Tuesday - 5:00 a.m.
We're awakened by the shrill wail of emergency sirens as patrol cars escorting motorcades of black SUVs and buses zip down the street in front of the Tai Chi dojo where we're staying.
Outside a trickle of swaddled people head down the sidewalk toward the Metro station.
Ralph Crowder and Ray Seville layer themselves heavily against the cold. It's 22 degrees. And it's dark.
Seville wants to get a spot on the Capitol grounds in front of the pool. Crowder is going to see how close he can get in the public area.
I'll catch up with him after I finish layering up and find an open coffee shop.
The Washington Post website says people started lining up at the Metro stations before 4 a.m. The gates at the Capitol grounds don't open until 9 a.m. The inauguration doesn't start until 11:30 a.m.
Monday - the day before
Today the crowds were much heavier than they were yesterday here in Washington D.C. That was evident this morning when I took a short subway ride up to the Capitol with my traveling companions Ralph Crowder and Ray Seville.
Ray, I found out after I reported to the contrary, he does have a ticket the inaugural, and he had to go pick it up at a particular Senate office building this morning.
At the Metro station, I bought a day pass ticket, since I didn't know how many times I might have to take the train. Ralph brought the bullhorn and his sign which criticizes the Minneapolis Public Schools and in particular the school that his son goes to.
We walked up the steep staircase out of the Capitol South station because the escalators weren't working. The streets around the office buildings were jammed with folks. Thousands of people. Most of them were queuing up in front of one of several buildings in order to get their inauguration tickets.
Ray is a bit discouraged, because he'd actually been over here earlier in the morning when the lines were much shorter. But for some reason, he decided then was not the time to wait in line. While Ray and I start to walk toward the end of the line, Ralph turns on the bullhorn and tells the captive audience that while they may be excited about the change coming to the White House, the achievement gap between black and white students wasn't going to close itself.
"Thank you for listening to us and urge you to keep your eyes and ears open - for the state of public education for black children in America," he said. "We can no longer accept our children not performing at grade level."
Ralph says later that a police officer asks him, rather politely, to use his unamplified voice instead of the bullhorn, and Ralph says OK.
We leave Ray to wait in line some more. And on the way back from the Capitol grounds, the subway station is packed. The transit workers ask us to wait before getting on the down escalator to get to the trains. (Sure, now the escalator works). They said they didn't want to have too many people standing on the escalator at once.
Later in the evening, the crowds up and down 8th Street have clogged all the decent looking restaurants. The three of us wander hungrily down the street. The only places with no waiting are the take out joints, and though I'd promised myself I'd eat a little better once I got off the road, the belly beat the brain. My mouth said, "Why don't we just go to Popeye's Chicken?" So the belly got a two-piece dinner with red beans and rice. And my brain said, "When we get home, you're going back to the regular diet."
8th Street Eats
It's the morning of MLK Day and here in this part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood things are very quiet. So far. Last night this street -- 8th Street -- was full of people and law enforcement officers. After our arrival, unpacking, some work and a brief nap, I walked down the block in search of eats -- anything but the road food I'd dined on for the last 20 hours.
Outside a Dunkin' Donuts shop, a crowd of D.C. police officers were standing over a handcuffed man, lying with his belly on the pavement. The officers weren't trying to pick him up or anything. They were just standing there. The handcuffed man, an African American - about 30-ish, was rolling around looking up at the cops and shouting incoherently.
Rapper KRS-One has a famous tune with the refrain "Woop! Woop! That's the sound of the police..." The 'woop' sound is made by a couple quick pulses of a police siren and it was a frequent addition to the sound track of the street last night.
Aside from the handcuffed man, everyone else on the street seemed to be enjoying themselves.
8th street is full of restaurants and specialty shops. Many of the shop windows are full of inauguration and Obama posters and signs. A pet groomer has a lifesize cutout of the nation's next president in the front window.
OK, so I'm hungry for something that doesn't come from a nationwide sandwich or fastfood chain.
I found the Great China Wall.
At the front of the place was an enclosure with a window, behind which stood a very large asian man taking food orders. All the items were splashed on chincy-looking menus on the walls. The pallid flourescent lights gave the pictures of the food a greenish tint. But it smelled like smoke and grease and fried goodness, so I decided to stay. Two young black women were at the head of the line, peppering the man behind the window with all kinds of requests, "I want my wings fried HARD, OK? Nothing mushy. Please do what I ask, because I really, really like it that way," said one young woman.
After they got their food, they kept at the guy with additional requests, 'hey, I wanted pork fried rice - not plain fried rice!" says the other woman. But, although they were demanding, they were also sweet to the guy and parted with a very sugary, "good night, thank you."
I settled on the shrimp lo mein. But this place also had a wide array of some very non-asian delicacies such as philly cheesesteaks, hamburgers and pizza. The lo mein hit the spot.
Arriving in Washington D.C.
We have arrived in D.C.
Daybreak day 2
As dawn breaks over southeastern Pennsylvania, we find ourselves about 100 miles outside of Washington D.C.
Earlier this morning at a rest stop just outside Pittsburgh, some of the guys chatted with some other people heading to D.C. for the inauguration. One guy was selling Obama t-shirts.
I have a feeling there's going to be a lot t-shirt vendors in DC.
We just crossed the Mason-Dixon line. Which means we are now officially in the South.
The end of day 1
It's been a long day of traveling. Right now we're cruising along Interstate 80 not far from Toledo, Ohio. The weather has been snowy off and on. Indiana was a bit hairy. We drove by several cars that had slid off in the ditch and a few had turned over.
Our driver Ray Seville is a true road warrior. He's made many a trip to the east coast in the winter time, and he travels in comfort. His black 2007 Suburban has two built-in DVD players and plenty of 12 volt outlets to plug in electronic devices. We are wired.
While Ray takes cell phone calls on his Blackberry, Rahlik keeps his eyes glued to the DVD screen playing Super Mario Bros. I'm using a laptop with a wireless card, so not only can I provide updates from the road, I can periodically update my Facebook page so my wife knows I'm OK.
Ralph Crowder is concerned about the quality of his two kids public school educations. He turned his concerns into action. For the past school year he's spent several hours a day visiting his childrens' schools.
Crowder has also been outspoken in his criticism of his son's school and the Minneapolis Public School system. Crowder says he's aggravated the powers-that-be at his son's school to the point of where they told him he can't come to the school to visit his son without getting permission from the school first.
Crowder is coming to Washington D.C. to take his concerns about the racial achievement gap to the larger stage. And what better time than on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Inauguration of the nation's first black president.
"If change is important, and if it's an issue, and it's obvious that is, specifically for me with this education piece as it relates to our children, then what are you or we doing for that change it's not Obama that's going to be the change," he said. "It's like he's a part of a bigger body of people connected together."
Charles Hallman is 54 and a writer for the Minnesota Spokesman, the state's oldest African American owned newspaper. Hallman is going to D.C. to cover the Inauguration for the paper. But as a child living in Detroit, he witnessed firsthand the burning, looting and violence of the late 1960s. So he says this assignment is something special.
"It's going to be a proud moment for me to be able to say I witnessed seeing that moment," he said. "Not only as a reporter, because I have to cover the event, but just being there, live so I can feel the electricity...I was in Washington D.C. about two weeks after the election, and you could feel the buzz and excitement of this new change. When you talk about change, this is no joke."
The journey begins
Location: Indiana/Ohio Turnpike
We are four men and one pre-teenage boy traveling in a Chevy Suburban to Washington D.C.
So far the roads are relatively dry and traffic is light. The journey, under normal conditions, is a 16 to 18 hour drive. We'll see how that goes.
Traveling to D.C. with me are Ray Seville, 48, a sales manager at KMOJ radio; Charles Hallman, 54, a writer for the Minnesota Spokesman -- the state's oldest African American owned newspaper for 19 years; Ralph Crowder, 38, the organizer of the trip and has brought his 12-year-old son, Rahlik.