On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, the National Mall took on a carnival feel with barking street salesmen and media celebrities pontificating in their glass-enclosed studio cages.
Milder temperatures, a lack of security checkpoints and a reasonable crowd seemed to offer a calm before the storm of spectators expected to overwhelm downtown Washington on Tuesday for the historic event.
Families with strollers, joggers, locals and non-ticket holders wandered casually along the frozen dirt paths, snapping pictures and shopping from a wide swath of imported and home made souvenirs.
“Buttons, one for $5, three for $10. Get your ‘I Was There’ button,” called Manny F. Iallo, who was also sporting a stocking cap with an image of Obama made by a friend who has a Bedazzler.
Lavetta Goldsborough, of Richmond, Va., offered to buy one of the buttons, passing on the hat.
“You could get three for $10. It’s a recession. You’re a consumer,” pressed Iallo, a New Yorker.
“All right,” said Godsborough, “I’ll take three.”
With a wink, Iallo whispered, “I’m a salesman.”
After the transaction, Goldsborough said, “I wanted something that I can have so I can say I was there and I can prove it.”
Iallo’s buttons were just one of a host of souvenirs for sale. You could pick up a fake Obama dollar bill for just $5.
A $44 (get it? 44th president) key change with images of the Obama family or the president-elect with Martin Luther King Jr. for $5. “It’s an original piece,” said Kurt Chambers, who’d flown in from Illinois to attend the inauguration and sell his wares.
Antonio Carver, Melvin Robinson and nine other artists from Ohio arrived at 6 a.m. Monday morning after an eight-hour drive.
The twosome own Fata Fashions in Xenia, Ohio, and among their merchandise were red thermal undershirts with the First Family emblazed on the front and a variety of stocking hats with Obama’s name on the front.
Although the red thermal shirt was hard to miss, the stocking hats were selling faster at the bargain rate of two for $15.
The group is hoping to raise money to build a hip-hop studio in Dayton, said Robinson. For now, though, they were roughing it.
The Ohio artists arrived with no place to stay and planned to overnight in their cars.
A Georgia entrepreneur hoped to win big money by undercutting the competition. He was selling a magnetic ‘O’ bumper decal for $1.
“You won’t find anything cheaper on the strip. No more ‘W’s,” he called out with a fistful of dollars in the air.
“This is the most practical thing I’ve seen,” said one man who handed over a buck and slipped the bumper sticker into his pocket.
Garneth Francis, a day care center manager from Brooklyn, came for history. But, given his masters in business administration, he decided to spend a day exercising his entrepreneurial side.
He’d printed 500, one-page 2009 calendars with Obama’s image at the top and hoped to sell all of them, $5 apiece, before Tuesday’s big event. Then, he planned to “relax and enjoy it. This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said.
Francis had some competition, however.
Twenty members of the Malik family had arrived from Atlanta and fanned out across the mall selling monthly calendars for $10, two for $15. “We’re all over the place,” said Randy Malik, 16.
One of the hottest items on the mall was a colorfully decorated shopping bag with the image of the First Family on its front. It’s waterproof and handy for holding all the other souvenirs. Cost: $10.
Nora Jacobs snatched one. She’d traveled all the way from Cancun, Mexico to attend the Inauguration. “In Cancun, they need to see such a pretty thing,” she said.
Then she added, “This is history. It costs ten bucks. You’d spend that on a beer.”