The first time Mark Dowell met Barack Obama during the 2008 primary season, they had a very simple conversation.
Dowell, a United Auto Workers union official at the Ford plant in Louisville, had spent the day trying to save 1,500 jobs at the plant. That night, he was supposed to introduce Obama at the Kentucky International Convention Center.
Before the speech, "I told him I was a third-generation Ford employee — my grandfather and my father had retired from Ford — but I felt like my retirement was in jeopardy the way things were going," said Dowell, whose story was one of those featured in Obama's presidential infomercial on network television in late October.
Now the two men's paths are set to meet again, on the train that takes President-elect Obama from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration.
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Dowell was invited to be among the roughly 40 "everyday people" who will travel with Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden as they make their entry into the capital city.
"Just to attend any inauguration would be a big deal, period, but knowing the president-elect has invited you to go on a train ride — I can't put into words the excitement," said Dowell, 35. "It's been sleepless nights thinking about it."
Dowell, who lives in Crestwood, said he was always interested in Obama and, after the May 2008 speech in Louisville, he worked hard for his campaign. As an official with the UAW Local 862, he knew just how dire the economy was getting. His wife, Melinda, was among the people who lost their jobs at the plant. (She was eventually rehired.)
"I was impressed with the way he spoke, the way he energized the crowd," Dowell said. "I got into Barack's stands on the tax credits for middle class."
On election night, Dowell said, he was disappointed that Kentucky rejected Obama so soundly, choosing John McCain by a margin of 16 percentage points.
"Now, people keep telling me they hope I'm right, they hope he's ready for the job," Dowell said. "But, in four years, I feel like I can go back to them and say he's been a good president."
Dowell and his wife and his stepdaughter, Miranda Frye, will fly to Philadelphia in time to get on the train Jan. 17. The train will make several stops, including Wilmington, Del., to pick up Biden and his family, before it gets to Washington.
CNN reported that neither Amtrak nor the Secret Service will say what kind of train is going to be used, although armored cars have been used for other presidential trips.
Once in D.C., the Dowell family will attend a series of events on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, sit in special reserved seats at the inauguration, and go to the Neighborhood Ball, one of 10 official parties the new president and his wife will attend that night.
The inaugural committee is putting the Dowells up at the Concordia Hotel in the heart of Washington, just off of Dupont Circle.
Once the initial excitement of the invitation wore off, Dowell said, the conversation turned to the subject of clothes.
"My wife and 14-year-old are going nuts figuring out what to wear to all this stuff," Dowell said. As of this week, he's been fitted for a tuxedo, and they've got ball gowns. Other than that, the general sartorial theme will be warmth because D.C. is supposed to face frigid temperatures.
But, really who cares about a little cold?
"I feel like there will never be another inauguration like this," Dowell said, "until a woman is elected president."