BROOKSVILLE — Richard Howell describes it this way:
"Oh, man. At first, I wondered what (the envelope) is. It says, 'Don't Fold' and 'Handle With Care.'
"Then I see 'The Presidential Inaugural Committee,' and I'm pumped a little bit. As a matter of fact, I was panicked trying to get it open. I just ripped it.
"And then I looked in the envelope and I saw it, and it was just shocking."
"It" is a ticket to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.
Howell, a Brooksville activist who volunteered in Obama's campaign, is one of a number of Hernando County residents making the trip and braving the elements to witness history at noon Tuesday.
Leechele Booker, 38, the principal at D.S. Parrott Middle School, is another. She planned to attend regardless of whether she scored a hard-to-get ticket. But at the last minute, a friend came through with two.
"I'm too excited," she said. "I have to keep containing myself."
She compared it to winning the lottery.
"There were thousands who put in for those tickets," she said.
In fact, there were 4,000 to 5,000 requests for tickets from U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite's office, said spokesman Charlie Keller.
The Brooksville Republican, who is planning to attend, received 196 tickets, about 25 highly coveted seats and 170 still enviable standing-room-only spots. She kept a few for family, and the rest were distributed in pairs first-come, first-served, Keller said.
Hernando residents who cannot see the inauguration live can still attend a local celebration and luncheon sponsored by the Hernando Democratic Club. About 75 people are already scheduled to attend, organizers said.
The luncheon is sure to attract a number of those who changed their minds about going to Washington when they learned what Inauguration Day involved.
The massive crowd expected — estimated in the several millions — is translating into inflated hotel prices, massive traffic jams, closed roads and unprecedented security delays. Oh, and forecasts put the high temperature at 30 degrees.
"I'm trying to get prepared for the weather," said Booker, a Florida native. "My blood is probably a little thin."
The cold doesn't worry Bob Holmes, who has a standing-room ticket.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," said Holmes, a local party activist who volunteered for the Obama campaign and met the candidate at an event in Tampa. "It's like crossing the stage at graduation vs. getting your diploma mailed to you."
Holmes, an African-American, is already considering the significance of the occasion.
"It will be emotional," he said.
To Howell, a longtime member of the local NAACP chapter, a ticket to the event is a reward for the long hours and an inspiration to continue his efforts.
And he said he hopes the moment will have a lasting effect back home, changing people's "attitudes about everything: how far you can go in life and whether you can be president."
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.