WASHINGTON — Tim Engelskirchen and his brother Daniel had no idea what they were getting into when they responded to a Craigslist ad seeking workers to hawk political buttons at the Democratic National Convention last summer.
The ad took the Charlotte, N.C. residents on an unexpected five-month journey chasing presidential candidates across the country. On Monday the adventure will finally culminate with the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"I said I'd go for a week or two," Tim Engelskirchen said Saturday. That was in September.
It's now two days before Monday's public swearing-in ceremony, and Engelskirchen, in a flap cap covered in buttons and a jacket over a tie-dye shirt, is working the main entrance to Union Station. Daniel, his brother, is a few hundred feet away selling his wares near the entrance to the Metro.
The Engelskirchens are part of a nationwide crew of button purveyors — there were as many as 60 on his team when the campaign was at top speed — who scour the country during election season. Buttons go for five bucks a pop. Buy four, get one free. And this weekend, they expect to hit pay dirt as nearly a million people are likely to come through the District over the next few days. The button brigade expects to unload 8,500 of them by Monday.
Tim Engelkirchen is staked out near the Union Station taxi stand, where a group, fresh off the rails, begin to queue up.
Dozens boarded a train in Chicago Friday night with Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny K. Davis, and rode for 17 hours until they reached the capital Saturday afternoon. Tiffany Powers, lugging her bags and two sleepy children, Caleb, 11, and Raven, 6, inch their way toward the waiting taxis.
Caleb actually went to school with the president's younger daughter Sasha when the Obamas lived in Chicago, Powers said, but they couldn't make the trip in 2009. Now, they're here to see Caleb's old schoolmate's daddy sworn into office.
"We missed it last time, so we're here this time," Powers said.
The Powers family is just one of thousands planning to make the trip to the Washington this weekend. The nation's capital, which is more accustomed to seeing crowds like this in the spring and summer months, is in full preparation mode. Driving in the city, often a life-threatening hazard on a slow day, is nearly out of the question this weekend and the Metro trains are jam-packed.
Porta Potties stretch as far as the eye can see. The blue and green makeshift restrooms line the edges of the Mall, surround the capitol and fill Union Station, making the "District of Columbia" seem more like the "District of Commodes." They even double as security barriers, putting a thick sheet of smelly plastic between the public and the capitol building along Constitution Avenue.
The word of the weekend here, of course, is "patience." Because so many public buildings require security checks before entry, almost every place of interest–from the Smithsonian museums to the National Archives–has a line forming out the back.
The same is true at the congressional office buildings surrounding the Capitol, where guests who reserved official tickets from their senator or member of Congress must stop to pick up the documents.
"Is this the White House?" a young boy asks his mother as they wait in line to get their tickets on the marble steps of the Russell Senate Office Building Saturday. One by one, people slowly file through the magnetometers. Hardly a soul makes it through on their first try. Whether it be bracelets, belts or bangles, nearly everyone fails to shed their metal.
You can only imagine what Monday will be like. Especially with all those buttons.