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July 22, 2014

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Obama’s inauguration train ride blends past, present

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AP Photo/Brooks Kraft

President-elect Barack Obama waves during his inaugural whistle stop train trip in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday.

Updated Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009 | 6:30 p.m.

Obama's train trip to Washington.

President-elect Barack Obama greets the crowd at a rally during a stop on his inaugural whistle stop train trip in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Editor's note: Sun Washington reporter Lisa Mascaro posted stories live from the train as President-elect Barack Obama and his family traveled to Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The journey began in Philadelphia, with stops in Delaware to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family, and in Baltimore for an appearance before arriving in Washington.

Click to enlarge photo

Las Vegas school teacher Rosa Mendoza, right, and her daughter, Bianca, on the train with President-elect Barack Obama to Washington.

7:20 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA -- "The train station," the cab driver says, part question, part statement, as he pulls away from the hotel this morning in the predawn darkness. "You're going to get there before Obama."

This historic city, birthplace of the nation's Declaration of Independence and Constitution, is up early today for President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural journey to Washington.

Obama's trip starts here, retracing parts of the route President-elect Abraham Lincoln made to his own inauguration in 1861.

Train stations can't help but mix the old and new -- the charm of another era in the modern jet age. Philadelphia's 30th Street Station is no different -- a stately art deco hall and the neon lights of Dunkin' Donuts.

"Are you here for Obama or travel?" a college student asks me. He's here for both -- one of the many heading south this weekend along the same path Obama is taking toward the inauguration.

7:35 a.m.

Among those riding with President-elect Barack Obama today on his inaugural train ride to Washington will be Rosa Mendoza, a middle school English teacher from Las Vegas and longtime community organizer.

She and her 24-year-old daughter, Bianca, are among 41 people from 15 states chosen from the ranks of regular folks to join the journey.

During Obama's weekly radio and YouTube address this morning, he spoke of his coming inauguration and the way "we will carry the voices of ordinary Americans to Washington."

Here is Mendoza's voice this morning as she sat near the stage before Obama arrived:

"It's just a dream right now," she said. "I'm just looking a kaleidoscope of people."

She and about 300 people have filled the waiting room to send the president on his way.

8:45 a.m.

President Abraham Lincoln was famously melancholy when he departed his beloved Springfield for Washington, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her book "Team of Rivals."

If President-elect Barack Obama had any bittersweetness to the start of this journey today he didn't show it.

Obama greeted the crowd of 300 here at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station with a hearty "Hello, Philadelphia," saying it was fitting that "we are here to mark the beginning of our journey to Washington ... because it was here, in this city, that our American journey began."

Before Obama and his family even made it to the stage, a lone voice bellowed from the audience: "Yes we did!"

The crowd cracked up and cheered.

Rosa Mendoza, the Las Vegas school teacher who is among those riding with the president-elect, had a great seat with the others, just off to the side of the stage.

Obama spoke for about 10 minutes about the dreams that founded this country and the struggles now facing the nation as he prepares to take office in trying times.

"What is required today is a new Declaration of Independence," he said, "not just in our nation, but in our own lives -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."

In a nod to the "ordinary Americans" riding with him to the Capitol, including Mendoza and her 24-year-old daughter, Bianca, Obama said:

"As I prepare to leave for Washington on a trip that you made possible, know that I will not be traveling alone. I will be taking with me some of the men and women I met along the way, Americans from every corner of this country, whose hopes and heartaches were the core of our cause; whose dreams and struggles have become my own."

Mendoza had been an early volunteer for Obama, organizing for the campaign in the Las Vegas community.

As Obama left the hall and the train boarded up, Mendoza shared her thoughts about the speech.

"As usual, it tugged at my heartstrings and at my soul."

9:11 a.m.

ABOARD THE TRAIN -- Las Vegas school teacher Rosa Mendoza looks out the window of the train she's riding with the president-elect, and feels at peace.

People are lining the route to wave Barack Obama on, sometimes in groups of a few, sometimes a few dozen.

"It's a really, really good feeling," she said. "It's beautiful."

12:19 p.m.

WILMINGTON - A cold and sometimes sunny midday here as the train rolled into town to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who promised the cheerful crowd that "spring is on the way."

Biden spoke of the "deeper chill" that has gripped the nation with the challenges ahead.

Sometimes it's hard to believe we'll see spring again, Biden said, but it's coming with the new administration.

No whistle stop in Wilmington would be complete without a few words from the Amtrak conductor that Biden befriended on his near-daily trips to Washington, where he has served as a senator for most of his adult life.

"Joe, don't worry about missing this train -- it's waiting to take you to your inauguration," said conductor Gregg Weaver.

Biden introduced President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. It's Michelle Obama's birthday today and the crowd offered her the birthday song.

Obama talks to the crowd, flags are waving and a soulful recording of Ray Charles singing about America played overhead.

Las Vegas teacher and Obama volunteer organizer Rosa Mendoza, with her daughter, Bianca, are braving the cold to travel with the president. It's all worth it.

Said Rosa Mendoza: "It's just amazing we're part of history."

2:14 p.m.

BALTIMORE - The president-elect has a sense of humor.

There's this line in his speech today where he talks about the challenges ahead, including a planet that is warming -- "though you can't tell today," he deadpanned here in Baltimore.

It's been a cold, cold day. This is the last stop before Barack Obama makes the final leg of his inaugural journey to the nation's capital.

People have stood along the route to see his train pass by -- not massive crowds but clusters along weedy roads, highway overpasses, on the stoops of boarded up homes.

They have waited a long afternoon in the city squares to hear him speak.

Each time the train stops, he tells them over and over again, this journey isn't about him -- it's about them.

The crowd here in Baltimore appreciated the global warming line. Someone then hollered out that they loved him.

Obama answered as he often did on the campaign trail: "Love you back!"

It seems to warm the crowd every time.

3:15 p.m.

BALTIMORE - Rosa Mendoza got a shout out from the president-elect.

Barack Obama dropped a line about the Las Vegas teacher and community organizer into his speech here this afternoon.

Obama has been telling the crowds at stops along his inaugural train route about the ordinary Americans whose voices he will carry with him to Washington.

This time, he brought up Mendoza and her work at the middle school helping young people "fulfill their God-given potential."

"These are the stories that will drive me in the days ahead," Obama said.

Mendoza was thrilled to get such attention -- "like the angels poured bliss on me," she said.

6:28 p.m.

WASHINGTON - The president-elect's train rolled quietly into the nation's capital tonight, the long journey done.

No speeches here, no fanfare. Only one president at a time. Union Station was crowded with visitors coming in for the inauguration next week.

Rosa Mendoza and her daughter enjoyed the final miles. The inaugural parade ticket she had given Barack Obama to sign earlier in the day, when he visited her train car and chatted with guests, shaking hands, was returned by an aide with his signature.

She was thrilled, a keepsake.

Today's train trip was over, but for her and many others, Obama's journey was just beginning.

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