U/MIAMI NEWS SERVICE
A week after the historic inauguration that gave the United States its first African-American president, a Lauderdale Lakes resident is still explaining why her effort to take South Floridians to the ceremony went wrong.
“We did try,” said Beverly Williams, 62, who organized the “Hot 105 South Florida Travelers for Change,” a $160 round-trip bus ride in collaboration with the radio station.
The station helped promote the effort and awarded a free trip to four Hot 105 listeners who won tickets in a drawing.
Although the excursion made it to Washington, it got there four hours after the noon-time swearing-in ceremony.
“We missed the parade, we missed everything,” said Margo Rose, a Liberty City resident.
Several factors contributed to the group’s late arrival, Williams said.
“We had a problem with the buses and ran into snow in North Carolina,” said Williams, adding that ice had frozen on a windshield wiper, causing the wiper’s motor to blow out. Next, one of the buses had a flat tire, which was repaired on the road.
The unexpected snow also proved to be a challenge, said Michael Williams, whose company, ENC Interstate Charter, provided the buses. Only two of the three chartered buses arrived in D.C.
“We were somewhere in Virginia and one of the buses broke down. So all the people on that bus had to split up and board the other two buses,” said Mary Allen, 53, of Homestead. “There were people standing for hours.”
“Our lives were jeopardized,” Rose said.
“The snow in North Carolina really slowed us down,” said Michael Williams, who is not related to trip coordinator Beverly Williams. The heaters stopped working on his bus, he said.
“After getting to D.C., I dropped everyone off, and two passengers went with me to get the heater fixed,” Michael Williams said.
Additionally, the bus that broke down was repaired so that three buses made it for the return trip.
But on the way back to Miami, the heater broke down again, prompting Williams to stop at a Lowe’s store and purchase space heaters for the bus.
Beverly Williams said she faults some of the 139 passengers for causing the delay.
“The drive took longer than anticipated, but it’s not always the driver’s fault,” she said. “Delays took place that shouldn’t have. Some people took too long at the rest stops.”
Williams, the bus company owner, also said some of the passengers made matters worse.
“I told them, ‘My job is to get you to D.C. safe,’ he said. “We gave people 10-15 minutes at the stops and some were taking an hour. You can’t control people.”
But Rose said the buses were not equipped for such a long trip.
“We couldn’t understand why we were stopping so many times,” she said. “There was no heater, no running water. No one could use the bathrooms.”
Beverly Williams acknowledged the lack of running water.
“They were provided with hand wipes and things like that,” she said.
The ride home also returned late. The flyer for the trip claimed a Wednesday afternoon arrival time, but Rose said passengers did not get back until about midnight, adding that she has since tried contacting the radio station to no avail.
The radio station also did not return repeated calls from the South Florida Times for comment.
But Beverly Williams, a retired nurse who took more than a month to plan the trip, claims the feedback has not been all bad.
“I have gotten some emails saying, ‘Thank you,’ she said.
Passenger Candace Johnson sent such an email.
“Thank you for a wonderful opportunity that created an experience that no one can take away from me,” she wrote.
Still reeling from the turn of events on the trip, Beverly Williams said that even with the best intentions, things can go wrong.
“Even some people who had tickets to the inauguration and were already there weren’t able to get in,” she said. “But let’s just say that next time I’ll do things a little differently.”
Despite the setbacks, the group envisions a reunion.
In the works: T-shirts that say “Exit 169” – that's where they were getting off the highway in Virginia when President Barack Obama was being sworn in.
Editor’s Note: Rebecca Rodriguez is a graduate student of journalism at the University of Miami.