Barack Obama told Americans on the eve of his election that his victory belonged to them.
Now an unprecedented number of Americans -- roughly two millions -- have inundated the nation's capital to revel in that victory -- some trekking across the country, crashing in crammed studio apartments on the perimeter of the city, braving the frigid weather and navigating the sea of strangers - all for their chance to say they were there when.
"Anything is possible in America," Obama told a crowd of nearly half a million who gathered yesterday in frigid temperatures for a free concert on the National Mall. "Despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead, I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure — that it will prevail, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."
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At an event where even Tom Hanks is angling for a seat in the back, it's likely that most of the millions in attendance will be watching Obama's swearing-in ceremony on the Jumbotrons dotting the National Mall
But for many forgoing the comforts of home by throwing themselves into what promises to be a chaotic scene in which rubbing elbows is more a way of life -- and keeping warm? -- than a turn of phrase and bathrooms are few and far between are sacrifices that don't trump the desire to watch history unfold and be a part of the spectacle.
And spectacle it will be. Of the 20 million visitors that came to D.C. in all of last year, ten percent will be in the city over a four-day period. So far an estimated 10,000 charter buses are expected to descend on the city where hotels are booked solid -- unless you're willing to take it all off -- and tickets to the inauguration are being scalped for at least $800 a clip.
"If I had an opportunity to go and listen to the MLK 'I Have a Dream' speech or go to Kennedy inauguration I wouldn't have missed those events for the world," Robert Gregory of Austin, Texas, told KVUE TV. "This event to me is like a once-in-a-lifetime event that I want to attend and I certainly want my kids there also."
Obama encouraged citizens to celebrate the inauguration locally rather than schlep to D.C.
"Unprecedented numbers of Americans are planning to join us in Washington," Obama said in a You Tube video. "That will mean long lines, a tough time getting around and most of all a lot of walking on what could be a very cold winter day."
Many are opting instead to take the day off from work and watch the ceremony at home with friends.
Others view the day as a time for reflection.
"I want to focus in and watch it. I don't want to be somewhere having a conversation about it," Estella Gray, 27, of Florida told the AP. "You can understand why people actually want to pay attention to Obama taking oath, to want to hear Aretha Franklin sing. That makes it very different than Election Night. It's a much more reflective moment." The crush of people expected to flock to the city forced President Bush to declare a state of emergency and the government will shut down all bridges from Virgiinia into D.C. on the day of the inauguration.
"It's not a great enough deterrent to supersede all the excitement," college senior Jessica Reyna, 22, told the Reporter News. "I'm really looking forward to being part of such a historic thing ... with all the energy and hype that goes along with being in D.C."