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On A Wing and A Prayer; Discussion of President Elect Obama's Place in History

Aired January 16, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, on a wing and a prayer -- they thought they were going to die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when I get home, I wanted to take my daughter and put her right here and her little warm body and give her a nice kiss from daddy.


KING: The heart-stopping drama lifts the spirits of an entire country. America needed a happy ending and the pilot delivered. But not before passengers sent gripping text messages like this to loved ones.


Our plane is crashing!

KING: Meet the woman who wrote it and the man who received it. Others who lived to tell are here, too.

Plus, he's the next U.S. president, but Barack Obama is inauguration has captured the world's attention.

Can Washington handle it all?

Ready or not, the Obama train rolls into history next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening from Washington.

If there was a good news story -- ever was a good news story, a great news story, this is it. We're just beginning to hear all of the phenomenal stories of fear and hope and courage. There are 156 survivors. Everyone on that plane lived. And we're hearing some of their stories tonight.

We begin in Charlotte, North Carolina, with Vince Spera, one of the survivors; and Darren Beck, another survivor; and Don Norton, another survivor. There you see all three sitting.

Vince, did you have any apprehension about flying down to Charlotte today? VINCE SPERA, CRASH SURVIVOR: Actually, I flew in yesterday. I was on the last plane out of LaGuardia, a 10:00 p.m. Flight. I landed here in Charlotte about a little bit after midnight last night -- or this morning, I guess.

KING: Was it US Air?

SPERA: US Air. Yes.

KING: Darren, did you have any apprehension about flying?

DARREN BECK, CRASH SURVIVOR: Absolutely. Yes. I was very hesitant to get back on an airplane. But honestly, my desire to see my wife and three boys again overrode any fear I had of getting on that plane.

KING: Did you fly down today?

BECK: I flew down last night, also. I wanted to get home as soon as possible and hug my family.

KING: And, Don, what about you?

Did you have any worries?

DON NORTON, CRASH SURVIVOR: Yes. I mean it was definitely a little nerve-wracking last night when we flew back. I mean especially as we were doing takeoff and landing. It was very anxious. But the same thing, you know, that Darren said. I was really anxious to get back and see my family, hug my two -and-a-half-year-old son. And my wife.

KING: All right, Vince, where were you on the plane and give us -- tell us what happened?

SPERA: Larry, I was on seat 16C on the aisle, on the left hand side of the aircraft. Obviously, we took off -- a little light chop when we took off, something normal.

As we ascended, we heard a large, loud boom. And then the plane started to decelerate. The pilot started to make a bank left and then he really made a hard bank left after that, positioned himself over the water. At the whole time, there was no communication with us from the pilot.

And as the plane started to descend into the water, he then said, "brace for impact." In no uncertain terms, he said, "brace for impact." And about 15 seconds later, we hit the water.

KING: And, Darren, what was that like, hitting the water in a plane?

BECK: That was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. You know, I can't say I've ever been in a plane crash before. I was more fearful that we were going to flip over or cartwheel or something. We did lift out of the water slightly. But we fortunately fell back down flat. And I was incredibly relieved. KING: And Darren, when you got in the life raft, you called home?

BECK: I did, yes. That's probably not the best thing to do. I probably should have been trying to get on the ferry. But I didn't want my wife to see it on the news, because I knew it would be all over. I could see the helicopters swirling already. And I just -- I called her and said, "You know, honey, I can't talk now. My plane crashed. But I'm fine."

I don't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing...

KING: What did she say?

BECK: But I just wanted her to know from me.

BECK: She said, "What are you talking about, you know?"


BECK: She thought -- normally when I fly out of New York, the biggest concern -- usually when I call her, that means the flight is delayed. That's a very common thing out of LaGuardia. But in this case, she probably wishes it was a delay instead of a plane crash.

KING: All right, Don, were you very scared?

NORTON: I mean -- yes. I mean, when we were -- when we hit the water, I mean it was -- you know, it was very jarring. I was in seat 11F. I was right by the emergency exit, right by the door. You know, I jolted a little bit forward.

You know, it was -- it was terrifying at first. But then when I realized that the plane had come to a complete stop and we were still in one piece, I felt a lot of relief. And then I just went to open the emergency exit door as fast as I could.

KING: Was it easy or hard to open?

NORTON: It was easy to open and pull -- pull off. But then I had -- it was a little bit challenging to take it and put it back through the hole and into the water so people could get out. But I was able to maneuver it through and then throw it into the water and then step on the wing. And then everyone started streaming out of the plane.

KING: How quick were the rescuers there?

NORTON: They were there as soon as soon as -- as soon as I was -- saw right outside of the plane. And we saw ferries converging on us. I saw helicopters in the air. I mean they were there in seconds. I mean, obviously, they were already on their way, you know, as soon as they saw us hit.

KING: Vince, when you flew out last night, did the pilot or co- pilot make any reference to the crash?

SPERA: The flight attendant did. We were on a CRJ, a smaller two by two plane. It was myself and about eight or nine others that were in the crash, as well, plus the regular passengers on the plane. The flight attendant did make a big deal that we were on the plane. And by the end of the flight, I think the whole plane had pretty much bonded.

KING: Darren, did you have to pay for the flight?

BECK: No. Well, I was very fortunate, actually, in that the -- the CEO of our company was on the phone with me constantly. Don and I work for the same company. And he was very concerned about us and another individual from our company that were on the plane. I wasn't sure exactly when we were going to get out or how we were going to get out. And he said don't worry about anything, I'm going to -- I'm going to charter you a plane to get you back as soon as possible to be with your families.

KING: That's great.

Don, did you think, when it started to bank and turn and there was the sound, that you were headed to LaGuardia or to Teterboro?

NORTON: I actually -- I absolutely thought we were headed to LaGuardia at first, because when our engine -- what I thought blew -- the pilot kept it very, very steady. And it was -- it just felt like if we were just going back to the airport.

When he took another hard left, I knew that we -- we weren't going back to LaGuardia. And that's when I started to see water. And I was like, OK, I guess we're going into the water.

KING: We're going to take a break.

When we come back, we're going to have some extra added additions to the guests, right after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, you just heard a loud bang. You could smell like smoke, like fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The engine blew about three minutes into the flight. Smoke came out everywhere. A couple of minutes later, the captain came on and said we're going to dump this plane, brace for impact.


KING: With us from Charlotte, Vince Spera, Darren Beck and Don Norton.

And also joining us, right behind her husband, is Tara Beck and little Tyler Beck, the 10-year-old.

All right, Tara, what was it like when you got that strange phone call? TYLER BECK, DARREN'S SON: It was kind of weird, actually, because I was just expecting my dad to come back from an ordinary business trip. And then when I got the phone call, it was just like, oh, my gosh, is he OK?

I'm scared.

What will happen to him?

KING: What was it like for you, Tara?

TARA BECK, DARREN'S WIFE: It was -- it was really frightening. I was really glad he called me before I saw anything on the news. So I was really glad he was OK. But it was still a very nerve-wracking, frightening day watching it go down on TV.

KING: After the call, did you turn on the TV right away?

TARA BECK: Unfortunately, I was on my way out the door to pick up Tyler at school. So -- and he just -- it was real quick and he had to hang up. So I was panicked. And I was calling my friends to have them figure out what was going on. But nobody was answering the phone.

And I kind of thought he was probably on the runway. Usually you don't get a phone call that, you know, we crashed and we're OK. I didn't think he made it very far. And the next time he called, he said he was in the river. And that's when I really kind of panicked.

KING: Well, Tyler, did -- I understand you gave your dad -- what did you give him, a medal?

TYLER BECK: Yes. I made my mom promise to tell my dad to wake me up as soon as he got home, because I'm like when you get home, you're going to get in and give me a hug, I don't care how late it is. So I gave him this little medal I won in a triathlon. And I'm like this is your survivor medal.

KING: What grade are you in?

TYLER BECK, DARREN'S SON: I'm in fifth grade.

KING: Well, Darren, you must be mighty proud.

BECK: Yes, Larry, you can see why I was in such a hurry to get back.

KING: Vince, was your...

TYLER BECK: Thank you.

KING: did your wife handle all of this?

SPERA: Well, it was interesting, Larry. I was actually on the 5:00 flight originally. But I hopped an earlier one to get home early. So she was very excited that I was coming home early. Unfortunately, that didn't work out and I didn't get home early. But once she got the news that I was OK -- she actually saw me on television getting off the raft before I was able to speak with her. So things really worked out for the best, I guess. But it just took a little longer to get home than expected.

KING: Don, what about your missus?

NORTON: Actually, I had trouble getting a hold of my wife. And I finally got a hold of my mother-in-law, who was supposed to pick me up at the airport and told her -- I told her that, you know, I was in a crash.

And she really didn't -- she didn't believe me at first. And she said are you still being -- do I still have to pick you up at 5:00?

So she really didn't grasp what was -- what was happening. But she did end up texting my wife. And my wife called back on the phone I was using, because both my phones were on the plane. And she called back and my wife was in hysterics. She was already starting to suffer laryngitis at the time. So I couldn't understand a word she was saying.

I was just -- she was just crying and crying and crying. And then I said, "I'm OK. Don't worry, I'm OK." And then I wasn't able to call her back for quite a while. And she ended up getting in touch with Tara, because she hadn't heard from me in a few hours.

And she called her, know, panicking, is everything OK?

And then I ended up talking to her later on before we got in -- got in the air to come home.

KING: Darren, is it true that the back door wouldn't open and that if it had opened, that might have sunk the plane?

Is that true?

BECK: I don't -- I honestly don't know. I was actually near the front of the plane. So I don't know what was going on in the back of the plane. I can't answer that one.

KING: All right. We'll check with others.

Vince, you think you're lucky?

SPERA: Very lucky, Larry. And I spoke with a gentleman that was sitting in the back of the plane. And he -- he confirmed that the back door would not open. And the back of the plane was, indeed, filling with water -- getting waist deep and higher. So they had a bit more of a hard time in the back of the plane than I did in the center or some folks did in front.

KING: Don, you feel lucky?

NORTON: Oh, unbelievably lucky. You know, thank god for the pilot. He did a spectacular job. And I think we all just -- we owe him a -- a huge debt of gratitude. And I think I owe him a big hug.

KING: And Tyler, congratulations on the medal. You must be -- you must feel pretty good about things.

TYLER BECK: Yes. I guess I owe my dad something. So it made me feel better.

KING: Yes. You should feel very proud of yourself.

Thanks, guys.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Larry.

TYLER BECK: Thank you.

KING: Vince Spera, Darren Beck, his wife, Tara, 10-year-old Tyler and Don Morton.

Is there a bigger, better word than hero?

We may have to invent one for "Sully" -- the pilot, of course, of the miracle flight.

Maybe that could be a blog question -- what should we call "Sully?"

Hear what his wife says.

We're back in 60 seconds.


LORRIE SULLENBERGER, WIFE OF PILOT: When he called and said there had been an incident, you know, I thought he had, you know, run into something in the parking lot of the airport.

Anybody who knows him, he's a very humble guy. And most people have no idea the professionalism that he has. And I think, you know, he would just brush it off.



KING: Don't forget, we're live this weekend -- both shows, Saturday and Sunday. And politics later.

Meanwhile, the whole country is embracing the pilot of that US Airways flight. We're amazed by what he was able to do. He's already got a Facebook fan page. The only person who isn't surprised is his wife. Her husband is quite a guy and she always has known it.


SULLENBERGER: We've been asked not to say anything by US Air. So we're not going to make any statements about much. But we'd just like to say that we are very grateful that everyone is off the airplane safely. And that was really what my husband asked to convey to everyone. And, of course, we are very proud of dad.

It was a shock, like it was to everyone. It was really a shock yesterday. The one comment that I made yesterday that's -- that I will repeat is that my husband has said over the years that it's highly unlikely for any pilot to ever have an incident in his career, let alone something like this. So, you know, I'm not afraid. You know, it never crosses my mind. And like everyone else, I was stunned when he called and said, there's been an incident.

And even then, I assumed it was, you know, a tug that maybe had bumped the airplane. I had -- you know, your mind just never goes to something like this.

He's a pilot's pilot and he loves the art of the airplane.


KING: The Sullenbergers have two teenaged girls.

Can you imagine going to school and saying, that's my dad?

More survivors after this.



TOM SULLIVAN, FIREFIGHTER, MARINE COMPANY 1: When I saw the tail fin sticking out of the water, I said this is an airliner. And we got closer and saw the people huddled on the wings. I just had visions we were afraid we were going to run people over approaching the aircraft, you know, looking for bodies in the water. And there weren't any.


KING: Joining us now in New Yorker is survivor Vallie Collins, along with her husband Steve. By the way, she sent a text message to her husband during the crash.

In Jacksonville, Florida is Carl Bazarian, a survivor.

And in Charlotte, North Carolina, Brad Wentzell, also a survivor.

Vallie, what -- when did you send the text?

VALLIE COLLINS, CRASH SURVIVOR: My best recollection is after the bird -- my seat mate was in the window. I was in the very back row of the plane, on the aisle. And the gentleman at the window -- we heard the noise. And he said, it's a bird. And I remembered that that could be bad on a plane. And I got up -- because the smoke was filling the cabin -- so that the flight attendant could try to get the fire extinguisher. And then when she had me sit back down in the middle seat on my row, I grabbed my phone and turned it on and you know, got my husband's name and texted him, "My flight is crashing."

Because I wanted him to know I was thinking of him and, also, I didn't want there to be this -- if it did turnout terrible, this time where he was trying to figure out if I was on there or not. And then my seat mate said, "Turn it off. You've got to get ready."

And then about that time, the pilot came on...

KING: Do you...

V. COLLINS: And said, "This is the captain."

KING: Do you have that text with you?

V. COLLINS: My husband does on his phone.


KING: OK. All right, what -- where were you, Steve, when you got it?

STEVE COLLINS, VALLIE'S HUSBAND: My phone was in the car. I had been running some errands and taking care of a few things. And I get back into the car and there's several messages. One is frantic from Vallie's sister -- and incomprehensible gibberish about a plane, which, of course, I'm not near a television.

So I go running into a building close by and I see the television and I immediately go into somebody's office and watch a live feed of the event as it's happening.

And the thing that was just most the most -- the most scary to me was that they weren't really reporting much on casualties, injuries, survivors or anything else like that.

And then right around that time, just within two minutes, my phone vibrates and the text that's on the screen was what I saw so.

KING: Wow!

All right. And you're still -- did you fly up to New York, then, to join your wife?

S. COLLINS: Yes, the first thing this morning. I -- we've got three small kids and we kind of got them taken care of last night and I met Vallie very -- pretty early this morning.

KING: Do you plan to fly back with her?

S. COLLINS: We are driving 14 hours home.


V. COLLINS: I'm not as brave as the gentlemen in Charlotte.

KING: I got it.

Oh, hey, might -- I might be in the back seat with you.

S. COLLINS: Yes. All right. Come on.

KING: Now, Carl Bazarian, what are you doing in Jacksonville?

CARL BAZARIAN, CRASH SURVIVOR: I'm an investment banker here. And I was on business in New York. And I tried to get out of a meeting a little bit early. And that was a big mistake.

KING: So your flight -- you got there by going to Charlotte first?

BAZARIAN: Yes. I -- we -- we all bonded. You know, there was nine of us that we -- you know, Vince and others and some of the people you saw tonight and some of the women -- we just all bonded and we decided we were going to stick together.

So I didn't have to go to -- to Charlotte. I could have flown in the morning directly to Jacksonville. But we just said, hey, you know, we've gone through this together and let's just go home together. And I think Frieda and I -- I think we just held hands the whole way.

KING: Brad Wentzell, were you on that flight, too?

BRAD WENTZELL, HELPED MOTHER WITH BABY OFF PLANE: Absolutely. I was in seat 21C on the left hand side, toward the back.

KING: Were you on the flight to Charlotte last night?

WENTZELL: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Were you apprehensive...

WENTZELL: I came home...

KING: Did you feel funny about getting on a plane again?

WENTZELL: To be honest, with you, Larry, after being in a plane crash, surviving and they said it's one in a seven million chance, I think the odds were on my side. I just wanted to get home to my family. I just wanted to see my wife and daughter.

KING: So you didn't look out the window and said, uh-oh or I'm worried?

WENTZELL: No. Honestly, I was so glad to be alive and so thankful to the lord that I wasn't worried about much. At that point, I don't know if I will really have that type of fear ever again in my life. I've looked -- seen death -- what could happen and walked away. And I'm just -- I'm just glad to be here, man. I really am. I'm glad to be here.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Vallie and her husband, Steve and Carl and Brad.

So you're on a plane, the pilot says brace for impact -- do you pray, hold hands, wish you had paid more attention to the safety announcement that you usually ignore?

Find out what some were thinking as their plane was about to crash.

Back after this.

Hold on.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a US Airways airline jet in the water, approximately a 60-passenger jet. Also, at this time we have numerous people on the wings of the airplane.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And like I said, we've got about four or five Circle Line boats around the plane at this time. F.D. Units are jumping on Circle Line boats and heading over to the incident.



KING: Vallie Collins, do you think -- did you think you'd bought it?

V. COLLINS: Yes, sir, I did. I thought it was -- it was over for me.

KING: Now, after you land in the water and you're getting out and the rescuers are there right away, do you feel safe?

V. COLLINS: No. See, I was on the very last row on the aisle, 26D. So the first instinct is the closest exit may be behind you. So I went to the back galley, where the flight attendant was. And she had tried to open both of the back doors and couldn't get them open because of the water pressure. But they were open enough that the water was flowing in.

And all of a sudden, she said, "We're in the water. Go to the wings."

And she looked at me and she said, "We have two minutes."

Well, by this time, the water was up to my waist. And I just -- and she somehow got ahead of me. But I just put my hands up -- because people were still coming backwards. And I said, "No, to the wings, to the wings. Keep moving to the wings."

And as we kept walking, the water got as high as my chest. I'm 5'5." And I just kept saying, "We're going to make it. Keep going to the wings," because, you know, the people at the back instinctively wanted to go out the back. But that was just not going to happen.

KING: Steve, did you think she might die?

S. COLLINS: Absolutely. I mean, you get a text message from somebody that essentially is saying she's in a plane crash -- and I've never met anybody who's survived a plane crash before. And it's 20 minutes or so -- the longest 20 minutes of my life -- waiting for to her to actually finally call and say that she was OK.

So, yes, for that 20 minutes, I mean all you're focused on is just trying to find out what's going on. But, yes, that was the longest 20 minutes of my life.

KING: Carl, in retrospect, what was the most frightening part?

BAZARIAN: I think when, you know, "brace for impact." You say, wow, we're going down. And right there, I think my percentages were low. I said -- I took my cell to call my wife. And then I said, that's ridiculous, because, you know, we're going down. I put it away. And I really -- I just started praying, because I knew -- I mean our chances were very slim that we were going to survive.

KING: Where were you seated?

BAZARIAN: I was actually seated next to Vince. He -- he took my aisle seat. He was in 16C. I was in 16B. But Vince was smart, because he braced. And I said, you know, it's God's will and I'm just going to pray and just see what happens.

So I was kind of like half bracing, half looking. Vince was -- was -- he was in the right position.

KING: Brad Wentzell, where were you on the plane?

WENTZELL: I was in 21-C, in the back left. Not as far as 26-C, but I was pretty far back also.

KING: And where did you go out?

WENTZELL: I went out the right wing of the plane.

KING: What was it like when you -- what did you first see when you stepped out?

WENTZELL: Well, I -- I -- first thing I saw was chaos. I mean, it was -- everybody was working well together, but under the circumstances, it was tough. And I saw -- I saw these ferries coming in. And I tell you, I said to one of the fire fighters when they pulled us up -- I said, I'm a Red Sox fan and I've never been so happy to see Yankees fans ever in my life. They loved it. I couldn't believe it. I was like -- it's amazing. And I feel -- I said good-bye. I said good-bye. I had said a prayer. And I came back. I don't know what else I can really add to that.

KING: Carl, a lot of appreciation from New Yorkers, aren't there?

BAZARIAN: Yes, they are. I'm a Red Sox fan, too. But I have to give them a lot of credit. There were Mets fans on the ferries. I want to say one thing, Larry. the ferry guys were unbelievable.

WENTZELL: Oh, yes.

BAZARIAN: On the Weehawken side, I think we had an under-manned ferry, a pilot and one guy. Remember that?

WENTZELL: This one guy was great.

BAZARIAN: Man, he deserves a medal. He was one young guy. Not only was he maneuvering and signaling to the pilot, because it was shifting, the boat -- the raft was shifting. The plane was shifting. The ferry was shifting. But he was signaling with one hand and grabbing people by the collar and bringing them up.

KING: We'll be right back with some more. They were waist deep in water, trying to get out of a plane that just ditched in the river. Why didn't they panic? We'll try for some answers when we come back.


KING: David Theall is here with what you're saying tonight. I bet everybody is talking about the pilot.

DAVID THEALL, LARRY KING LIVE PRODUCER: Larry, they are. Here was our question of the day -- this is the blog and our question of the day was, "does the crash landing of US Airways flight 1549 change your attitude towards flying?" We were just talking. You were talking about some of the harrowing experiences that you've had in the air over the years. We heard from Jim, Larry, who told us "that this makes me want to shy away from flying when I hear about increased incidence of bird strikes." Jim says that he thinks it is scary as heck.

Kelly also chimed in to the blog tonight. She says, "I love to travel too much not fly. However -- and this is the important part -- if our economy gets worse and airlines start laying off mechanics," she says, "I might reconsider."

Joanne says, "I have never been a big fan of flying, but next time I do, I hope and pray that the pilot will be as experienced as the pilot who skillfully landed this plane." That is, of course, sully, whom everybody has been talking about for the last few days.

Finally, Larry, we heard from Jack. Every once in a while we get one of those comments on the blog that makes you go, hmm. Jack asks, "after nearly 100 years of flying, why are birds still bringing down aircraft?"

Listen, we're going to continue this conversation on the blog, as always,

KING: And after the inauguration, we have some bookers here tonight. Book a bird.

THEALL: I want to tell you about something else on the blog also. Saturday's big show, of course, you're going to be here for the next couple of days. One of the big shows we have coming up is Saturday. And if people go to the blog,, click on the blog link, you'll be seeing some of the promos. Saturday's show, of course, James Taylor and John Legend. They're going to be opening up at the Lincoln Memorial. They're kicking off the inauguration ceremonies. They're practicing Saturday and then they're coming here to interview with you.

KING: Thank you, David. David Theall right on top of the scene. Vallie, a couple of minutes left. Why no panic?

COLLINS: Because I knew in that situation panic was not going to help me survive. I panicked when I got to the Port Authority, to the ferry terminal. That's when the shock and the panic set in. Actually, what helped me not panic is when I got to the wing there was a lady with a baby and a toddler, and her husband was out on the wing. I'm a mother of three and I said to myself, she needs my help. I'd want somebody to help me. So I got on the raft and somebody handed me the baby, which I handed to a man. And then I took the toddler, whose name was Sophia, and she sat in my lap for the 10 or 15 minutes that it took for us to get on the ferry. That's what kept me calm.

KING: I gotcha. Steve, you got to be very proud of Vallie.

S. COLLINS: Absolutely.

KING: Carl, why no panic?

BAZARIAN: It was incredible, Larry. I think it was like grades. Going down, nobody panicked, nobody screamed. It was like, OK, this is it. And -- but then when -- I think it was Josh -- in fact, the guy who put the door open on the right side, he was reading the directions as we were going down, because nobody ever listens to the flight attendants. He flipped that door real fast, right, Brad? And when we saw -- we started -- when we started filing out -- and you could see light and there was day, even though we were on the wing and it was dangerous, slippery, cold.

And then the third confidence-building measure was the -- these ferry guys coming. So you're there and you're in the light. It's a little surreal. But then you see people coming. So nobody really panicked and screamed.

KING: We salute you all. Brad, God speed. Carl and Vallie and your husband, Steve, thanks so much for joining us. What a story.

Up next, I hit some D.C. hot spots in my old stomping grounds yesterday. Larry King unplugged and on the loose in Washington when we come back, with our guest, too, in 60 seconds.



KING: We're with the group that owns this incredible place, which is jam-packed. Is it always like this?


KING: You are?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm the youngest son in the family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Sonya Ali, daughter-in-law.

KING: Of Ali?



KING: How did you come to own this place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our mom and dad started this in 1958, 50 years ago, Larry. It was a hit right away, back when this was Black Broadway, when U Street was fabulous, before the riots of '68, of course.

KING: How do you feel about this election and all that's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm very excited, very excited to be a part of it. It was an honor to meet him last Saturday.

KING: How came here, right?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: How come he got shredded cheese on his and I don't have any on mine?

KING: Did he enjoy it? Did Obama --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes, he loved it.

KING: How good is the chili? It supposed to be great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As great as it was back in 1958.

KING: How do you feel about the Obama election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, it's great. It's really an historic moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did not believe that this would happen in my lifetime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I saw the people who voted for him, the different states, where he had so many white people that didn't desire a black man like that to be president of the United States, what a blessing. Not only black people, white people, all people.

KING: Did you ever think you'd see a black president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly not, Larry. Certainly not. At least -- maybe my kids. I had hoped that my kids would see one, but I didn't think I would see one, at least this early.

KING: Come to Washington. It's Ben's Chili Bowl.


KING: Barack Obama has got a lot of problems, policies, politics to address. The big question tonight, will he be able to keep his Blackberry? John King spoke to the president-elect and got the answer firsthand next.


KING: And we have an outstanding political panel. In Cleveland, John King. He's CNN's chief national correspondent, interviewed President-Elect Obama today, and his new show "STATE OF THE UNION" premieres this Sunday. Here in Washington, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst. He's advised presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. And Chris Cillizza, he is the White House correspondent for the "Washington Post." He writes the Fix for He was with the president-elect the other day when he went up to the building that is the "Washington Post."

John King sat down with the president, as we said, in Ohio today, asked him about solutions for economic problems. Watch.


OBAMA: What we need to do is to say that instead of just printing more money, let's look at medium term and long term; let's get a handle on Social Security. Let's get a handle on Medicare. Let's eliminate waste in government where it exists. Let's reform our Pentagon procurement practices.

All of those things are going to have to be done in concert. And that's going to be tough. It's going to be tough because the only way to do it is if Democrats and Republicans both are willing to give up a little bit of what they consider to be their favorite programs.


KING: John, politics aside, have you met a cooler politician?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is incredibly calm, Larry, even in the face of the big moment just ahead of him and the long, lengthy list of challenges, huge challenges and problems he faces. You know, I've covered several presidents. Bill Clinton could be very cool, but he also could get fired up pretty quickly. George W. Bush wears his emotion on his sleeve.

Barack Obama by design, deliberately has an image and a public air of somewhat detached sometimes. Some have criticized him for that. But he's aware of the stakes and he's also very moved by the moment. I think this is part of his way of staying calm, to almost seem like sometimes he just step back.

KING: Is he cocky, David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me ask this, before we go too far. Big question, is John King warming up for his new show in a brothel out there? Where are you sitting out there, John?

KING: Where are you?

J. KING: I'm in a studio in Cleveland, Ohio. That's the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame behind me. It might be a little bright for you people in Washington. You've got to get out of Washington every now and then and realize the whole world is not gray and dark suits like Washington. We have bright colors out here.

KING: John, it's Gergen jealously.

Is he cocky?

GERGEN: He's supremely confident. If, after a couple of months, he's as confident, you'll wonder if he's cocky, because I don't think I've ever seen a man who is as calm as he is in the center of a storm. I mean, he has -- he reminds you a little bit of Tiger Woods.

KING: Very much.

GERGEN: He has that sense. He's just rooted and just feels -- there's a sense of -- they call him No Drama Obama.

KING: Does that mean, Chris, that we, the collective we, are never going to grasp him?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He is hard -- you know, I sat two seats from him for 70 minutes yesterday. And it is hard to get a sense of who he is at his core, because I do think, to John's point, there is a purposeful detachment, that he's calm, that he's calm in the eye of the storm.

You know, if you look back at his political career -- and it's pretty short, so we can do it -- this is a guy who has reason to be pretty self-possessed and confident. He wins a Senate seat in 2004, when people said no one with that name can win it. He overcomes someone named Hillary Rodham Clinton and the first family of the Democratic party in a Democratic primary. And then he -- I don't want to say coast -- but he wins very easily a general election with 365 electoral votes.

I think that experience has buoyed him to believe that, yes, he is a transitional unique figure in American history.

KING: Does that make him, John, difficult to cover?

J. KING: It makes him interesting and fascinating to cover. We sometimes want too much. We want them to spill everything at once. Let's watch as this unfolds. I think both Chris and David make excellent points about this is an evolving chapter. He's caught up in this moment. He knows the history.

But, Larry, I look at it this way: there are essentially two trains on the same track. One is all the hope and optimism and goodwill and popularity he has. The other is the economic anxiety that undermined McCain, undermined Bush, and is growing right now still in the country. People -- I talked to more out here in Ohio today -- they don't trust these bail outs. They don't know where the money is going. While they agree with Obama you need to invest in economy, they're worried about the price tag of that, too.

My sense of this politically is both of those trains tracks are on the same track heading right at each other. He's president on Tuesday. When those trains collide, as people get impatient about the economy, does his popularity survive?

KING: David, can we have too much expectancy?

GERGEN: Yes. I think the expectations are way too high for him, not only in this country, but as Joe Biden pointed out some weeks ago, they're even higher in the world. He's going to be focused mostly on the U.S. I think here for these initial months, but the world is going to expect magic in Gaza, with Iran, with Afghanistan, Pakistan. And he can't. He can't do that.

But what has impressed me so much -- and the last couple of days, John King's interview with him, and then the "Washington Post" interview yesterday; in both, he is showing himself to be the most audacious new president we've had in my memory, someone who thinks, in the coming year, he can deal with these jobs issue; he can get health care reform passed, something that eluded the Clintons, as you remember; that he can get energy reform passed, something we haven't been able to do in 30 years.

Then he told the "Washington Post" yesterday, I'm going to work on Social Security and Medicare, too. My goodness.

KING: Did Roosevelt have that? I think he did?

CILLIZZA: What Barack Obama said in our interview yesterday was, I -- essentially, I've been elected to do big things. What I found was most interesting, he said, I didn't come here to do the easy things. He said, I said -- this was in the portion Dave mentioned talking about entitlement reform, Social Security, Medicare. These are huge political problems that have no easy fix. He said, I have instructed my staff to make sure some of these hard choices and decisions come on my watch. He said, I told them I don't want to postpone it nine years from now, so that Barack Obama gets all the plaudits and the next president has to deal with the pain of what these cuts mean.

Again, I keep coming back to the same thing. He clearly views himself as an influential, transitional, change figure in American history. Whether he's right or not, I think to John's point, we'll find out in the next four years.

GERGEN: I think he thinks of himself as transformational.

KING: John, is he going get rid of the Blackberry?

J. KING: He says, Larry, this will be interesting to find out. Maybe he has a code name. He says that they have found a way around it. He had two. I talked to him briefly before the interview. He had two of these things in his hand, playing with one, with the other one right next to him. He says they have found a way around it. He didn't quite explain what they meant by that. But he says that he believes he understands these things could end up in the presidential library, could end up in the public domain, but he thinks it is critical that he not become a hostage to the Washington bubble and even a hostage to the advice and opinions of his own staff.

He said if somebody in the neighborhood back in Chicago thinks he's doing something stupid, he wants them to be able to send him an email.

KING: Do our guests have words of wisdom for Barack Obama? We'll ask. Stick around.



KING: What's Tuesday going to be like, David, assuming it isn't three degrees?

GERGEN: We haven't had a canceled inaugural since Ronald Reagan, the second inaugural in 1985. I'm sure this will go forward. I think it's going to be one of the most memorable moments in our lifetimes. John King opened his interview with Barack Obama today saying, how does it feel to take the Oath of Office in a Capitol built on the back of slaves and then go to a White House built on the back of slaves? I thought that was exactly the right question.

KING: Will that be pervasive Tuesday?

CILLIZZA: I think it will be, Larry. We've talked to President- Elect Obama about his place in history and how he imagines it. And the thing that I found was most captivating from our conversation with him yesterday is he said my election and my inauguration and the fact that I'm a president, black children will look at themselves differently in the future, and white children will look at black children differently in the future. I thought that was really telling about how he views his role in history.

KING: John, do you think in the quiet moment at home he says, holy cow! J. KING: I don't know if he says it just like that, but I think he is seized by the moment, Larry, and his struggle is over how much to show us. At the end of the interview, we talked about a visit he took with his wife and his two beautiful daughters to the Lincoln Memorial the other night. And the monuments at night, to anybody watching, that is when you want to visit. It is spectacular. He said they were looking at the statue of Lincoln and reading from the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address.

Then he said it was incredibly moving. He also said that after reading a little bit of the Second Inaugural Address, his little daughter Malia turned to him and said, you know, as the first African- American president, you better get yours right. It's an interesting moment.

I think that we were talking after, I have a 12-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. And he was saying how much his kids have kept him rooted, at a time when your head can get pretty big in politics. I found that to be genuine, and I think those children, while out of the public lime light, will be key as this guy deals with so many profound problems. We've only listed a few of them. I think we've listed quite a few, but there's a lot more than that. It's just going to be a fascinating thing to watch.

Don't underestimate the challenges, Larry. And for all the good will, I had breakfast this morning with six people here in Ohio. They wish him the best. Only half of them supported him. They wish him the best. All blue collar people here in this great community. They all still said they don't trust government. They don't trust where the money's going. So they wish him well, but they are not completely sold just yet.

KING: Do you think, David, that he has a Lincoln not fixation, but that he has a tie to Lincoln?

GERGEN: Oh, yes, there's no question about it. He's wrapped himself in the robes of Lincoln, but appropriately so in many ways, because he wouldn't be here today without Lincoln. And I think as he stands up on their on the west portico of the Capitol, and looks down and after he takes the oath, he'll be looking at the Lincoln Memorial.


GERGEN: This train journey tomorrow, that's all about Lincoln. Lincoln gave a famous speech in Philadelphia and came on to Washington.

KING: What do you think Lincoln would think?

CILLIZZA: I think he would probably be surprised, stunned maybe. I would say, if you ask anyone 15 or 20 years ago, frankly, by the year 2008, will we have an African-American president, if you took a bet on how many would say yes, you'd be wealthier than a humble reporter for the "Washington Post," let's put it that way, Larry.

Yes, to John's point, I do think Barack Obama -- I don't know if he says holy cow. But I do think he is struck by the rapidity of his rise. It is absolutely meteoric, from the Illinois State Senate, to the U.S. Senate to the presidency in the space of 12 years.

KING: John, first congratulations on the new show. We'll all be watching Sunday morning from 9:00 to 1:00 Eastern time. And, two, quickly, did he stop smoking?

J. KING: We did not address that today, but he has said that he is stopping smoking and that he has gone off the wagon sometimes, but that it is his commitment as president to stop smoking. He says he wants to do that as an example to his daughters and to the country. We didn't get to that point today, but it will be a question he gets asked. Don't worry.

KING: David would like him to keep smoking, with all the pressure he's going to face.

GERGEN: If it keeps him as calm as he is to smoke occasionally, go ahead. I mean, you know, Jack Kennedy smoked that cigar.

KING: Johnson smoked cigarettes. Roosevelt smoked.

GERGEN: Roosevelt famously smoked cigarettes.

CILLIZZA: I will say from my own experience, though I'm not soon to be the president of the United States, basketball is a wonderful cathartic stress reliever. Barack Obama plays it. So maybe you'll see him playing a lot more basketball, Larry.

KING: Thanks a lot, guys. We have a new man taking over. I'm talking about John King. He's got a great show on CNN, "STATE OF THE UNION." Its inaugural run -- I like that term there -- is this Sunday at 9:00 a.m. We know John King will deliver the political goods. We'll be here all weekend live through the inauguration with some incredible guests: James Taylor, Sean Combs, John Legend, Seal, Tavis Smiley, Pete Wence (ph) and Quincey Jones. That's just a few.

Stay with us on CNN because we got it covered. Getting it covered right now is Soledad O'Brien here in Washington with "AC 360." Soledad?