Riding in style to the inauguration

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By Jesef Williams

Freshly cooked meals and comfortable lodging will be readily available for many traveling via train to the upcoming inaugural events in Washington, D.C.

Lancaster-based L&C Railway has turned two of its cars – the J. Pinckney Henderson and Hollywood Beach – into mobile luxury suites equipped with bedrooms, private washrooms and areas for dining and lounging.

Lancaster County residents, along with people from North Carolina and other areas, are taking these two cars to Washington, where they will stay for four days and witness the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president and the nation’s first black president.

Bob Willetts, L&C’s director of passenger services, said the two cars are already in Charlotte, where they will be linked with the Amtrak Carolinian train. From Charlotte, the train will make several stops, including Greensboro and Raleigh, N.C., before arriving in Washington.

The trains will leave from Charlotte on Saturday morning and return Wednesday.

The two cars can accommodate 28 people, Willetts said. As of Wednesday afternoon, 24 people were booked.

Willetts said people began contacting L&C in October, wondering if the company would be providing transportation to the inauguration. Willetts has been to presidential inaugurals before, but believes that none are going to come close to next week’s.

“I’m excited too,” Willetts said. “I can’t wait to go.”

L&C’s cars will be parked at Union Station, which Willetts said is five blocks from where Obama will be sworn in as president. Willetts said that close proximity is what makes this trip especially worthwhile.

“It’s like we have an apartment on Capital Hill,” Willetts said. “That’s pretty cool.”

The trip costs $1,800 for each person staying overnight and $600 for those who are just riding.

John Mickey, L&C’s chef, said he’s prepared to provide  riders with full gourmet meal service, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.

With a big smile, he adds that his cooking is as good as any you can get in Washington.

“I feel privileged to be able to take these people up there,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Willetts noted that the J. Pinckney Henderson passenger car was used during the segregation era when black and white travelers were separated.

“What a turnaround in history,” he said, referring to the inauguration of America’s first black president.

Bus travels

Lancaster Tours Inc. is chartering several buses for groups heading to the inauguration.

Earlier this week, sales rep Frankie Sistare said the group had 12 of its 17 buses confirmed.

The buses hold between 49 and 57 passengers.

Interestingly, none of the customers are from Lancaster County.

Groups traveling via Lancaster Tours include members of the S.C. National Guard and the Manning High School marching band, which is performing as part of the inaugural events.

The bus drivers will meet the groups at their respective locations. The trip lengths vary, as some groups plan to stay in Washington longer than others.

Sistare said people started calling Lancaster Tours about booking buses moments after the election was over. There were voice mail messages waiting for staff the next morning.

“I’m really surprised,” Sistare said about the amount of inquiries. “This is the greatest response we’ve ever had.”

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152