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Long IslandPolitics

Long Islanders at Obama's inauguration, hour-by-hour

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Anything is possible 5:16 p.m.

For Patty Polson, a dental hygienist from Bay Shore, the inauguration helped reinforce something she frequently tells her son, Aliasha: "If you work hard, you can do anything you want."

She repeated that lesson as they stood in the cold breeze of the Washington Mall, Aliasha aloft on her shoulders watching Obama being sworn in.

Aliasha is African-American, a blend of Polson's family, from Peru, and her husband Bilal's family, who are black Panamanians. Aliasha's nightly reading includes children's books about Obama.

"Up till now you couldn't tell a boy of color that he could be President," Polson said. "Now that's something concrete he can understand."

--Dave Marcus

Taking it all in 4:11 p.m.

On the bus back to her hotel Haborfields High School senior Genette Gaffney was still trying to comprehend seeing a fellow African-American finally elected president.

"I felt kind of numb," said Gaffney, 17, of Huntington. "I was very excited."

Gaffney, who was among 15,000 students attending the event as part of the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference, stood outside the Freer Gallery of Art on the National Mall with a few of her new friends from Los Angeles, Massachusetts and D.C. to take in the festivities.

She came prepared, wearing layers that included tights, leggings, jeans and dress pants and then a sweater dress and a jacket to cover it all.

"It helped a lot. My face was the only part that was freezing," she said. "But it was very good. I enjoyed the speech. I enjoyed the procession beforehand."

She was taken aback by the sheer size of the crowd.

"Every time they flashed his face, people would scream," Gaffney said. "That was a bit much for me. I wish I could have been a lot closer. We kept getting pushed back by the crowds.

Gaffney and the students will head back to their respective hotels and prepare for a gala that begins at the National Air and Space Museum. She will wear a new black and white gown

Tomorrow, she returns and is already anticipating the letdown: "I feel kind of disappointed, that I am going to be leaving the spirit of D.C. right now." --Pervaiz Shallwani

Road trip to history 3:56 p.m.

The recreational vehicle was Rosita Williams' idea.

Why not pack two families into a 32-foot hotel on wheels and drive down to Maryland?

And so the Williamses, who are black, and their good friends the Ryders, who are white, hit the road Saturday to watch Barack Obama become president of the United States.

Quarters were cramped for the party of nine, which included Frank and Rosita Williams, Woody and Joyce Ryder, and assorted children and grandchildren.

This morning, they woke in darkness -- except for Kim James, 29, a daughter of the Williamses who stayed awake all night celebrating with college classmates in Washington. She returned to the campground in College Park at 4 a.m., as the other adults moved around the galley, fixing coffee, hot chocolate, and oatmeal.

At 5:55 a.m., bundled in as many layers as they could muster, they boarded an express bus to the College Park Metro station, where they squeezed onto a train.

The Williamses, who live in Uniondale, and the Ryders, who live in Greenlawn, met in the East Norwich-Oyster Bay Kiwanis Club. Through service projects and family dinners, they discovered many shared interests, including politics.

On the Mall, the two families danced and cheered with the crowd. They sang "Goodbye!" to George W. Bush. And when Obama emerged from the Capitol, the adults lifted the 6-year-old twins Justice and Noble James onto their shoulders.Then the moment came: Woody Ryder took photos. Kim James whooped. And little Noble raised both hands above his head. --Jennifer Maloney

Getting the party started 3:26 p.m.

Just blocks from the White House, French brasserie Central from D.C.'s renowned celebrity Chef Michel Richard is currently the scene of a private party for Democrats.

According to spokeswoman Mel David, the city's top-rated restaurant by New York's James Beard Foundation has been rented out until 5 p.m. by the Democrats. The morning kicked off with a coffee and homemade croissant breakfast. At noon, a charcuterie table was laid out and passed hors-d'oeuvres including sliders, gougeres and Richard's famous lobster burgers came out. There was an open bar including a fitting "Punch for Change," serving as a little warm-up for those preparing to brave the cold on the reserved bleachers immediately outside the front door. --Pervaiz Shallwani

'Chills' for a civil rights veteran 3:04 p.m.

Morton Klevan of Chevy Chase, Md. has surely seen the nation change. He's 70 now, a retired lawyer who Tuesday, after Barack Obama's swearing in as the nation's 44th president, recalled an earlier period in American history, when he volunteered to help in desegregation efforts in Mississippi in 1964.

The Brooklyn native remembered it as a harrowing time -- a time and place that even he, a white man with a thick Brooklyn accent, felt the fear. When he arrived as a young Justice Department lawyer on vacation, he was advised to not open his mouth when he and his friend were stopped by Mississippi police.

Fast forward to Tuesday, a moment he didn't think he'd see: their nation electing an African-American president.

He and his family had tickets to standing area but he said great crowds prevented them from getting there on time. So they watched in L'enfant Plaza.

"It was fantastic," he said, like being in the midst of an African-American church. He described feeling "chills . . . Tears in my eyes, chills running up and down my spine. It was a fantastic experience." -- Olivia Winslow

'We wanted to be inspired' 1:20 p.m.

Watching the inauguration with Pamela Wax, 16, from Huntington. She is a student at Harborfields. She stood less than a football field away from the stage where Joe Biden and Barack Obama took their oaths of office -- and said she wasn't sure she could describe it.

"It's still shocking to be here," Wax said.

She called her mother when Obama began to speak, asked "Can you hear this?" and then held the phone aloft in one hand while she shot video with a camera in the other.

Later Wax, who also attended the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference as part of her trip to Washington, D.C., said: "We wanted to be part of history. We are here, we are at a leadership conference. We wanted to be inspired." -- Pervaiz Shallwani

Pastor: God 'loving to everyone' 12:09 p.m.

Pastor Rick Warren, criticized as the choice to deliver the invocation because he has compared homosexuality to incest, made an apparent gesture to gays and lesbians, when he said of God: "You are loving to everyone you made." -- Tom Brune

Schumer up close and personal 11:52 a.m.

New York's only senator, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is sitting with Democratic leadership directly to the right of where Obama will be sworn in and speak. He's wearing a scarf and black overcoat but no hat. Great seat but he faces an increasingly bright sun.

Hillary Clinton is accompanying her husband, former President Bill Clinton but can't see them from here. -- Tom Brune

Swan song 11:52 a.m.

Bush on the screen. The crowd sings 'Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.' -- Martin C. Evans

Long trek to witness history 11:48 a.m.

It is about a 15-minute walk from Union Station to the Washington Monument.Most days.But not Tuesday, when the walk from the historic train station to the monument on the National Mall became a long-distance, meandering hike for thousands without tickets who descended on Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Barack Obama.For some that walk was two hours.Or more.Many of the streets en route were closed to all traffic, pedestrians included. Some were open only to ticket-holders en route to the inauguration.Meanwhile, non-ticket-holders headed to the Mall from Union Station were sent to 6th and Independence. Which was closed. Then, they were sent on a walk over -- and under -- Route 395. Those masses of people were then ushered back toward 7th and Independence.Somewhere around 12th, transit was restricted to sidewalks only -- causing a crush of thousands attempting to move forward. One scary moment ensued, as pedestrians had to move out of the street for ambulances making their way through the crushing flow.Those pedestrians braved the cold. But, even with the bumps and grinds, there were few gripes. Even when people banged into each other, most exchanged polite excuse-mes.And all thought the experience was worth the effort.Entrance to the mall was finally gained near 17th.Pedestrians then made their way back down to 14th -- still pretty far from a Jumbotron broadcasting the event. -- Olivia Winslow

Don King meets Tuskegee Airmen 11:43 a.m.

Boxing promoter Don King, his trademark hairdo in prime cotton-candy form, was pumping hands with the Tuskegee Airmen. He screamed at the top of his lungs, "Only in America!"Airman Spann Watson spotted him, climbed from hIs seat and ambled over. "I've been knowing you since Joe Louis," said Watson, 92. "And that's a long time.""Medal of Honor winner!" King hollered, apparently confusing that honor with the Congressional Gold Medal awarded the airmen two years ago. "Only in America!" he hollered again. The two men posed for pictures. Then King moved on, still working the crowd. -- Martin C. Evans

Jumbotron mixup 11:34 a.m.

As images of the Obama children making their way to their seats flashed on a Jumbotron, the children of Joe Biden were announced. Now how did they mess that up? -- Martin C. Evans

Celebrity sightings 11:25 a.m.

Sean Combs, aka P Diddy, looked sharp in a suit with a white shirt and dark tie. He was hatless and appeared to have a small entourage. Actor Denzel Washington and singer Smokey Robinson were wearing stocking caps. A lot of necks were craning toward the close-in seats as celebrities filed in. Sightings also have been reported of Magic Johnson and Muhammad Ali. -- Tom Brune

Roar for Gore 11:21 a.m.

Former Vice President Al Gore drew a cheer as he made his way to the podium before the inauguration. Another former VP, Dan Quayle, did not. Hardly anyone seemed to recognize him. "That quieted everybody," said one woman. -- Martin C. Evans

'Once in a lifetime opportunity' 11:02 a.m.

Pamela Wax, 16, Huntington, a student at Harborfields High School, got up at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, and left her hotel at 5 a.m. It took her and a busload of other participants in the Presidential Youth Inaugural Conference three hours to get to their seats near the Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall.But despite the cold and the travel time, it was worth it, Wax said."It's been a great experience," Wax said. "It's a little cold. But I was speechless. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I wanted to be able to tell my children I was at the inauguration of the first black president."I think Obama is an inspiration to everyone," Wax continued. "I want to go back to school and make a difference." -- Pervaiz Shallwani

'I can go to heaven now' 10:55 a.m.

Off bus now walking toward the Capitol with Long Islanders who hopped aboard an NAACP-sponsored bus from the Freeport/Roosevelt area.A multiracial crowd of young and old is moving up 7th Street north or Maine Avenue. "I can go to heaven now," yelled Robert McDaniel of Hempstead, who rode the bus.Everyone was being told to walk 10 more blocks away from the Capitol because of crowding. "I don't care," Daniels said. "I'd walk 50 more blocks." -- Keith Herbert

Celebrating new role model 10:37 a.m.

Among the thousands with tickets to the silver section for the swearing in, between the reflecting pool and the national mall, are Dorothea Geiger, 39, of Freeport, and her mother, Almanette Martin, 59, of Hempstead.

The two scored tickets from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy's office and endured sitting five hours on the Kennedy Airport tarmac yesterday to get to Washington.

"This is historic," said Martin, a clerk in Queens civil court. "I'm here for my grandbabies, for my aunts and uncles and all those who cannot make it. It's a proud moment in my life that I never expected to occur."

Geiger, a special-education teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Hempstead, said Obama's presidency will give her students and her 6-year-old daughter, Lauryn, a positive black role model.

"It's exciting for our children to be able to look up and see someone important who looks like them," she said. "I've seen a serious change in my kids. They've really got in tune, and I try to teach it and talk to them about it." -- Reid J. Epstein

Hours later, finally there 10:31 a.m.

Between 3rd and 4th, inside the Silver ticket area on the National Mall. People here are just happy to have made it through the line, which has taken them through many layers of security checkpoints. Hundreds of male and female security guards are conducting pat-downs, though these don't seem to be as thorough as one might expect. Several of those inside the area have said their tickets were barely even glanced at -- if at all. Once inside, people rejoice. On line for hours, some have brought books, iPods, blankets, bottles of soda, sandwiches. Inside, many are simply milling about, though some paused to watch under any one of the eight Jumbotrons.From here, you can see the steps of the Capitol. -- Pervaiz Shallwani

Only in America 10:25 a.m.

Boxing promoter Don King snagged a ticket for the seating below the speaker's platform and quickly drew a crowd of reporters. With his trademark brush of hair and a sequin-studded blue jean jacket, King compared Obama to Joshua, who led his people into the promised land after Moses had safely delivered them by parting the Red Sea. Saying he never thought he would see this day, King said, "I hope Barack succeeds in his leadership. The big thing is 'we the people.'" -- Tom Brune

Sprained ankle won't stop her 10:21 a.m.

Trying to get to the Mall is an arduous task. After walking 45 minutes I've made it to a tunnel where a slow moving mass of human beings awaits. I've already passed a dozen people who've turned back, saying it was too crowded. Cammi Cager, 44, of Hollis, Queens, was among those pressing on. She's on crutches, having sprained her ankle getting off a New York City bus a couple of days ago. "It's historic," she said. "I had to be a part of it, somehow."She was accompanied by her father, Frederick Cager, of Baltimore. He's 71."This is an historical day." -- Olivia Winslow

View from the Capitol 10:13 a.m.

The view from where Barack Obama will speak looks west from the U.S. Capitol Building directly at the Washington Monument. More significantly, the vast, long National Mall is completely filled with people -- accentuated by constant flashes from cameras. Off to the right of the Mall is Pennsylvania Avenue, the parade route cleared of traffic. But the sidewalks on either side of the route already are packed with crowds. The sunlight, filtered through high thin clouds, gives the scene a softened appearance. -- Tom Brune

So close, but so far away 10:10 a.m.

The shuttle bus carrying churchgoers, community organizers and NAACP youth group members from the Roosevelt/Freeport area is crawling toward its destination. The Capitol is half mile a way and clearly visible from bus. I can see throngs of people walking up Capitol Hill. It was a cold half-hour, waiting for the shuttle bus in the parking lot of RFK Stadium. But with two sweatshirts and two pairs of gloves, Robert Daniels, 58, of Hempstead, the cold was no bother."We bleed red, we breathe air," Daniels said. "We need to be one. Maybe now there's a chance."The shuttle buses moving people are jammed like NTC subway cars. But everyone's calm, joking and talking politics. -- Keith Herbert

LIers among mass of humanity Obama 9:40 a.m.

Two blocks from the White House, two Long Island natives took in the mass of people attempting to make it to the Mall from the downtown area. The security parameters set up along the area blocked progress. Stephen Tamke, 18, of Garden City, and Ryan Welsh, 19, of Manhasset, were on hand to watch Barack Obama make history. Upon seeing the group of people, Welsh turned to Tamke and remarked how it reminded him of the fatal stampede at the Valley Stream Wal-Mart on Black Friday. -- Dave Marcus

Seeking some direction 9:34 a.m.

Need directions?Don't bet anyone in charge will have the answer.Good luck finding out about a specific entrance area from National Guard troops or on-duty police officers.Very few of the law enforcement officers have been able to help with directions Tuesday. The most common answer to questions? "I have no idea." -- Pervaiz Shallwani

Long wait for ticket-holders Obama 9:14 a.m.

At 3rd and Independence, near the entrance to the Silver ticketholders section. A crush of people has gathered, thousands strong, to get into the standing-room-only area just behind the main seating area for the inauguration. The gates to this section were supposed to open by 9 a.m., with each ticketholder to be screened by security personnel. But, though some ticketholders began arriving in the area before midnight Monday, by 9:15 a.m. the gates remained closed -- those gathered in the crowd left wondering when they would be let in.Despite the wait in the chill temperatures, those in the mass of humanity remained surprisingly calm and orderly.The crowd finally started moving shortly after 9:15 a.m.Still, it was unclear how all the ticketholders would be screened by 11:30 a.m. -- the time ceremonies are slated to begin at the Capitol Tuesday. -- Pervaiz Shallwani

Obamaville 9:23 a.m.

My day started in earnest at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia at 5:40 a.m. The line was long for those bound for Washington earlier than my 6:55 a.m. departure.At 6:10 a.m., a woman wearing a black cap with "Obama" spelled out in glittering letters walked downstairs to a waiting train shouting, "Obama, here we come!"I would later meet on the train two New Yorkers who had made their way to Baltimore by other means before boarding the train.Nancy Watson of Rochester traveled to Maryland by plane on Friday. She and her sister decided to see President-elect Barack Obama during his whistle-stop tour that took him from Philadelphia to Washington on Saturday. Watson caught up with the presidential train in Wilmington, Del."It was the most exciting experience of my whole life -- just being there was electric," she said as the train pulled into Washington's Union Station Tuesday morning. Or, "Obamaville," as one conductor put it, at 8:45 a.m.Brian Schneck of Lake Grove brought his two daughters, Danielle, 14, and Jessica, 11."It"s for them," Schneck, president of local 259 of the International United Automobile Workers union, said of the girls. "His presidency will give them a chance." -- Olivia Winslow

For $10, all things Obama 9:10 a.m.

The Obama stimulus to the economy is visible everywhere. Handmade earrings featuring pictures of Obama were being sold for $10 a pair. A long sleeve T-shirt featuring Obama's portrait where George Washington's should be was also priced at $10. Even the Obama key chains went for $10. -- Tom Brune

On bus, 'enormous anticipation' 8:46 a.m.

With an abundance of anticipation, more than 50 Long Islanders headed down Route 95 on a bus before dawn Tuesday, hoping to witnesses the swearing in of the nation's first African-American president.

With temperatures in the low 20s, the 55 passenger bus left Roosevelt before 3 a.m.

The trip is sponsored by the Roosevelt/Freeport NAACP. For $65, Long Islanders got transportation to history, and on the NAACP to boot.

"There's an enormous anticipation," said Claudia Swansey, of Freeport. "Not only for who he is but for what he will have to do."

The bus carried churchgoers, community organizers and NAACP youth group members. The coach crossed into Washington about 7:30 a.m., and when the U.S. Capitol came into view, Georgette Grier-Key got out of her seat and danced.

"I'm going to get up and start shouting," Grier-Key said. "Shouting for our victory."

The group is parked at RFK Stadium and waiting for shuttle buses to take them to witness history. -- Keith Herbert

Even the media is buzzing 8:46 a.m. I'm at the front of the Capitol building, where Marine One landed about an hour ago. Obama will escort President George W. Bush down the steps to Marine One shortly after the inauguration. All of the media is shuffling around trying to stay warm. The excitement in the air, even among hardened journalists, is palpable. -- Arnold Miller

Subways are jammed! 8:45 a.m. The Metro trains so far appear to be handling the unprecedented load, albeit more slowly than usual. Trains are running on a rush-hour schedule all day to accommodate the crowds.

At the Metro Station in Takoma Park, a town with a liberal reputation bordering D.C., a steady stream of people filled the platform. Bundled against the cold, most had buttons with Obama's pictures on their coats, hats and scarfs.

The trains are jammed, packed tightly by excitedly talking and laughing inauguration-goers. And at each stop closer to the Washington Mall fewer can squeeze on -- to disappointed groans and complaints.

Twice the train stopped for several minutes. The conductor blamed the delay on door problems caused by people holding or pushing the doors.

"Metro train doors are not like elevator doors," the conductor barked, "so please don't hold open the doors."

The train finally arrived at Union Station, by the Capitol Building, at a little after 8, turning what normally is a 10-minute trip into a half-hour journey. -- Keith Herbert

'O-bam-ah!' 7:31 a.m.

Seretta McKnight had a message for the African-American teenagers she brought down from Long Island: The next time they come to Washington for a presidential inauguration, they'll have a better view than from the National Mall.

"When [Obama] goes back in four years," she said, "then we'll have to come back and go to the balls."

McKnight, 50, of Roosevelt, presided over a highly energized group of 40 teenagers and 12 adults Tuesday morning at Washington's Capitol Skyline Hotel. To prove it, she called out, "O-bam-ah."

"O-bam-ah," the group cried back in unison.

The group left Roosevelt at midnight and arrived here at 4:30 a.m., just in time for a breakfast of French toast and scrambled eggs. Headed to the Mall for the swearing-in, McKnight's charges touted the event as proof that they can achieve their dreams.

"To see it now, it's amazing," said Tolitha Henry, 16, of Roosevelt. "It shows you can do what you want whoever you are." --Reid J. Epstein

From campground to downtown 6:04 a.m.

The Williams and Ryder families, who drove in a recreational vehicle from Long Island to College Park, Md., Saturday, bundled up at their campground and, leaving the RV behind, boarded a bus at 5:55 a.m. After a ride through the already congested pre-dawn traffic, they're to take the Metro to L'Enfant Plaza and stake out a spot on the Mall. --Jennifer Maloney

Can I get anywhere in this cab? 5:59 a.m.

I hailed a taxi on 16th Street NW at 5:30 a.m., but when I told the driver I wanted to go to the Capitol Skyline Hotel on I Street SW to meet Long Island's Seretta McKnight, he laughed, because most downtown streets are closed.

I'm now on a standing room only (but not packed) Metro train headed to the Navy Yard stop to meet McKnight, who brought a busload of LI kids here overnight and are having breakfast at Capitol Skyline at 6 a.m.

Th crowd is very quiet, like a NYC subway on a morning commute. There are lots of people carrying blankets and getting in the last of the sleep they'll get today. --Reid J. Epstein

- >>See the latest inauguration photos

- >>See celebrities at inauguration ceremonies

- >>Barack Obama's journey from 'Barry' to president

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