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Want To Attend The Inauguration? Good Luck

Those heading to Washington to witness Barack Obama's inauguration as the first black U.S. president will need lots of luck, and probably hope, to find a place to stay.

They might be able to pay $40,000 for a four-night stay at a fancy hotel or stay on someone's couch or floor. Anything in between is just about gone for the Jan. 20 event.

With hotels nearly booked up, lots of out-of-towners are suddenly deciding it's time to pay a visit to friends or relatives in Washington and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. Others are more imaginative.

"Your apartment in Washington DC for a week ... for my apartment in Beverly Hills, CA," says one ad. "It's nothing large, just a smallish 1 bedroom, but it's smack dab in 90210!"

"With this being such a historical event, people are truly making the most out of it," said Doug Camp, marketing director at the sold-out Hay-Adams Hotel on Lafayette Square across from the White House. "It's almost like another Millennium experience."

Already, there is a waiting list at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, where civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. finished writing his "I Have a Dream" speech. Guests are paying a minimum of $949 a night with a four-night stay required, spokeswoman Barbara Bahny David said.

"About 10 minutes after 11 on election night we had flurry of calls," she said. Most rooms at the hotel, located along the Inaugural parade route, were booked months ago.

Also gone: The 221 rooms at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, including a royal suite that costs $15,000 a night. So, too, are rooms at more modest-priced hotels such as the Quality Inn on New York Avenue in northeast Washington.

"There's a lot more interest this early than previous inaugurations," said William Hanbury, president of Destination DC, the city's tourism bureau. He said those serious about coming need to wrap up their plans in the next two weeks.

There are 29,000 hotel rooms in Washington and about 95,000 across the region, according to Destination DC. Many hotels are requiring a minimum three- to four-night stay. Other properties report setting aside their remaining rooms for VIPs and repeat customers.

"Unless you're lucky, or have a lot of money to spend, you might not get to be involved," said Stephanie Holloway, vice president of the Capital City Young Democrats in Austin, Texas.

Holloway said she initially hoped to bring a large group to Washington if Obama won, but quickly realized the costs were too exorbitant.

For those with deep pockets, the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill still has a $25,000 Inauguration package for two that includes four nights in the grand Presidential Suite with limousine service, a day at the spa and a private butler.

The butler can be summoned for almost anything - even, the hotel promises, for "drawing a bath with rose petals." The over-the-top package also comes with two tickets to watch the Inaugural parade and, for warmth, Thomas Pink designer scarves and gloves.

Speaking of the parade, it might be difficult to get within eyesight of the cars going by. And the swearing-in at the Capitol? That could be a tough ticket, too.

Wealthy people can spend $40,000 on an "Eco-Inaugural" package at the Fairmont Hotel in Foggy Bottom. The four-night extravaganza includes the exclusive use of a Lexus hybrid vehicle - driver included - and his and her organic spa treatments with a massage and manicures. The Fairmont's "First Lady" will also get her own eco-friendly ball gown. And, following a night at the Inaugural balls, the hotel will serve an organic supper for 10.

"I'm so shocked at the enormity of the price gouging," said Elle Peterson, a writer in Charlotte, N.C., who posted an ad last week on Craigslist seeking lodging. She is hoping to stay along with her three sisters at a home in Georgetown for up to $80 a night. "We want to share in this most memorable occasion without having to pay outstanding prices," her ad reads.

Peterson is hardly alone. "We are willing to pay rent, do dishes," reads another ad pleading for help. "We are fun people!"

Holloway, with the Austin Young Democrats, said she, too, turned to Craigslist for help and has arranged to stay at a home for free in Alexandria, Virginia.

Demand is so intense that business is even brisk at Cherry Hill, an RV park and campground in College Park, Maryland. Owner Mike Gurevich says 100 of park's 300 sites have already been reserved. The cost: $55 a night.

"A typical weekend in January would be zip," he said. "The only other time that we really saw a spike was Clinton's first Inauguration - and that was a dozen and a half people."

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