Waashington — Jim Baca and his wife were all set to travel from New Mexico to Washington for the inauguration. They had booked plane tickets and arranged to stay with friends in Virginia.
Then they started reading about all the obstacles they would face once they arrived: packed subway cars, perhaps miles of gridlock on the roads and even prohibitions on bringing seemingly harmless items like umbrellas to the National Mall.
“All of a sudden, a fireplace and Irish coffee sounded a lot better,” said Baca, a former Albuquerque mayor who says he worked to help elect Barack Obama. Besides, he said, “we can probably get a better view on TV.”
The warnings about massive crowds, sparse lodging and tight security have convinced some would-be visitors that it is best to stay home. That might mean smaller crowds than first estimated for the Tuesday swearing-in of the first black president.
The city’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, said Thursday that authorities were anticipating 1 million to 2 million people. That is far shy of the headline-grabbing 3 million to 5 million figure that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty initially projected. The largest turnout the Park Service has on record is 1.2 million for Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration.
Antron Johnson of Atlanta and his group of Obama supporters once planned to charter three 57-seater buses. Now they are down to two. “I am completely frustrated and disappointed,” Johnson said. Among the reasons that people have backed out are concerns about overcrowding in the city and potential cell-phone outages.
One indication of waning inaugural interest — or at least the calm after the initial hype — is the sluggish demand from out-of-towners seeking housing.
Andre Butters decided to create a Web site to help local homeowners find renters, based on the mayor’s initial crowd estimate. Yet demand for has been light. There are about 730 properties listed on his Web site, but only about 100 out-of-towners have registered to find a place, Butters said.
“I’m just as stumped as everybody,” he said. “We thought it was a no-brainer.”
Andrew Wiseman isn’t having much luck, either. He and his roommate were excited about the chance to make a profit by renting out their row house in northwest Washington. They posted an ad in December on Craigslist to see what would happen. At first, they asked for $2,500 a night. With no takers, they have slashed the price to $1,800.
Rooms can be had at hotels, too — about 600 remain available, according to surveys by Destination DC, the city’s tourism bureau. An additional 12,000 rooms are available within a 200-mile radius of the city. They might be expensive and hotels still are requiring minimum stays.
Despite the challenges, many are determined to show up, no matter what.
Kimberli Greene, who is helping to coordinate two buses from Atlanta, said about 15 people dropped out of the trip because they didn’t think they could handle being in cold weather for several hours. Greene, however, refuses to use that as an excuse. Like many African-Americans, she is determined to see history in the making.
Seeing it in person, Greene said, “makes it that much more real, that much more live, that much more attainable, for the next person of color to achieve the presidency.”