Young and old, black and white, Democratic and Republican _ people from our area and around the nation will converge on Washington on Tuesday as Barack Obama is sworn in as president.
Cooperstown Central School is sending a busload of students and chaperones to Obama's inauguration. Others from around here, like the Puritz family of Oneonta, are traveling most of the way by car.
``Of course, it would be nuts to try to drive in Washington, itself,'' attorney Andrew Puritz said Thursday.
Instead, they'll park their car in suburban Maryland and take the train the rest of the way to D.C., he said. ``My niece, Sarah, has a little apartment just six blocks from the Capitol, and we'll be camping out on her floor.''
Puritz is going to the inauguration because his wife, Joan, won two tickets to be in the crowd on the west lawn of the Capitol, where Obama will be sworn in just before noon Tuesday.
The tickets came from the office of Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, who held a drawing because of the high demand.
``I didn't expect to get them, but I did want to go to Washington, because this is such an historic event,'' said Joan Puritz.
The nation's 44th president will be its first non-white chief executive, and that's a change worth celebrating, she said. ``I'm just so happy that as a nation, we've gotten past color and don't see that as a barrier to becoming president.'' Puritz, a Democrat, said Obama radiates hope and vision, qualities the nation will need in a leader in the trying months and years ahead.
``I think he has what it takes to get us back on the right track,'' she said. ``Some have criticized him for not being liberal enough, but maybe we need someone in the middle.''
The Rev. Paul Messner of Worcester will be in Washington for the inauguration, as is his custom.
``This will be my 10th,'' he said. ``I haven't missed one since 1973, when I was a student in Washington, D.C., and a friend came to visit me. We woke up on January 20 and said, what are we going to do today?''
Noting the date, they decided to watch as Richard Nixon was sworn in for a second term as president.
The majesty of the moment made an impression on Messner, a Conservative voter.
``Since then, for me, it's become a tradition, a celebration of American democracy, particularly, as now, when there is a change of administration.
``I don't go to crow over who won or to cry over who lost,'' Messner continued. ``I go to witness the peaceful transfer of power in our democracy.''
His nephew, Karl Lehenbauer of Worcester, a Republican, also will be there.
``It's a great experience, something everyone should have a chance to see in their lifetime,'' he said.
In 1985, when Lehenbauer was a student at Gettysburg College in southern Pennsylvania, Messner took him to watch as Ronald Reagan, at the onset of his second term, swore to uphold the Constitution.
Lehenbauer also attended George W. Bush's second inauguration four years ago. Lehenbauer said part of his reason for wanting to go this time is to say goodbye to the outgoing president, whom he believes did a better job than many have said.
However, the election of Obama, a man of mixed race, some 40 years after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, gives this year's inauguration special meaning, Lehenbauer said.
``It is amazing how far we've come,'' he said.
Of course, not everyone can go to Washington.
For those who want to celebrate closer to home, the Otsego County Democratic Party will host ``Barack the Night Away'' at the Sixth Ward Athletic Club in Oneonta starting at 8 p.m. Saturday.
And Tuesday night, the Delaware County Democratic Party will host an inaugural ball at the Quarter Moon Cafe in Delhi, from 6:30 to 9:30.
But being where history is happening is special, said Donna Vunk of Edmeston, another winner in Arcuri's ticket lottery. She and her husband, Jack, plan to be in the crowd.
``I'm so happy Obama won,'' she said. ``This year, we were paying close attention to the election, and after I heard him speak, I had a feeling he'd win; he's so intelligent.''
The Vunks, who are Democrats, will be staying with their daughter and son-in-law in Gaithersburg, Md., when not venturing into the D.C. crowd, she said.
The likely size of that crowd has been debated. Some news organizations have speculated it may surpass the estimated 1.2 million people who attended Lyndon Johnson's inauguration in 1965.
People with tickets will be allowed to watch the ceremony live from the lawn of the Capitol. Those without tickets, the vast majority, may view it from giant screens situated around the National Mall.
The Washington Post and other media have reported that trains will be filled, roads and bridges closed to cars, and food, water and bathrooms in short supply on Inauguration Day.
Former Oneonta Mayor Kim Muller said the warnings may discourage some from attending.
``A lot of buildings are going to be closed, and outside it might be pretty hectic on the 20th,'' she said.
Still, Muller plans to go to Washington and take part in the festivities, including a reception hosted by Gov. David Paterson. Then Tuesday, she may walk across a bridge from Alexandria, Va., where she'll be staying, to venture out on the Mall as Obama affirms he will faithfully execute the office of president.