Four million people, including Bono and Beyoncé, to attend Obama inauguration
With a week to go before Barack Obama is sworn in, the hype is unstoppable. In the bus queues and at the hairdressers across the country, on talk radio and on the blogs, the only subject worth discussing is next Tuesday's inauguration. Yesterday's excitement was all about the Obama tattoo man, Ryan Hadley.
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, he was busy applying Obama tattoos on the waistlines of two teenage girls. Other customers wanted them on their legs, arms and waistlines. "The smallest costs $50 (£35) and one the size of a softball will set you back $600," he said. "They can always be lasered away but so far they are loving them."
Starting this weekend, more than 10,000 buses as well as countless cars, trains and planes will ferry upwards of 4 million people into Washington, DC. Everyone is hoping to catch a glimpse of the new president during his inauguration and they will all have to squeeze on to wide expanse of grass between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial known as The Mall. The weather is expected to be freezing but dry.
Only a small number of those waiting for hours will manage to clap eyes on President Obama as his armour-plated limousine rolls by. Most of those on The Mall will have to make do with huge television monitors.
But that has not dimmed the excitement pulsing through the country. A gold-embossed invitation dropped through millions of letter-boxes this week, for what seemed to be the wedding spectacular of the year. The invitation said the "the presidential Inauguration Committee requests the honour of your presence to attend and participate in the inauguration", followed by the words Barack H Obama and Joseph R Biden Jr. There were shrieks of excitement as the envelope was ripped open. To the disappointment of all, the official letter was simply a commemorative keepsake as worthless as any other junk mail.
But it was some consolation of a sort for the millions of Americans who donated $25 or $75 to the Obama campaign last year. With the country in a deep recession, about the only bright spot on the retail horizon are the profits being made from marketing Mr Obama's image. A number of the empty holes in shopping centres have been transformed into Obama memorabilia shops.
Travellers arriving at Ronald Reagan airport just outside Washington walk straight into a special presidential shop where the shelves are heaving with Obama tat. Even the Inauguration Committee has opened a shop to profit from the excitement of the history-making ceremony. Yesterday the Inauguration Committee was offering one of the street artist Shepard Fairey's posters of Mr Obama for $20 "or two for $35".
Gregory Craig is one of Washington's top lawyers and when he was offered the job of White House counsel for the President-elect he had reason to assume he would be dealing with such key issues as conflicts of interest and the legal limits of interrogation in Guantanamo and elsewhere. Instead he is busy trying to halt the unlicensed commercial exploitation of his client's image.
Federal law prohibits the improper use of the "likeness of the great seal of the United States". As keeper of the official presidential seal, it is Mr Craig's job to ensure it is not used on hoodies, bottle-openers or any other item. The full weight of the law is also being brought down on those selling Obama-themed items on almost every street corner. As of noon on 20 January, letters will be sent out from Mr Craig's team warning retailers to knock it off.
From the moment Mr Obama was elected, people across the Washington region began dreaming of an easy payday from renting out their homes to the millions of visitors expected in the city. Craigslist, the free online listing service, was soon full of advertisements from people asking daft prices for their flats. The owners made plans to head off to the beach and waited for the money to roll in.
They were chasing fool's gold, says Jeff Wilson, a local estate agent offering two luxurious properties to celebrity clients for $60,000-70,000 for each for the week. Most of those who hoped to make a killing on renting out their flats were disappointed to find offers coming in of only a few hundred dollars a night. "My properties are very rare," said Mr Wilson. "They are in town and can offer a level of quality that celebrities are used to in their own homes." Indeed the "spectacular neo-classical mansion" Mr Wilson is advertising has space enough for a private party of 150 and is only a stone's throw from the Washington Hilton where the Constitution Ball will be held. It was still on the market yesterday.
Many get-rich-quick schemes were hatched after a New York Times article revealed that, within days of the election, almost every Washington, DC, hotel was booked up. People were being forced to seek accommodation two hours away in Annapolis, Maryland, and Charlottesville, Virginia. For his big night, the President-elect, who is famously frugal and dislikes shopping, ordered his first new tuxedo in 15 years.
A long list of celebrities is coming to town, including Spike Lee, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Susan Sarandon. Elvis Costello, Sting and Sam Moore will sing at the Creative Coalition ball, while the Lincoln Memorial is the venue for a Sunday afternoon pre-inauguration concert. The star guests will be Barack and Michelle Obama, but the line-up on-stage won't be too shabby either. Performers will include Beyoncé, Bono and Bruce Springsteen.
The millions of people who contributed to Mr Obama's victory are being asked to contribute even more money. The campaign manager David Plouffe regularly sends the online hat around. Other emails come from Al Gore, Joe Biden and even Bill Clinton. Nothing so grubby has come from the incoming First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her latest email was an "appeal for service" – in other words more unpaid volunteering from out-of-work Americans.
The greatest excitement seems to be among the capital's black community where lots of private parties are being planned. "We're twice as busy as we were four years ago," said Eric Michael, a caterer. "There were plenty of splashy black-tie affairs for the Clinton and Bush inaugurals, but no one's doing that this time around."
The parties are being toned down because the incoming Obama administration is serious about changing the way Washington lobbyists conduct business. New ethics rules mean that knives and forks as well as plates wider than 6 inches are banned for any party for politicians or government officials.
The lobbyists have quickly found a way round the new rules though and, the night before the inauguration, an unnamed lobbyist is hosting a party for new members of Congress at Charlie Palmer Steak. They will be offered chopsticks to eat the foie gras, crab fritters with caviar, truffled beer tartare and lobster spring rolls.
The unofficial parties taking place all over town are beyond the control of the Obama team and expected to be much less restrained. And for those visitors without accommodation, the bars will be staying open until 5am for four nights running.
Inauguration Day: Hour-by-hour
Gridlock is expected as an influx into Washington DC of as many as 10,000 tour buses begins (parked end to end they would stretch 90 miles). Ticket holders for the noon swearing-in are advised to arrive on the Mall by 9.30am at the latest for security screening.
After a morning church service, Barack Obama arrives at the White House to share coffee and niceties with President George Bush. Soon after, the men will share a car for the ride up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill for the inauguration ceremonies – and more time for awkward conversation.
On the west front of the US Capitol, Senator Dianne Feinstein will issue a call to order before the Rev Rick Warren gives the invocation. Aretha Franklin will then perform before Joe Biden is sworn in as Vice-President. Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma will lead a performance of music by John Williams.
Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts.
President Obama will deliver his inaugural address to the assembled dignitaries (foreign leaders were not invited), the 240,000 ticket holders and a sea of citizens before him down the entire length of the Mall. The President will be mostly visible on giant television screens.
President Obama will escort former president George Bush and Laura Bush to the west front of the Capitol and the Marine One helicopter will lift them up and away to Andrews Air Force base for a flight to Texas, and retirement. President Obama will then attend an inaugural luncheon in the Statuary Hall of the Capitol. On the menu: oysters and pheasant.
Obama joins the inauguration parade that will sweep him back down Pennsylvania Avenue to his new home, the White House, at a very slow pace. He is expected to step out of his new armoured limousine and walk part of the way, if the Secret Service allows it. Also in the parade: countless military bands and the band of Punahou High School from Hawaii, which Barack Obama attended as a teenager; 2.5 million cheering people are expected along the route.
More gridlock in DC as revellers party. The biggest question of all will soon be answered... what will Michelle Obama wear? The first couple and Joe Biden and his wife are to make appearances at each of 10 official inaugural balls across downtown and countless other balls all across town, including the environmentally conscious Green Ball and the Creative Coalition Ball for Hollywood celebrities and those who like to spot them.