I was lucky: 600 people in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District wanted inauguration tickets, and I was one of some 50 who were chosen by Rep. Cheri Bustos’ lottery. Most of us received four tickets, each. My wife, Gaye Dunne, and I cashed in some credit card miles and asked some D.C. area friends to put us up.
On the plane, we met Wes H. Young of Tulsa, Okla. — wearing a stocking cap that said “Obama — Back-to-Back.” Young said he survived the 1921 Tulsa race riots when he was 3 years old. He’s 95 now and was on his way to D.C. to see his president inaugurated.
We arrived Friday morning by train, from the Maryland countryside where we’re staying, at the very old and grand Union Station.
There are lots of yellow Labrador dogs with the Amtrak police. The labs have replaced German shepherds, we’re told, because their sense of smell to find explosives is much better. They are there every day.
You walk outside under 50-foot-high American flags hanging from the building’s portico, partially blocking the sunlight for a moment. Under the flag, you see the Capitol, some 500 yards away. All of a sudden, you feel like you’re in the center of the world, certainly for this weekend.
We are thrilled, not only that the weather will be about 40 degrees for Monday’s inauguration, but around 50 degrees for the weekend.
You read about these buildings, you see pictures, but to actually see them in person is exciting. I once sat in the Senate gallery and watched a debate. It was like watching your future unfold in front of you as they talked about “what will be.”
We arrive at Rep. Bustos’ office in the Longworth House Office Building. It’s on the ground floor, next door to Speaker of the House John Boehner. We pick up our tickets, our official invitation, the program of events (Beyonce will sing the National Anthem) and pictures of President Obama and Vice President Biden.
On our way out, to walk through the “Canyons of Granite” (all the office buildings), we run into Rep. Bustos and her husband, Gerry. He’s taking time off from his job as a captain with the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department to attend the inauguration and help the new representative finish her move to an apartment, just three blocks away from Longworth. Gerry joked that he’s the “Official Mover.” They’re on their way to a meeting, but stop to talk to us for a moment.
And I found it fascinating that in the lobby of the old Longworth building there still are three, real-live, working phone booths!