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The Saga of Bus Number Ten

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Today, of course, is Inauguration Day for President-elect Barack Obama. For days, hundreds of thousands of people have been traveling to Washington D.C. to see him take the oath of office.That includes many from his hometown of Chicago, and his home state of Illinois. But for one group of Chicagoans, that trip turned into a bit of an ordeal yesterday. And one of those Chicagoans happens to be WBEZ’s Ben Calhoun-who wrote the following report at a rest stop on the Pennsylvania turnpike.

As a plan, it was simple. It was solid. About 550 people get on buses, and they make the 12 hour drive to D.C. And on Sunday evening, things were falling into place.

TAPE: Hi. Barbara Deer right?

In Chicago’s western suburb of Hillside, hundreds of people milled around a wedding reception hall. Volunteers for Congressman Danny Davis’ office were checking people in. Everyone got assigned to one of the ten buses, and waited to board.

TAPE: You guys are on bus number two.

Announcements were made-and updated.

TAPE: Alright, we’re all on the same page. Thank you all.

People sold assorted Obama merchandise.

TAPE: Buttons 3 dollars, flags 5.

People waited for hours. They were patient. Happy even. Some, like Antionette Radliff talked about their hopes for the incoming administration.

RADLIFF: I’m for healthcare. Richest country in the world and can’t take care of your people.

Some, like Marilyn Gilbert Mitchell, glowed with excitement.

MITCHELL: This will be something that we can talk about for years to come that they will write into history books. Just to be a part of that is amazing.

So, originally, there were supposed to be some 55 people on bus number 10. Everyone trudged out into the snowy parking lot.

TAPE: All the buses are out there. Eight, nine, ten, seven, five.

Everyone got on the bus they were supposed to, and stuffed their bags into overhead bins.

TAPE: Watch this, I don’t want it to fall on anybody.

This was when bus number ten hit its first snag.

TAPE: If this bus too crowded, some people may have to get off.

As organizers tried to accommodate extra people-all the buses idled in the parking lot waiting to leave.

TAPE: Only one empty seat. Only one.

Still, eventually, after more than an hour, bus number ten departed with a prayer.

TAPE: Protect us, oh God, and help us, oh God. Help us have a good trip.

Throughout the night, bus ten fell further and further behind schedule. As movies played, and people slept in crumpled positions, the bus drove through whiteouts and snow. By the time bus ten pulled into the Golden Corral restaurant in Monroeville Pennsylvania-it was several hours off schedule.

TAPE: This is the plan.

The plan was to eat fast... and then backtrack 30 minutes to do a photo shoot, then head straight for the D.C. area.

TAPE: All the camera people come here.

By the time the photo shoot was done. Bus number ten was now five hours behind schedule. But things weren’t totally bleack. See, at this point, bus ten was somewhat on track-late, but on track. In, other words, It would be tight, but it was still possible that everyone could make it into D-C in time to attend parties, and balls, and soak in the atmosphere they’d traveled across the country for.

TAPE: Okay. This was when the real problems hit. Our bus just shut down.

A pollution sensor on the bus went off-and shut down the engine. For a while, they thought about sending other buses in the caravan back to pick up Bus 10 passengers-but up the road, there’d been a car accident, and the other buses were stuck in traffic. The driver tried to fix the problem. No luck. The passengers on bus ten sang some spirituals. Then some modified spirituals, fine tuned for the circumstances.

SINGING: Fix my bus, Lord, fix my bus...

Bus ten sat on the side of the road for two hours-while the all of the other buses in the group made their way to the Washington D.C. area. Then, with daylight disappearing, along with any chances of making it to Washington for Monday night parties, the passengers of bus ten were told they had to leave their bus so it could be towed and fixed.. They boarded a red school bus, with too few seat and drafty windows. Some standing, some sitting, they careened down the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

TAPE: They’re going to take us to an oasis while the bus is repaired.

And oasis it was. With a pizza place, a Cinnabon, a hot dog stand, and a machine that pressed pennies into souveniers-the passengers of bus ten wanted for little. Remarkably, everyone remained upbeat. Hour after hour after hour.

CALHOUN: How long have we been here?
JACKSON: You know, I didn’t write that down.

Donna Jackson, who was attempting valiantly to salvage the trip, scrolled through her cell phone. Determining that after two hours on the side of the road, the group has been at the rest stop--sorry, oasis--for 3 hours going on 4. Jackson explained there were two glimmers of hope.

JACKSON: A bus to the rescue is only 30 minutes out.

Unfortunately, that bus was stuck behind a multiple car pile-up... and the old number ten bus, while close to fixed, was still out of commission.

CALHOUN: Let me make sure I have this right. We have two buses in play, one is stuck behind a pile up, the other is broken.
JACKSON: Exactly, you got it correctly.

And still, even with parties and balls happening without them just a few hours away, the passengers of bus number ten kept their chins up.

CALHOUN: You know, I have to say, now that we have the Pennsylvania turnpike inaugural ball, I feel like we should dress up.
TAPE: Shall we? Let me get you a napkin. And make a print on it. CALHOUN: That sounds good, that sounds good.
TAPE: Remember how you used to get the paper thingy and make shapes. CALHOUN: We’ll be serving Italian food tonight.
TAPE: A little Starbuck cappucino. And a little scoop of ice cream.

Eventually, after missing all the Monday night parties... 10 hours after they were supposed to be at their hotels... the passengers of bus number ten were picked up from the rest stop... excuse me... oasis on the Pennsylvania turnpike. They reboarded their previously broken bus for several more hours of travel. By the time they reached their hotels, they would have about 4 hours to sleep before they had to get up, and head into Washington, if they were going to see the inauguration. That is, if nothing went wrong. The next morning, they were scheduled to make the trip into D.C...by bus.

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