When I heard that President Ford had passed away, my heart sank. Not that I was sad at a life lost. He was 93, and he lived a long, distinguished life. I hated it because this is a bad time of year to take a road trip to D.C.

Two and a half years ago, I spent five hours shuffling through what seemed like the world’s longest queue when President Reagan died. I joined thousands who paid their last respects to him.

Despite the blisters I had on my feet, I decided I would try to make it to the capitol each time a president lay in state at the rotunda

Because I live in Danville, Washington seemed out of reach. I thought about driving to Grand Rapids, Mich., instead. I walked into my brother’s office on Thursday. He immediately asked me my plans for the weekend. He needed someone to drive him to Virginia on Saturday to pick up a car.

It is crazy how things work out like that!

In 2004, I remember the shock at seeing just how far the line extended, covering much of the west lawn of the capitol. The line extended down the mall in front of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Though tired, everyone in line remained calm and patient.

I spent so much time talking with the people around me in line, at the time, I could tell you their life stories afterwards.

This time around, I saw hundreds lined up instead of thousands. Last time, everyone seemed more solemn. Now, I think everyone was just suffering from extreme fatigue.

Sunday, I talked to people who were in line around me. We had brief conversations, but then again, our time in line was brief.

One woman had just moved back to the area from Philadelphia. She came prepared for any weather. Two couples in front of me were in town from Massachusetts, so they said that they wanted be a part of history. All were glad to be there.

The feeling upon entering the rotunda remained the same. Though people chatted all the way up to that point, all noise and conversations stopped. You did not just hear the quiet; you could feel it.

President Ford’s flag-draped wooden casket sat in the middle of the room. The military guard of honor stood watch so still they looked like wax figures. Paintings and statues of historical figures around the room seemed to watch him, almost welcoming him over to join them.

When you leave the room, U.S. capitol police usher you down the stairs and through hallways until you come outdoors facing the mall. This was not the time to stop and check out exhibits in the building, but conversations pick up again

I did stop to ask about the setup. Everywhere you looked, there were ropes and barricades set up to create the theme park-like queue areas. While they never thought it would be the same as June 2004, they could not consider not preparing the same way.

I continued on to where we were handed the presidential funeral card. Books that will be given to the Ford family sat on tables nearby. We all had the opportunity to sign our name and location.

I quickly signed my name and wrote out Danville, IL, quite satisfied that it was not too far out of the way after all.

Recommended for you