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National Mall No Room For Claustrophobes

INSKEEP: The crowds at the National Mall were so huge that for most the new president was a tiny figure on a distant platform. In fact, some couldn't even see that much except on the giant TVs. But for most, reports NPR's Andrea Seabrook, just being there was enough.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Wanda Smith(ph) is a substitute teacher in Lithia Springs, Georgia.

M: I bet I drove a total of a thousand and something miles or more. 1,500 approximately. I'm just saying.

SEABROOK: Imagine this, Smith went from outside Atlanta, northwest to Tennessee to pick up her grandsons. From there she drove north through Kentucky to Ohio, where she had other relatives. Then she followed a bus her sister had chartered to Washington, D.C.

M: I wanted to bring my grandsons and my nephew, all my cousins, for a historical event that I know that will go down in history and be written in the school books.

SEABROOK: On the National Mall yesterday, there were countless stories just like this. People who'd made a pilgrimage to this place for this day. John Condray(ph) said he just couldn't stomach watching it on TV.

M: When other people see it who were on television while - remember this, they'll remember seeing it. We breathed it, we felt it, it was all around us, it was living in the people that were around us. It was - all of the senses were engaged. It just - I couldn't pass this up. You know, I couldn't let that go.

SEABROOK: All over downtown Washington, people shone with joy. They just beamed. Ecstatic flags, spontaneous cheers. Rosalyn Inker Black(ph) danced in the street, keeping warm and waiting for President Obama's parade.

M: He's holding America accountable for the changes in America. And you just - it's unbelievable. He's including us in this process, and I have never felt more proud to be an American. Not an African-American, but an American. Today, I am an American, and I feel very good about this process.

SEABROOK: Now, though people were cheerful, there were problems. TJ Ravetti(ph) came down from New York City. He had tickets to the ceremony, but he couldn't get through the gate.

M: They just kept us there the whole time, very much quarantined. They closed off the doors. We weren't able to get in. So it was very poorly planned.

SEABROOK: Then again, even in those moments, some found joy. Laurie Johns(ph) and her family couldn't reach their spot either. So when it got too cold, they started knocking on parked tour buses.

M: We finally - About the fourth or fifth bus, the guy let us in, and he was giving refuge to all kinds of people that needed to use the restroom and that were cold. And so we sat there with a bunch of refugees, (laughing) and he had it on the radio and we listened to it.

SEABROOK: During President Obama's speech, that long ribbon of people did something impossible-seeming, they were quiet. Listening. Margot Linebarger(ph) was among them.

M: It was just so hopeful, and, I mean, I'm 55 years old and I did not think that this would ever happen. Not in my lifetime. And I'm glad that I've been able to raise a generation of kids where this is normal.

SEABROOK: Linebarger said for her, it shows just how far we've come as a nation. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.