Anticipation was as thick as the gunmetal fog that gripped Sea-Tac airport 24 hours before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States.

In the airport an African-American couple from Alaska cut to the bone: "This is our day."

That particular sentiment ricocheted like a bag of marbles across the tarmac. How long must a people wait? To quote a Washington Post editorial, "It was, for Americans, a day of joy, because with their first black president they took a giant step on a long path to overcoming the stain of slavery and discrimination."

Perhaps it is necessary to pay attention to the words, "for Americans," for this was a liberating moment for us all. But do not be mislead. For African-Americans, this inauguration was jubilation, or finally, emancipation.

My wife and I braved 20-degree weather to stand in lines before, what Vice-president Joe Biden described as "wave on wave on wave. All Americans each with expectations."

Standing and waiting became a vanguard experience.

Our wait to stand before the back of the U.S. Capitol building and hear the oath of office was interminable, nearly six hours. Hedged in like penguins, there was little to do but talk. Understand, one can learn a lot standing in lines.

One companion was Steen Miles, a former state senator from Georgia. She tells a story of how her family was summarily dispatched from a rural town in Georgia by a phalanx of police. Apparently, the family auto had broken down and a Good Samaritan offered his home as refuge to the destitute family. A neighboring woman turned them in.

In 1950, blacks weren't welcome into the homes of middle-class America, at least not in this southern town. Miles never forgot the humiliation. On Jan. 20, she stood in line from five in the morning until noon. Like ourselves, she and 40,000 people in the designated "purple line" were never admitted. The swelling ranks of one-percent of America shorted out security, and we were left standing behind an iron curtain of steel fence, our expectations momentarily dashed.

Only minutes later, a local Washington resident shared her handheld Casio mini TV. A dozen Americans of all colors and shapes gathered around the tiny screen in festive anticipation on the sidewalk behind the National Mall to hear the oath of office and Barack Obama's historical inauguration speech.Steen Miles and her grandson, William, traveled from Georgia to see Obama. Miles is a former state senator from Georgia. They were among the thousands of "purple ticket holders" who were turned away from the Purple Gate and denied admission to the inauguration because of excessive ticketing and security clearance issues.

LAURIE ANDERSON - For The Observer

He did not disappoint.

What did Obama represent? "Class, integrity, unity, and family," said Miles. "Bringing all factions together," and as she spoke, tears fell down her mahogany face. "I don't see it as a civil rights victory so much as a victory for humanity."

That same evening, my wife Laurie and I attended the Western Ball, an ordeal in the finale. A three-hour taxi line, in 20-degree cold, sobered us considerably. What warmed our hearts and minds was standing in a swelling black-tie crowd, listening to Marc Anthony's Latin-inspired music, and then - finally - witnessing a quick visit and oratory by the polished president himself.

We had gone to the well and been rewarded by the clear water, bittersweet with change. Sobering in context but rich in jubilation, the man and his lovely wife, warmed to the bone.

? Writer David Campiche and photographer Laurie Anderson are Seaview, Wash., innkeepers.

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