Fayette County

Inauguration sparks travel frenzy

Hundreds of Central Kentuckians plan to be in Washington D.C. for Inauguration Day, even though most downtown hotel rooms are filled and tickets to the inauguration ceremonies are practically non-existent.

Frankfort travel planner Julian Sam, who organized a trip for 100 to the inauguration, said the historic nature of the election has created huge demand.

"The majority are going because they are excited that this is the first African-American president," Sam said. "It's a victory not just for the Democratic Party but for all humanity."

Right after Election Day, Tava Clay and two friends — Cornelia Calhoun and Yevette Beasley — put the word out to family and friends they would organize a trip to the inauguration, arranging for a bus and hotel rooms.

The women were little prepared for the response.

By Wednesday, they had leased not one, but three full-size motor coaches that hold 48 people each — and their phones keep ringing. "The buses are full and still we have people who want to go," said Clay, a retired history teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

A major problem is finding affordable hotel rooms. "We have people staying in D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania," she said.

Individuals are being told to call one of their congressmen to request inaugural tickets. "They understand we will be outside, probably standing for hours," Clay said. "But everybody is so excited."

A limited number of tickets to the inaugural ceremonies will be provided to members of the 111th Congress, who can distribute them to constituents, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler's office stopped taking names of people who want tickets on Wednesday after receiving well over 1,000 requests.

"Requests have been coming in non-stop — many more than we could possibly accommodate," said spokeswoman Jennifer Krimm.

An equally heavy response flowed into U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth's office, which logged 1,000 requests by Monday morning.

Among those who have called Chandler asking for tickets is Valinda Livingston, retired education administrator in Fayette County. Even if the tickets don't come through, she'll still go.

"I never thought this would happen in America," she said of President-elect Barack Obama's victory.

"When it did, and I had an opportunity to go, I was ecstatic," said Livingston, who will be on one of Clay's three buses. "Growing up, my parents said you can be whatever you want to be, and I taught that to my son," she said. "But for this to become reality is wonderful."

University of Kentucky horticulture professor Sharon Bale isn't worrying about getting tickets, just getting thousands of Kentucky-grown flowers to the Wardman Park Hotel in D.C., where she will be in charge of decorating the grand ballroom for the Kentucky Society of Washington's elegant inaugural ball.

"It's a thrill, even though it's a hassle," said Bale, who did the job at the last two inaugurations.

About 200 students from Frankfort High School will also be in Washington for the big day. The school has sponsored similar trips since Bill Clinton's first inauguration, but this spring the board of education said no more. The trip's $450-per-student price tag had become too expensive.

English teacher Kay Scott and senior class president Shellee Hayden appeared at a board meeting, made a special plea and board members capitulated. "I'm ecstatic," Scott said.

At Eastern Kentucky University, African-American Studies Director Salome Nnoromele said students pleaded with her to organize an inauguration trip.

"The morning after the election, they were waiting for me when I came in, saying 'Can we go?'" she said laughing.

She agreed and has arranged a trip that will cost $100 per student. "They're already talking about ways to raise money."