian fusion menu, is at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. and is attracting those who want to watch the festivities unfold over a meal. Someone has reserved the entire restaurant for lunch.

"But we will open for dinner service at 5:30 p.m.," said Melissa Harris, a spokeswoman. The restaurant and some of its sister properties will also offer a new inaugural cocktail called "the Dream"- a warm blend of bourbon, apple cider, honey and caramel, with a cinnamon-stick garnish.

Harris says the apple cider in the $9 drink reflects the hope that "the new president will be the apple of the American eye."

INAUGURAL FAQ

Do I have to have a ticket to see the inauguration?

To get into the area of the swearing-in ceremony, you will need a ticket. However, during past inaugurations, the National Park Service established additional public viewing areas on and around the National Mall where visitors could watch the official events on jumbo screens. It is expected that the service will do the same this time. Tickets to the ceremonies are free through congressional offices, but each office has only a few hundred to hand out. Some have stopped taking requests. The office of Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin has already received more than 45,000 ticket requests. No Web sites or other ticket outlets have inaugural swearing-in tickets to sell now, despite what they may claim.

Where should I stand for the parade?

The parade takes place on Pennsylvania Avenue, starting at the U.S. Capitol and ending at the White House. The public can stand along the parade route, and a limited number of ticketed bleacher seats are available from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. In 2005, those seats sold for $15-$150.

What will security measures be like?

At press time, official security measures for the inauguration had not been released. In previous years, certain items have been banned, including alcohol, guns or knives, thermoses, backpacks and folding chairs. Purses and other bags "will be checked," says Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the inaugural commission. She adds that there likely will be metal detectors along with hand-held security wands.

How can I get into an inaugural ball?

Inaugural balls and parties take place at venues throughout Washington, beginning around Jan. 15 and ending the evening of Jan. 20. The official balls are planned by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, and tickets can be difficult to obtain unless you have an inside track. Tickets for many state society balls and smaller events are available to the public. Quincey Gamble, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said its team is scouting locations in Washington and finalizing details for the Official Maryland Inaugural Celebration. You can sign up at the Web site (mddems.org) to receive updates as details are finalized.

How should I get around, and where can I park?

Officials are encouraging visitors to use public transportation, including Metrorail and Metrobus and the DC Circulator. You can pre-purchase all-day Metro passes. If you choose to drive, note that streets surrounding the National Mall will be closed to vehicles. Plan to park away from the downtown core, and walk or take the Metro.

Any other tips for visitors?

You should allow plenty of time to get to the ceremony and parade route. Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes. Remember, it's January, and most public events will take place outdoors.

Information: Go to washington.org.

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