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Houseguests descend on D.C. sofas for inauguration

With hotels booked up, residents are opening their doors to friends and relatives. The crowded quarters only add to the sense of occasion.

January 19, 2009|Carla Hall

WASHINGTON — On planes and in cars, from the East and the West, Barack Obama fans have descended upon Deanna and Linphord Darlington's two-bedroom townhouse in the southwest section of the nation's capital.

Maryanne Rehberg and Chris Hogeland, both social workers, flew in from Santa Cruz on Thursday night to bunk in the loft.

Next came Deanna's brother and two longtime friends who caravaned from Rochester, N.Y., bearing an air mattress, blankets, pillows, lasagna and wine. Two of them snagged the guest room. The third scored the pullout sofa in the home office.

The final guest flew in from New York on Sunday morning. Grand total of houseguests: six.

"We should have an emergency evacuation plan -- 'the nearest exit may be behind you,' " said Rehberg, 41, who has known Deanna for 14 years. "Every surface space, every comforter, every drop of hot water is being utilized."

In the days before the inauguration, nearly all hotel rooms in town have been booked and apartments sublet, but that didn't stop thousands of Americans without reservations from making the pilgrimage to see Obama sworn in as president.

The housing solution they've found gives new meaning to Obama's pledge to unite the country. Across the Washington area, generous souls have turned their houses, apartments and dorm rooms into crash pads for friends and family members and their friends.

But it's not only a cheaper -- even cozier -- option. The inauguration has kicked off a national sleepover of the excited throngs who have flocked here.

"You have to make sure you experience this with everyone," said Nick Owen, student body president at Howard University, who shares a house with three roommates.

For most hosts facing the limits of sofa beds and bathrooms, being part of history trumps comfort. Owen, 21, is giving up his bedroom to two cousins and their two friends. He'll find a spot on the floor.

"It's a historic time. You have to do what you have to do," he said.

The guests who clustered in the airy living room of the Darlington townhouse Saturday afternoon have known each other for years, some since high school. They are a microcosm of the electorate that got Obama to this moment:

"Gay, straight, black, white," said Hogeland, 46, who is Rehberg's girlfriend.

They are all accustomed to each other's quirks, which makes sharing beds, floors and bathrooms a little easier.

Dee Jones, 48, who is particular about things -- and has standing as Deanna's brother -- got to use the guest-room bed. But he agreed to share it with Karen Walker, 48, an account manager for a publishing company.

"This is the only weekend that Dee sleeps with women," said Rehberg, laughing. Dee is gay.

"If it weren't the inaugural weekend, would you be sharing your bed with anyone?" asked Rehberg.

"No," said Dee, smiling ruefully.

That wasn't the only inconvenience.

"We're all smokers," said John DeGrandis, 42, an eighth- and 11th-grade English teacher in Rochester.

"So it's like 'Bring the gas masks!' " Rehberg said. She and Hogeland don't smoke.

"In California, it's the smokers who go outside," Hogeland said.

"Here, the nonsmokers go outside," Rehberg said.

Deanna announced that Chana Garcia, the final guest expected Sunday, had joined the ranks of the nonsmokers.

"She gave it up. She had ovarian cancer," Deanna said.

"Oh, thank God," Rehberg said.

The room howled with laughter. Rehberg blanched.

"DON'T PUT THAT IN!" she shouted, mortified.

But there were the perks of midnight margaritas and walking en masse to the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday.

"It's a special time and I wanted to do something special for you," said Deanna, 43, looking at her guests. In addition to opening her home, she was grilling steaks for Saturday's dinner.

"I'm making a pineapple rum cake," said her husband, 43, by day an EPA systems analyst and by night a DJ -- better known as DJ Coz -- cuing up his latest track, "Yes We Can -- Obama's Dance Anthem," on the iPod player in the living room.

"I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world," said Rehberg, who had campaigned for Obama. "These are my closest friends in the world."

The Darlingtons and some other hosts draw the line at changing their own sleeping accommodations.

"My husband and I did not give up our bedroom," said Katheryn Kennedy-Labat, who has opened her four-bedroom Alexandria, Va., home to nine guests. Her 20-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter were not as lucky. Both gave up their rooms to sleep on couches -- so one guest will wake up to her daughter's poster of Bow Wow plastered on the ceiling.

Kennedy-Labat made goody bags for guests, putting a sticker of Obama on the outside of each bag and filling them with hand warmers and a copy of the Nov. 5 Washington Post announcing Obama's historic victory.

The first-grade teacher attributes her laid-back attitude about all of her guests to having grown up in San Pedro. "It's the California mentality," she said.

For guests, there's an appeal in being part of the crowd.

"In addition to seeing Barack Obama sworn in, it's just really amazing to see all my friends and all the people on the street," said Garcia, 32, the cancer survivor and a freelance journalist who lives in Brooklyn.

"I view it as an experience. Being crowded in the house and trying to share a bathroom and all the laughs will be part of it."


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