Though reports on the attendance at President Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony last Friday vary, a Lily man and his friend were among the crowd, standing on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol for the event.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Chris McQueen, who attended the event with his friend Keegan Bray.
The duo’s quest to attend the inauguration began back in June during a vacation trip to Washington, D.C.
Though admission to the museums and government buildings are free, some things do require passes such as the White House tour, and access to the Senate or House of Representatives visitor’s gallery.
McQueen said they stopped by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s, R-Ky., office. McConnell’s staff was very helpful in providing passes.
“It was a very historical trip,” McQueen said.
“As we were coming home, I said ;No matter who wins in November, let’s go to the inauguration.’” McQueen added.
With that in mind, McQueen said he contacted McConnell’s office and inquired about getting tickets. A staff member emailed McQueen back and said the duo had been put into the lottery system to win tickets.
In mid-December McQueen received another email from McConnell’s office to inform him that he had been selected to attend and asking whether he still planned to attend.
“That is when we started planning the trip,” McQueen said.
One of the biggest hurdles was finding a place to stay.
“The hotel we stayed in when were there in June cost $79 per night. McQueen said. That same hotel was already sold out even though it was charging $972 and change. I already knew we were in trouble.”
Even searching hotels within 100 miles of Washington, D.C. the duo was unable to find a room.
That is when McQueen, a super fan of the classic television show “The Dukes of Hazzard,” turned to one of his connections.
Ben Jones, who played mechanic “Cooter” on the show, and who later served as a Congressman, now lives in Virginia about 45 minutes from the capital.
McQueen, who has full-size working replicas of the Dukes’ General Lee Dodge Charger and Hazzard County Sheriff’s car, had come to know Jones and his wife, Alma, through his love of the show. Jones is one of the cast members who has autographed his General Lee car.
McQueen put in a call to Jones to ask if there were any hotels that may not appear on the websites that they may have a room.
“Alma said, ‘Why don’t you stay with us?’”
The duo eagerly accepted the invitation and drove to the Jones log cabin home, part of which was built in the late 1700’s.
“It was another plus about the trip,” McQueen said. “We got to stay with ‘Cooter’ at his house.”
McQueen said the trip continued to get better as they were leaving the “Make America Great Again Celebration” Thursday night outside the Lincoln Memorial.
As the duo made their way to the DC Metro station after the event, they took a detour down a side street.
As they approached the end of the street, McQueen said there were police at the end who had set up barricades to stop vehicle traffic at the end.
A few minutes later, several officers riding motorcycles came down the street where the duo now stood on the sidewalk.
As a veteran of the Kentucky State Police Division of Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, McQueen said he quickly recognized that the motorcycles were the beginnings of a motorcade.
“Here comes Donald Trump in the motorcade and he waves at us,” McQueen said adding the windows of the Chevrolet Suburban were not tinted so you could look right in and see it was Trump.
“He looked right over there and just waved,” McQueen said adding from the sidewalk it was about approximately 15 to 20 feet to the vehicle.
The duo got into Washington, D.C. at about 5 a.m. to make the journey to the Capitol in order to be in place for the ceremony scheduled for noon.
Despite how the media portrayed it, McQueen said demonstrators were few and far between.
“You would have a very small group of two to three people,” McQueen said. “The media would automatically run over to them and film them.”
McQueen said those in attendance went through numerous checkpoints noting the whole National Mall area was fenced off and tickets were required.
“Further on back you didn’t need a ticket,” McQueen explained.
McQueen said he didn’t worry about violence or some type of terrorist attack occurring.
“It was a very secure area,” McQueen said. “We were probably in the safest place on Earth that day.”
As to what he could actually see, McQueen said Trump and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert appeared small from where the duo was standing, but he described the view as “perfect.”
“It was a historical event,” McQueen said. “It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”