WASHINGTON-Does it seem too early to be talking about Inauguration Day?
The Jan. 20, 2009, ceremony to swear in Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States may be over two months away, but the flurry to be part of the festivities has already begun in Washington, D.C.
Congressional offices, which usually get a couple hundred tickets each to give out for the swearing-in ceremony, are swamped with requests for tickets. Some offices now have waiting lists approaching a thousand. If interested, you should contact your senator or representative (newly elected ones included) and ask to be on the list for tickets-they're free. Be wary of sites claiming to be selling inaugural tickets. The offices do not distribute tickets until the week before Inauguration Day.
Presidential inaugurations are usually a hot ticket, but demand this year is higher than before. Destination D.C., the city's tourism office, estimates, based on the number of inquiries so far, that a million or more people could attend the festivities. In the past, inaugurations generally draw between 300,000 and 700,000 attendees.
"This is not a great time in the economy, but people are being inspired by this whole movement," said Destination D.C. spokeswoman Rebecca Pawlowski.
The public doesn't need tickets to watch the inaugural parade that starts at the Capitol building and moves down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Bleachers along the route, however, are usually reserved for top politicos and campaign contributors.
Hotels in the area, from the thrifty to the posh, are booked up already, and out-of-towners now are looking to rent apartments from D.C. residents for the week. Some Washingtonians aren't missing the chance to make a buck: One three-bedroom townhouse near the Capitol was listed Tuesday on Craigslist.com going for $10,000 for the week, and that wasn't the most people on the Hill were asking in rent.
Already, there is a waiting list at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., finished writing his "I Have a Dream Speech." Guests are paying a minimum of $949 a night with a four-night stay required, hotel spokeswoman Barbara Bahny David said.
"About 10 minutes after 11 on election night we had flurry of calls," she said. Most rooms at the hotel, located along the parade route, were booked months ago.
Also gone are the 221 rooms at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, including a royal suite that costs $15,000 a night. So, too, are rooms at more modest-priced hotels such as the Quality Inn on New York Avenue in northeast Washington.
Business is even brisk at Cherry Hill, an RV park and campground in College Park, Md. Owner Mike Gurevich says 100 of park's 300 sites have already been reserved. The cost: $55 a night.
"A typical weekend in January would be zip," he said. "The only other time that we really saw a spike was Clinton's first inauguration-and that was a dozen and a half people."
The theme of the Obama inauguration, announced after the election, will be "A Birth of Freedom," words from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Next year commemorates the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.