Inaguration thrills trip winner

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 11:14 p.m.

WASHINGTON - Cynthia Russell and her boyfriend, Chris Buffington, were sitting in the green room of CNN's studios Tuesday morning, waiting for a 9 a.m. interview that was already delayed by 30 minutes.



Russell, a Newberry resident, was scheduled to talk about being selected as one of nine supporters of Barack Obama who earned a free trip to Washington to witness Obama's inauguration, after having submitted a small donation and personal essay about the downtrodden economy and its effect on her homebuilding business.

"We were getting really nervous because we wouldn't be able to get in [to the inaugural ceremony viewing area]," Russell, 50, said. "The lines were enormous."

So, rather than appear on national television, she and Buffington skipped the interview and rushed to join the throngs of people already lined up by the U.S. Capitol, waiting to be screened by security in order to enter a ticketed standing-only viewing area.

"We were right there, and the energy and excitement was incredible," Russell said of the ceremony. She was in a limousine that was taking her back to the airport, the final leg to what she called a "really wonderful" past several days.

In addition to the official inauguration, Russell and her guest attended the Neighborhood Ball, where the Obamas danced their first dance to Etta James' "At Last," sung by Beyonce. Also performing were musicians such as Sting, Stevie Wonder and Carole King (whose albums were among the first Russell bought as a teenager).

Russell had to laugh a little at Obama's attempts to show some moves on the dance floor.

"There's our president, doing The Bump," she remembers thinking at the ball. "It was just nice to know, he's one of us. He's not a great dancer, but that's OK. He doesn't have to be. He's our president."

Other memorable moments included an invitation to an Obama dinner Monday evening honoring Vice President Joe Biden at Union Station, and surprise tote bags waiting at her hotel full of framed pictures and keepsake champagne glasses to remember the inauguration.

She and her boyfriend also stood six hours in the cold Sunday afternoon to secure a prime spot on the Mall and watch the pre-inaugural "We Are One" kickoff concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Though Russell didn't get to actually meet members of the new administration, she was just glad to soak it all up. "Even the long lines were just so exciting. To be here and know there were two million people trying to do the same thing," she said.

"We have all been hit by the 'Obama bug,'●" she said. "It was such an experience."

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