Inauguration Update: Counting Down At Capitol, RFK

Excitement — and the crowd — was building at the U.S. Capitol with just a few hours until the inauguration of Barack Obama. NPR's Brian Naylor reports from a security checkpoint. Meantime, people were starting to take their seats to witness the event, as Debbie Elliott reports. And at RFK Stadium, Frank Langfitt says thousands of buses are arriving as expected. Steve Inskeep also checks in.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

From NPR News, it's Morning Edition. The sun has come up over the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Marine band is arriving. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. And all morning we've been following today's inauguration, or pre-inauguration, activities as they progress. And following the inauguration means following the crowds. We're going to go now to NPR's Brian Naylor who is at a checkpoint near 13th Street here in Washington, D.C. Masses of people lined up to pass through security checkpoints to see the inaugural parade. And Brian, what's going on there?

BRIAN NAYLOR: Renee, you're right. There are masses of people lined up. I'm standing across the street from the Warner Theater where the marquee raised(ph) "An Evening with Jay-Z." Well, that was last night. This morning, they're lining up to see the president march by later on today in the inaugural parade. There's about a block-long line at this checkpoint, but it is moving. There's actually several lines being funneled through metal detectors. And things seem to be pretty orderly and people seem to be pretty happy.

MONTAGNE: Definitely so far so good considering we're talking tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people milling about, you know, upwards possibly. You know, there's been predictions of a million to way more than a million. People there in good spirits even though these lines are long?

NAYLOR: They are. I talked to a couple of women who came here from Atlanta who said, you know, we expected lines, we expected crowds, we expected that it was going to cold. But they were still happy and, you know, they're here to see the new president, and I think their adrenalin is still flowing pretty well. I should say some of the - or at least one checkpoint on 7th Street, sort of near where NPR's headquarters in Washington is, was closed because the crowds got overwhelming. So, people have been kind of walking down parallel to Pennsylvania Avenue looking for ways to get in. And every once in a while there's an ambulance that you can hear behind me now trying to get through some of these crowds. But it's relatively calm and it's not as chaotic as you might think.

MONTAGNE: Well, OK, thank you very much. That's NPR's Brian Naylor on 13th Street in Washington, D.C., at a checkpoint where the parade will pass by. And we're going to be joined - we're going to turn now to you, Steve Inskeep. You're at the Capitol.

INSKEEP: Yeah, as I look at the Marine Band filing in here in their dress uniforms and their white hats and their brass instruments, all I can think about is this is what it means to be tough enough to be a Marine. You can put a brass instrument on your lips when it's 29.1 degrees on the thermometer here and moving right around 30 degrees or so. NPR's Debbie Elliott is here on the Capitol grounds somewhere. Debbie, where are you?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Hi, Steve. I'm right down kind of in the middle in the seated section. If you see some of these cameramen with the big boom cameras that are going around in circles and people are waving, I'm here. This is the seated section where people had to get in touch with their congress member or be connected in some way to have a seat on the lawn of the Capitol.

INSKEEP: And so, who have you been talking to?

ELLIOTT: You know, mostly people who are here, who have worked in the campaign. I talked with a couple from Los Angeles, Mai and James Lassiter(ph) who recalled having a backyard fundraiser for a state senator from Illinois when he was running for the U.S. Senate and saying they had to beg people to come. They said, come for us...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: ...even though you don't know this man. And now they're sitting with - practically a front-row seat to watch him take his oath of office. James Lassiter recalled at the time, you know, people were amazed at the speech that he made - that Barack Obama made in their backyard. And they said he should forget the Senate, he should be president. And he said he remembered chuckling saying, a black man for president? Huh! He's an African-American himself, and now he says this is the possibility. Things have changed. We can teach our children something different now. He said, you know, this has changed the way I think about the country. And he and his wife were both very emotional about being here in this moment.

INSKEEP: We should remember I suppose, it is a pretty high bar to get here, to be at this inauguration if you're from out of town. You had to secure lodging. That's difficult for many people. And as we've moved about the city, I'm sure this has happened with you, Debbie, if there's not somebody staying in your house. There's somebody staying down your street.

ELLIOTT: And they've asked. Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: The door opens on the neighbor's house and a dozen people come out. And you know a dozen people don't live there. There are people who've been crowding in from everywhere, and some of them were down there with you.

ELLIOTT: I, actually, am standing here with a young woman from Birmingham, Alabama, Marica Coleman(ph). I first met Ms. Coleman in Birmingham on Super Tuesday, and she was working there for Barack Obama. And she's really excited to be here. Marica, can I ask you a couple of quick questions?

Ms. MARICA COLEMAN: Sure, sure, I'd love it.

ELLIOTT: You mentioned to me that - what you want to hear Barack Obama tell the country today.

Ms. COLEMAN: Right. Yes of course, we're all excited about this 44th president. But we really want to hear the direction that we're moving in as a country - issues around education, health care, the economy. And now Barack Obama needs to tell us after the campaign what he needs from us as a country, what can we do as the new foot soldiers. Everybody is going to have to take up the ranks and get to work to get this economy in order. So I want to hear that from him today.

ELLIOTT: And what it is like when you look down on the Mall and see all the millions of people here.

Ms. COLEMAN: Absolutely amazing. You know, when I look down here, I see the possibilities for America. I see every race, I see every social and economic background. I see America. Actually, I see the world. We see people internationally. So we're so excited that everybody's here. And now we have to get to work to turn everything around and go in the right direction.

ELLIOTT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: OK. Debbie Elliott, thanks very much. Thanks to Marica as well. And we'll come back to you as the morning goes on. And we are live here at the U.S. Capitol.

MONTAGNE: Yes, and Steve, I want to let you know something that'll make you feel maybe a little less pain on the part - on behalf of those Marines in the Marine Corps band, I gather in this icy weather, they are putting plastic mouthpieces to their lips while they're playing those brass instruments. So there - we all feel better knowing that.

INSKEEP: I'm disillusioned. No, I'm disappointed. I thought they were tough. OK.

MONTAGNE: We are going now to check in again this morning with NPR's Frank Langfitt. He's been at RFK Stadium since the early hours this morning. And Frank, thousands of buses were supposed to arrive at RFK. Is that in fact what happened?

FRANK LANGFITT: Yes, tens of thousands of people, Renee, have come through here this morning. And they've been getting off the buses and then heading to shuttle buses to take them down to the Capitol. And it's really kind of a festive and historic feeling here. There are a lot of vendors here. There's - one person was selling a T-shirt with a picture of Barack Obama dressed up as Superman dunking a basketball. Those are going for about $15.

I think a lot of people have come here just because they don't care to a great extent if they can really see the president-elect today, but just to be on the Mall. I talked to a woman named Betty Jennings(ph). She's 70 years old, a retired teacher. She came in from Gainesville. She's wearing a big fake fur to stay warm. And she was on her walker. And she said she just wouldn't miss this. And here's how she put it.

Ms. BETTY JENNINGS (Retired Teacher, Gainesville): I've seen so many changes, but nothing as drastic as this. I'd never thought that I would live to see this. And I could not let this pass, not coming to Washington.

LANGFITT: What does it mean to you that he's been elected?

Ms. JENNINGS: It means that all of our children will have a chance to succeed.

MONTAGNE: So braving the cold, as we've been talking about all morning, and a lot of walking, a lot of big crowds, you know, how are the people coping?

LANGFITT: Well, people seemed pretty warm on their way to the shuttle bus. But I also, just, I guess about half an hour ago, I ran into some people who were actually heading back. They had actually been down in the Mall and it had been too cold to them. One woman I met, her name is Elizabeth Robinson(ph), she's 66 years old. She's a traveling nurse. She was in from Chicago. She'd said she'd already been on the Mall for about four hours and just had to head back to her bus. She just couldn't take it. And here's how she described it.

Ms. ELIZABETH ROBINSON (Nurse): We're going back to the bus right now.

LANGFITT: Why is that?

Ms. ROBINSON: Because we got extremely cold, and we had one child with us that got ill.

MONTAGNE: So, how is Elizabeth Robinson going to spend the inauguration?

LANGFITT: Well, I said, are you going to go back? And she wasn't quite sure. She said, possibly. But they do have a TV on that bus. So I think that I would bet they're going to stay in the warmth of the bus and watch this on television. But like I said, whether people actually are on the Mall to see this or not, I think what really strikes people is the most important thing is just being in Washington for this day that many of them thought would never come.

MONTAGNE: Thanks, Frank, very much. NPR's Frank Langfitt speaking to us from RFK Stadium here in Washington, D.C. And you are listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.