As he rode 11 hours by bus to Washington from Indiana, Nicholas Kerr mentally prepared himself for Friday’s inauguration of President Trump.
The 16-year-old Newport Beach native and his polo pony would be performing there with members of the Black Horse Troop from Culver Military Academy.
“It’s just now dawning on me what an experience this is — what an honor this is,” the teenager said. “It’s amazing to be part of the action. I just hope I’m able to sleep the night before.”
While the ushering of the brash, billionaire mogul to the White House has divided much of the nation, leading to planned protests the day of the inauguration and beyond, Trump’s supporters and others attending, like Kerr, were excited about the spectacle.
Kerr has been practicing with his horse, Pardon Me, for three months, cantering, weaving in and out of complex maneuvers, trying to keep up with the fast pace while staying in formation. His 56-member mounted unit, dating back to 1913, will appear in the inaugural parade for the 17th time.
“I’m not nervous right now but I will be on the day of,” the teen said. “Wow. It’s so wow.”
Freshman Kaely Nguyen described attending the inauguration as “an opportunity I might never have again, even if I’m only 14. I want to gain an understanding of how government works. I want to see the process play out, to listen to the words and to figure out what they mean.”
She attends Mater Dei High, a private, Catholic school in Santa Ana, and flew to Washington with 40 classmates and chaperones. She plans to wear jeans and a T-shirt to what she calls “a super VIP event” because “we’re not allowed to have anything showing support for either political party, though I don’t know what party I like yet. This is a chance for me to learn.”
Her father, Vy Nguyen of Anaheim, didn’t have second thoughts on spending $1,800 to send his daughter on the three-day outing.
"She's a part of democracy. I want her to have this experience, for this is the beauty of America, whether you believe in” President-elect Trump or not, said Nguyen, 49. He sent the youngest of his four children on her first plane ride without her parents, who will watch the inauguration from home.
Kaely Nguyen is president of her freshman class and already has a campaign manager helping her plan a run for president of her sophomore class.
“She’ll get some ideas from being there in person, I know it,” Vy Nguyen said.
For Michael Lawler, 63, who will be attending his third inauguration, “every time is an amazing time to remember.”
He went to the first inaugurations of President Reagan and President Clinton — and served as finance director for Reagan’s inaugural ball committee. That connection helped him nab tickets to Friday’s event, where he and wife Barbara, 59, will sit about 100 yards from the podium where the 45th president will stand.
The couple already had a private meeting with John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the Supreme Court.
“We’ve already had one highlight. And now — Friday,” said Lawler, a Newport Beach attorney specializing in estate planning.
In 1981, Lawler had competed against Roberts to be clerk to former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Roberts got the job.
“All this excitement leading to the big day makes Washington the place to be,” said Lawler, who squeezed in tourist stops, including a tour of the Trump winery in Charlottesville, Va.
The Lawlers danced at the Ambassador’s Ball honoring the diplomatic corps and hosted by officials from Slovenia, the birth country of Trump’s wife, Melania, who will be the second first lady born outside the U.S.
“It’s one of those moments where everyone’s in a celebratory mood, even the Democrats,” Barbara Lawler said.
The idea that even Democrats were in a “celebratory mood” was highly disputable, but there were enough people alighting on the nation’s capital to show the considerable enthusiasm for Trump’s ascension to president.
Matthew Baird, who lives in downtown L.A., caught a plane Wednesday to Dallas to meet his father, Leo, on their way to Washington to “celebrate history.”
“I’ve been planning the trip since he won and we expect craziness,” Baird, an events manager said. “We expect it to be like a football tailgate party, with people drinking on the lawn, with country music and some Bruce Springsteen.”
(Springsteen tunes would have to waft from a radio, however, as a Springsteen cover band pulled out of performing as part of the inauguration in deference to the Boss, who is decidedly not a Trump fan.)
Baird, 31, said he could already imagine “lots of red, white and blue bandannas and lots of red, white and blue cutoffs” among the crowd.
He and four friends joined an online pool, betting on who would win the presidency, and claimed the $5,000 prize. That helped him pay for the D.C. festivities, Baird said.
“But we’re leaving right after it ends — in case something happens,” he said. “We’ll be keeping our eyes open, we want to stay safe.”
Still, Baird said he was excited.
“It means so much that we can be there,” he said before rushing to the airport to head to D.C.. “We’re all hoping that Trump will make a good name for the Republican Party.”