Four years ago, Michael “Huggy Bear” Huggins was out of work and inspired by the election of the nation’s first African-American president.
So that he and other Toledoans could share in the inauguration of President Obama, Mr. Huggins chartered a bus, collected the money, and took 54 people to Washington, a 10-hour trip each way with stops only for food, fuel, and the inauguration itself.
Despite an eight-hour delay because of mechanical problems in Youngstown, Mr. Huggins, 46, said the trip was a great success.
Now he’s gearing up to do the same thing, this time with four buses and the option for two of those buses to spend inauguration night at a hotel in Washington.
“It’s really a break-even type thing, solely to uplift the city of Toledo,” Mr. Huggins said.
Mr. Huggins has a Web site, washingtonbustrip.com, where people can go to reserve a seat on one of the buses. He’s made arrangements with Blue Lakes Charters and Tours in Perrysburg, the same company he used for a trip to see the dedication of a memorial to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in October, 2011, but different from the bus line that had the mechanical failure in Youngstown.
A native of Toledo, Mr. Huggins graduated from Scott High School and went to work as a forklift driver for steel companies. He was laid off at the time of Mr. Obama’s first inauguration, and then later went back to work.
Now, he’s laid off again, which is not uncommon for this time of year. But there’s a feeling of uncertainty this time. He works for a company that prepares steel for cans for the food industry.
“The steel company I work for is waiting for Congress. This ‘fiscal cliff’ thing is having an impact on my company and a lot of companies so they can’t get people back to work,"”Mr. Huggins said. He said the potential “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that takes effect Jan. 1 unless President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) reach an agreement, could have such a huge negative impact that consumers will reduce their spending on canned food items.
Mr. Huggins is an avid viewer of CNN, and follows national politics closely. Organizing bus tours is about as close as he gets to actual politics. He said the tour is an opportunity to share in a historic event that people might not have attempted on their own.
“I’m looking to bring a lot of stories back here to Toledo and share with folks that maybe didn’t get a chance to go and reflect on the history that’s being made once again,” he said.
This year’s bus trip departs from the Home Depot parking lot at 3200 Secor Rd. at 9 p.m. Jan. 20 and arrives in the nation's capitol at 7 a.m. Jan. 21. The public inauguration is being held a day late out of a tradition because the inaugural day would fall on a Sunday this year. In keeping with another tradition, Mr. Obama will be sworn in privately on the 20th.
After the ceremony ends at 1 p.m., visitors will have a few hours to sightsee on the National Mall before they return to the buses at 5 p.m. The price for the “turnaround bus” is $135. The price for the bus trip with the overnight stay is $385. Mr. Huggins said the hotel locations, where he has reserved space, are two Motel 6’s in southwest Washington and Springfield, Va.
Preston Stallings, 67, a neighbor of Mr. Huggins in southwest Toledo, said he went on the trip four years ago with his two sons and his stepdaughter. The retired postal service manager is pondering whether to go again.
“Michael tried to make us comfortable when we went up and came back. Michael’s the kind of guy wants to make sure everybody’s happy and everybody’s content,” Mr. Stallings said.
“I think it’s terrific. Those people that didn’t go in 2009 should make the trip,” he said
His advice is to wear comfortable shoes. “We must have walked two miles before we got to the monument,” Mr. Stalling said.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.