A bus takes the faithful into history

January 21, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- They didn't come for the view. They came for the euphoria. And they got about as much of that as one group of die-hard Democrats could demand of one day.

Most of the 42 members and friends of the Central Baltimore County Democratic Club who hired a bus to take them to Washington yesterday had never been to an inauguration before.

And some of them, middle-aged liberals whose last successful choice of a presidential candidate came when they were fresh out of college, feared they might not get the chance again.

"It's been 16 years since the last inauguration I was even interested in," said Gary Rosecrans, a teacher at Towson State University. "This may never happen again, so I figure enjoy it while you can."

Others in the group were younger, like Timothy Boia, the politically active 1992 college graduate who probably didn't know the meaning of party politics when the last Democrat was in the White House. But he had volunteered long hours on behalf of Bill Clinton last fall in the Essex area, and it was only fitting that he witness his candidate being sworn in.

Still others, like lifelong Democrat Marie Tomlinson, of Highlandtown, simply decided it was high time she caught an inauguration in person. "I've been voting for 50 years. Can you believe it? And yet I've never been to one."

But this time she got a commemorative invitation -- a result, she says, of her personal get-well wish sent to Albert Gore III when he was hospitalized in Baltimore nearly four years ago and a congratulatory card to his father in November. With her invitation in hand, she boarded the bus determined to see just what this inaugural fuss was all about.

The club, whose members typically volunteered time at phone banks, canvassing neighborhoods and working the polls last fall, received a limited number of tickets to the inauguration. They raffled off eight passes to a select area of the Mall for yesterday's swearing-in and purchased 15 bleacher seats to the parade.

But most of those who took the bus to Washington yesterday took their chances among the masses on the Mall.

Hugging the fence along Constitution Avenue, where the presidential route to the Capitol had been cordoned off, 9-year-old Beth Copeland waited patiently in hopes of a glimpse of the new president.

"We came because this is so historical and I wanted her to just be here for it," said Beth's mother Becky, who said the week of pre-inaugural media coverage had served as several "civics lessons" in their household.

"She really thinks she's going to see the president," said her mother.

Beth didn't see the president, but when the entourage of presidential limousines rolled down the avenue on their way to the Capitol her fence-side seat put her close enough to be impressed.

"I saw Bush and Quayle and the tail end of Tipper Gore's head," she told her mother after the limousines had passed.

While the group was unprepared for the crush of spectators, it didn't seem to matter.

From the outer reaches of the Capitol, they stood in wait for the new president to take the oath of office. And as the time drew near for the change of power, they seemed energized by the crowds growing around them.

The mud chilled their feet, and rows of trees -- most occupied by a half-dozen youngsters each -- obstructed their view. The Capitol really wasn't much more than that gleaming white building in the distance draped in red, white and blue.

"That's OK. We're here just to experience it," said Vivian Vaughn, admitting her feet were numb from the cold, damp grounds.

"I just want to hear it," said Nancy Slaterbeck, the club's secretary, who brought a radio along just in case she couldn't get close enough to a speaker and the crowd was too noisy. "Today you're hearing it. Tonight you'll watch it on the VCR."

At noon, Ms. Slaterbeck had no trouble hearing the oath. As if on cue, thousands grew silent just in time to hear the short ceremony.

And as Mr. Clinton spoke the last words of his oath, "So help me God," and the crowd erupted in applause, Mrs. Tomlinson wiped away a tear.

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