Excited over the pending inauguration of Barack Obama, Dana Rayburn and her daughter, Aja, 9, of Medford bring donated clothes to the Democratic headquarters downtown Monday as part of Obama’s call for a national day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. - Bob Pennell

Witnessing History

With a light snow falling on the trip to Washington, D.C., Arlene and Claude Aron found the nation's capital a tough place to negotiate even before they hit town Monday for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The bus ride was a little slower than the Applegate couple expected on the congested highways heading toward Union Station. They worried about arriving in time to make the mile walk to the Rayburn House Office Building to get their tickets before it closed.

"We were too late to get the tickets," said 61-year-old Arlene Aron.

Luckily, a representative from Rep. Greg Walden's office called her by cell phone on the bus to see whether she and her husband could make other arrangements.

Then, a Sams Valley man, Allen Hallmark, arranged for his brother, who lives in Arlington, Va., to stand in line for 45 minutes to pick up the Arons' tickets.

Aron acknowledged she doesn't always agree with Walden's politics, but she appreciated how his staff members went out of their way to help her. Walden's office collected the cell phone numbers for 198 Oregon residents who were getting tickets and made arrangements so each one would get them before 5 p.m. Monday. Others wanting tickets were not so lucky, waiting more than three hours at times to get into their representative's office.

As the relieved couple stepped off the bus Monday afternoon, Aron said, "We made it. The streets are filled with smiling people."

The nation's capital is filling up with possibly millions of spectators who are expected to see Obama's inauguration, and many Jackson County residents will brave temperatures in the 30s today and fight traffic to edge their way to the Mall.

Hallmark, 66, joined in Obama's call for a national day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, helping pick up trash in a park in Alexandria, Va., and finishing the day with sore ankles and knees.

"There was a lot of briar patches," he said.

His brother, Shelby Hallmark, who lives about two miles from the Pentagon, opened his house to six Southern Oregonians who wanted to see the inauguration.

Early this morning, Allen Hallmark and his friends planned to get as close as they could by car to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, then walk about two miles to the Mall. Vehicle traffic going into many parts of the capital will be blocked, a move that has upset many Virginians, said Hallmark.

Washington has been packed with people, Hallmark said. On Monday, he ducked into the United States Botanic Garden to warm up while his brother picked up the tickets for the Arons. He found many other visitors had the same idea.

"I'm sure it was the largest day of visitation they've ever had," he said.

Hallmark, who doesn't have a ticket, said he will prefer just standing in the Mall watching the inauguration on a big-screen television. He plans to head into the Smithsonian Institution if he needs a moment's shelter from the cold.

Medford resident Tiffany McCormack, 30, said she rode the Metro Friday and it was packed. She's been avoiding the more popular sites in the city because of the crowds.

"It's a madhouse," she said. "I'm not venturing out much because of the amount of people."

She did see workers erect public address systems and test speakers in the Mall. "I've never seen so many port-a-potties," McCormack said.

Despite the swarms of people expected to show up today, McCormack plans to be on the Mall to see what many are calling a momentous and historical event.

But for residents in the Washington area, the crowds have proved too much, said McCormack.

"A lot of people who live here have left," she said. "They don't want to deal with it."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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