Washington, D.C., will be bursting at the seams come January.
With President-elect Barack Obama poised to become the first African-American president of the United States, and with continuing interest in the charismatic man and his family whose vision birthed a movement, people from around the world are clamoring for access to the never-to-be-seen-again inauguration on Jan. 20. For updates about the 2009 presidential inauguration events, visit the official site at http://inaugural.senate.gov. No tickets are available yet.
"All of us who voted have earned a right to see this take place so make sure that you have your analog cable and all the media you can find because one way or the other, in the front seat of the White House or the back seat of the airplane or bus, we will find a way to see and make history," wrote "Trisha" on a Nov. 8 blog about the swearing-in on www.aolblackvoices.com.
Only a few days after Obama trounced erstwhile rival Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to win the 2008 presidential contest, demand for tickets have already exceeded supply. Though free, inauguration tickets are limited in number-240,000-and distributed through members of Congress about a week before the event.
The day after the election, District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said she set up a special telephone line and e-mail address to take requests, but her office was inundated with so many calls that it stymied other urgent non-inauguration related calls and she had to stop taking names.
Norton said she is worried this foreshadows even worse conditions to come.
"I share the excitement and enthusiasm of my constituents, but I am concerned that even the few who obtain tickets will not be able to get through the crowds at the Mall," Norton said in a statement. "The only people sure to get a view of the parade and the swearing-in are the people who watch it on television in the comfort of their homes."
Officials say with people determined to participate-whether they have tickets or not-they expect the crowds to surpass the 1.2 million that attended President Lyndon Johnson's swearing-in in 1965. Norton, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said she plans to meet next week with security officials to discuss the ramifications.
"An entirely new game plan will be needed to cope with an inauguration like none the country has ever seen," Norton said.
Already, officials have had to deal with fraudulent Web sites and others exploiting people's desperation by selling them "free" tickets.
"Any Web site or ticket broker claiming that they have inaugural tickets is simply not telling the truth," said Howard Gantman, staff director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. "We urge the public to view any offers of tickets for sale with great skepticism…An entirely new game plan will be needed to cope with an inauguration like none the country has ever seen."
Most remain hopeful-even adamant-about participating in the days-long celebration. People have already booked airline and bus tickets, even before inauguration tickets became available. And hotel rooms are filling up quickly.
William Hanbury, president of Destination DC, the District's convention and tourism arm, told The Washington Post, the area's 95,000 hotel rooms are filling up faster than for previous inaugurations. "There are still a lot of rooms available, but people need to be doing transactions now if they are serious about coming," Hanbury said, adding that people may soon have to resort to "innovative accommodations."
"The church group from Atlanta, the high school from Chicago — they're all trying to find places to stay. You're going to have people sleeping in church basements and high school cafeterias," Hanbury predicted.
Already, people are hitting up long lost relatives and friends living in the District-Northern Virginia-Maryland metro area. And they are also appealing to strangers.
Sites like Craigslist are clogged with lodging commerce.
"Housing swap: you ski in Utah, we do Inauguration," read one ad, mirroring others offering home exchanges in Malibu, Sausalito and Manhattan.
Others bargained their home for higher-rated commodities.
"I will provide 3 days/2 nights in my home for free to anyone who can provide two tickets to the official inaugural ball and two tickets to the swearing in ceremony," read another from someone living in Maryland.
The unprecedented interest in the 56th inauguration is a testament to the man and his message but also the historic overtones.
Celebrated under the theme, "A New Birth of Freedom," Obama's inauguration commemorates the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. And for African-Americans, especially, the day is equally auspicious since it falls on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Day.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and president of the National Action Network, said he plans to move his annual King Day celebration from New York to Washington and to stick around to celebrate Obama.
"We're going to have tens of thousands of people there," Sharpton told the New York Daily News. "It's going to be a four-day civil rights weekend."