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It’s been four days since the inauguration, but Surry County residents returning from the historic occasion continue to be full of excitement about their experiences in the nation’s capital.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” said Anise Hickman of Mount Airy, one of a handful of local residents who made the journey to Washington to witness Barack Obama become the nation’s 44th president. “It was almost indescribable.”
Hickman and others shared the highlights of their trip this week after returning to Surry County and having a couple of days to reflect on what it meant to them. Others interviewed included Trooper Ricky Lawson of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, who was part of the security operation for the event, and Jody Crawford of Mount Airy, a major supporter of Obama locally.
Hickman, who retired in 2007 after a 26-year career with the city of Mount Airy, for which she served as personnel in charge of benefits, had worked for the Obama campaign during the primary and general election seasons. Therefore, his actual “crowning moment” was especially significant for her.
With Obama’s candidacy proving victorious in November after a long, hard campaign, Hickman said she was happy to have the opportunity to see those efforts reach fruition. “It was just great anticipation that this time has finally arrived,” the local resident said of her thoughts upon being present for the swearing-in of America’s first African-American chief executive.
“It was amazing — there were so many people there.”
Hickman attended the inauguration with her brother, Wayman Strickland Sr.; both are natives of this area. The two drove to Washington last Sunday and stayed at the home of a cousin while there. They had obtained tickets through family connections to the senator who headed a joint congressional committee that staged Tuesday’s ceremony.
“We got them through Dianne Feinstein,’’ Hickman said of the senator, who also spoke at the event.
Luckily, Hickman and her brother escaped the horror stories surrounding the anticipated crowds of more than 2 million and the accompanying traffic and other problems. For the most part, they were able to time their travels so that they avoided the brunt of the gridlock, including on the Beltway, the major and notoriously congested artery that runs through the area.
“We were just relieved that we didn’t have to encounter that much traffic,” Hickman said. She pointed out that many of those who normally would drive had chosen to use the Metro mass-transit system instead, thus alleviating some traffic on highways. “We never did come to a complete stop.”
On what seemed like an enchanted journey, they were able to park fairly close to the inauguration site. Hickman said that a major security screening was in store once they reached the inaugural grounds. While tight, however, the operation was “well-organized,” she said, also praising the orderliness of the crowd itself.
Those attending had to cross through several checkpoints, their coveted orange tickets to the inauguration in hand. “I think we were in the safest place in the nation that day,” Hickman said. “Security was tight — very tight.”
Yet, “it didn’t seem like it took that long.”
After leaving home around 8 a.m. Tuesday, Hickman said she had reached her seat about 10:30 a.m., some 90 minutes ahead of the oath of office. Her seat was right in front of the Capitol building.
“We weren’t close enough to actually see him (Obama), but, of course, the big-screen TVs were there,” the local resident said.
With the swearing-in ceremony representing the end of a struggle, Hickman admitted that there were tears on her face and those of many others in the audience. “It was such an emotional time, because we had worked throughout the year to get people to vote and to see him take office, and all of a sudden that time is now,” she said of her feelings Tuesday.
Hickman also loved Obama’s speech, which she believes stayed true to what he had said on the campaign trail. “I thought it was fantastic.”
The Mount Airy woman returned home Wednesday night and said Thursday that she’ll always remember the opportunity “just to be a part of history — just to be there — just how everything really worked out for us once we’d got there.”
“Made You Proud”
Ricky Lawson, a veteran trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol, witnessed the 56th Inauguration from a different vantage point — serving as part of the extra security that needed to be imported to the capital to assist with the massive event.
“Since 1890, they have brought in outside agencies to assist the Metropolitan Police Department with crowd control, traffic control and additional security,” Lawson explained. He was one of about 5,000 officers who came from all across the United States. Lawson met fellow officers from such places as Colorado, Texas, Oregon, “every state in the union.”
“Virginia had 200 men there.”
North Carolina’s contingent was composed on the basis of seniority. Lawson got to be part of it due to logging 28 years with the highway patrol. The local officer had attempted to go to Washington in the past when George W. Bush was inaugurated.
He left home Saturday and rode a bus into the D.C. area Sunday. The law enforcement officers who converged from the different areas gathered at American University in Washington on Monday. “They were so many of us, they met in two shifts,” Lawson said.
On Inauguration Day, he and others departed on a bus at 3 a.m., but didn’t reach their post until 6 a.m. due to heavy pedestrian traffic.
The officers’ assignment involved being positioned along strategic points in the area. Lawson was stationed along the inauguration route on Pennsylvania at the 700 block. Although it was hard to ignore the spectacle that unfolded, Lawson said he had to remain focused on the reason he was there. That was to keep his eyes on people in the crowd and not so much on what was happening in the street.
“As far as seeing the president, I definitely wish I could say I saw him. But my orders were to have my back to him when he went by,” Lawson said in explaining the security procedure when a person such as Obama is in the immediate vicinity.
But it wasn’t all business for the Surry County trooper, who found much to enjoy about the trip, which included the event itself as well as its surroundings.
“Yes, it was a historic ceremony, but what stood out most to me was I was so impressed by the city of Washington,” Lawson said. “There’s so much history there.
“Just all those buildings and the history there — it’s just amazing.”
Another highlight for Lawson was the Inaugural Parade. He enjoyed the college marching bands participating, including those of Ohio State and the University of Connecticut. “The bands were just so impressive,” said Lawson, who also mentioned a Lunar Module parade entry from NASA and horse teams that took part.
“I just loved that parade.”
Lawson said his daughter had given him a camera for the trip, “and I took pictures of everything.
“I’m glad I went,” Lawson said of the journey, which ended with his return home Wednesday night. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It just made you proud to be an American.”
“What really stands out to me is how many people 2 million people is,” Jody Crawford said of her attendance at the inauguration. “I’d never experienced anything like that.
“And, of course, the inauguration itself was very impressive,” added Crawford, a diligent supporter of Obama during the campaign.
Crawford and her husband, David, left Mount Airy on the Friday before the inauguration and stayed with relatives in the Washington area. They had obtained tickets to the event through David’s role as a member of the Electoral College.
“We were in a seated area,” said Crawford, who mentioned that the local couple parked their vehicle on the outskirts of the capital and rode the Metro to the inauguration. “That worked really well,” she reported.
The presence of huge throngs and the fact it was “very cold” did not quell their enthusiasm for attending the event. After the long campaign struggle, “I really wanted to be at the inauguration,” Crawford said.
“I was so happy to hear him take the oath,” the Mount Airy resident added of the new president, saying she was encouraged by his message of hope and change.
Another highlight for Crawford was the presence of all the dignitaries at the event, including top leaders of government.
After the inauguration, Crawford also attended a neighborhood ball in the area, which included entertainment by major artists on several stages set up for the occasion. “I was standing eight feet from Stevie Wonder,” she said. Faith Hill also performed, among others.
“We’re really happy that we got to go,” said Crawford, who returned to Surry County on Wednesday, riding with Hickman. Her husband drove back on Tuesday because he had to work the next day.
Among other local residents who attended the inauguration was Tracey Lewis, the principal of Westfield Elementary School, who went on to Philadelphia afterward.
Also there were Rebecca Hampton and Sybil Chatman of Pilot Mountain, who were still in Washington as of Thursday.
Additionally, Michael Cokley, who splits time between homes in Pilot Mountain and Washington, got a ticket to the inauguration through a drawing held by the office of Rep. Virginia Foxx, this area’s congressional representative.
Contact Tom Joyce at email@example.com or at 719-1924.