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November 22, 2014

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The Inauguration:

At this diner, history noted with quiet reverence

Image

STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN

Before opening M&M Chicken-N-Waffles for the day Tuesday, waitress Iesha Hall watches President Barack Obama speak at his inauguration in Washington.

Inauguration Watch

A crowd gathered at The Miracle Mile Shops to watch the inauguration on large video screens Tuesday morning.

M&M Chicken and Waffles

Waitress Iesha Hall watches television coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration at the M&M Chicken and Waffles restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Launch slideshow »

Obama inauguration

President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia, right, and Sasha, wave after Obama was sworn in at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas reaction to Obama’s inauguration

The JumboTron outside Planet Hollywood displayed President Barack Obama's inauguration Tuesday morning on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

Waitress Iesha Hall stood motionless Tuesday morning as Barack Obama took the oath of office.

Her sneaker-clad feet seemed glued to the brown tile floor of this diner on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Las Vegas.

The restaurant is only a few blocks south of where Obama set up a Nevada campaign office more than 15 months ago. It’s less than two miles from Cashman Field, where 14,000 people watched Obama speak in September.

It has been a long year and a half of Obama fever.

Viewed on the 27-inch vintage RCA television mounted on the wall at M&M Chicken-N-Waffles, Tuesday’s experience served as a bookend for Hall, a 28-year-old black woman wearing a shirt emblazoned with photos of Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.

Throughout the campaign season, this soul food restaurant, in a minority neighborhood, had been a place for campaign discussion, prayer and praise for Obama.

A normal Tuesday shift for Hall would be 10 hours on her feet to pay the rent on a Rancho Drive condo.

But this would be no ordinary Tuesday shift. The first black president is being sworn in.

Hall opens the doors at 8:24 a.m., and David Logan, the cook, starts up the fryer.

But not much else will get done until Obama’s speech is finished 50 minutes later.

Logan wanders back to the dining room to watch the TV. Around him, the tables are arranged just so. There will be a lunch special to honor the new president: chicken, waffles and a drink for $5.99.

“That’s history,” he says, staring at the TV. “I’d love to be there.”

Neighboring shop owners drift in for coffee and their morning hellos, then slowly settle into the metal chairs to watch and comment. They speak softly, as to not disturb this scene. They use words like “amazing” and “unbelievable.”

Hall, standing in the middle of the room, crosses her arms, her French-manicured finger nails touching goose bumps on her arms. Her order pad remains holstered for the moment. She claps silently as Obama makes his entrance.

“Damn,” she whispers to herself as the CNN cameras show the never-ending mass of people filling the National Mall.

Hall says she will always remember this moment, watching a slice of history in this restaurant tucked on the end of a weathered strip mall.

It is the way people remember the seminal moments of a lifetime: 9/11, the space shuttle Challenger disaster or the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Or Obama’s win on election night in November.

Hall remains motionless in her spot 10 feet from the TV, her eyes glistening.

As Obama raises his right hand, the only sound in the diner is the soft bubbling of the kitchen fryer. Hall and Logan stare intently as the smell of chicken grease begins to fill the restaurant.

The two workers clap at the words “Congratulations, Mr. President.”

She listens to the inaugural address — “It just makes you want to strive harder,” she says — before starting her day.

She opens the curtain and pulls the switch on the fluorescent open sign.

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