Dozens of Tucsonans braved record crowds, traffic and housing nightmares and temperatures in the 20s to witness history Tuesday at the inauguration of President Obama.
Thousands more gathered at Tucson events to watch the inauguration, including the Tucson-Southern Arizona Black Chamber of Commerce at their Soul Food Brunch at the Northwest Neighborhood Center, 2160 N. Sixth Ave., and at the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall.
Tucsonan Gloria Corral, 63, may end up with one of the best inaugural stories to tell.
Corral left Tucson on Sunday without tickets for any event, but with hopes of at least seeing Obama drive by during the parade.
Instead, she ended up with a ticket to the National Mall inaugural ceremony thanks to her act of kindness on the plane.
Corral said she sat next to a young woman during her flight from Tucson to D.C. who was suffering from allergies and didn’t have eyedrops. Corral asked fellow passengers if they had eyedrops she could use.
“So I got her some and made sure she felt better,” Corral said. “Little did I know she worked for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office and after the flight she offered to give me a leftover ticket if someone didn’t claim it.”
The young woman was Amanda Sapir, a constituent service representative for Giffords’ Tucson office, the congresswoman’s office confirmed.
Sapir contacted Corral on Monday afternoon and told her one ticket was left unclaimed and she could have it.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Corral said. “Good thing I had my pretty dress ready.”
Although she had a ticket, she was too far away to see the Capitol steps and had to watch the ceremony on one of the Mall’s many big screens.
“I found myself not even looking at the screen sometimes, I was just looking around at all the people and their emotional reactions to what Obama was saying,” she said. “It was just incredible to be there and feel the happiness around me.”
A group of four students from Apollo Middle School also watched the event on TV, even though they were part of it.
They raised money for the trip through car washes and bake sales. Their teacher, Steve Olguin, in a text message said they found a spot near the old Smithsonian Institute on The National Mall, too far away to see Obama but right in front of a massive TV screen.
The students, Marrissa Molina, Gustavo Acre, Sabrina Madeiros and Roman Madeiros all said “adrenaline, excitement and the anticipation” kept them warm in the January chill.
After Obama’s speech, Marrissa said he had given “the best inauguration speech ever” and Gustavo Acre said he was “proud to be an American.”
Marisol Marquez, 22, a first year law school student at the University of Arizona College of Law, said she got in line about 7 a.m. Washington time and three hours later managed to find a spot right behind the seated area on the mall, well in view of the Capitol.
She said she thought Obama delivered a great speech that was “directed at my generation.
“I think the comments related to the Middle East were important . . . inspiring for all there,” she said.
Fellow UA student Christa Goldie didn’t have a ticket and said she tried to get to the mall but couldn’t. She and her best friend Brooke McLaughlin settled for a spot on the parade route.
Goldie and McLaughlin were able to watch the speech on a nearby big screen TV. She said, “It was exciting to hear it here and feel the excitement of everyone around.”
Tucsonans Carmen Prezelski and son Ted Prezelski were at the mall, but screened by walls of cameras and watched the ceremony on a giant screen nearby.
“I was talking to an African-American woman and we both just burst out crying and hugging each other,” said Prezelski, a delegate to the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston who was on the podium when Obama gave a memorable keynote speech that propelled him to national prominence.
“I feel like I’ve been with him from the beginning,” she said.
Ted Prezelski, a liberal blogger in Arizona, similarly was moved.
“It was spectacular. You were a part of this moment, sharing it with millions of people,” he said.
In Tucson, about 200 people at the brunch at the Northwest Neighborhood Center screamed and cheered, some jumping up and down, tears running down their faces as Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
Eva Turner, 58, showed up early with her family and friends and said she was full of “so many emotions” it was hard to put them into words.
“Even at my age, I did experience some difficult times during the civil rights movement, so to see the result of our struggles this morning fills me with pride,”she said.
“As I sit here, it’s really hard to believe it,” Turner said as her eyes filled with tears. “And to know that my 92-year-old mother is watching this at home right now, it’s just such a great moment I can’t explain it.”
Turner’s mother brought her family to Arizona from Texas in hopes for a better life in 1951, “and now I can see the beginning of a better life. It’s just beautiful to see we’re headed there,” she said.
Grant Bullock, 48, and his wife, Marilyn, 42, said that watching Obama’s acceptance speech filled them with hope.
“Hope for unity, hope that we all, as Americans, unite as one and stop looking at race,” Grant Bullock said. “He was voted by the people, by all of us, not just African-Americans.”
They were at the brunch with church and community friends.
Tucsonan Shirley Hockett, 65, said after Obama’s acceptance speech that she was elated to see Obama sworn in, but would need a moment to soak it all in.
“I’m glad to see that he is safe and he is now our president. I just can’t believe it has really happened,” she said.
“Now we can focus on the road ahead, on all the work that needs to be done. It’s not going to be easy, but I have hope.”
Tucson Democratic Councilwomen Karin Uhlich and Nina Trasoff were also at the breakfast.
Trasoff said she never thought she would be celebrating the inauguration of a black president, “but today it’s happening.”
“I just hope that people can share that sense of hope and allow (Obama) to take us in the right direction,” she said.
At the UA, the atmosphere inside Centennial Hall was celebratory. The estimated 1,400 attending frequently rose to stand and cheer during Obama’s address.
“It gave me a lot of hope,” Amy Brazier, 37, a UA employee, said.
“Especially what he said about restoring our place in the world.”
Many leaving Centennial Hall said they had come to see history and were not disappointed.
“It was an inspired speech,” said Anton Daughters, a 38-year-old graduate student.
“It almost made me cry,” added Cody Aune, 34, a UA graduate student.
The video of the event was shown on a giant screen under dimmed lighting.
“It made it feel like you were there at the mall,” said John Lapeyre, 44, another UA graduate student.
By Garry Duffy, Fernanda Echavarri, Mark B. Evans