Arkansans flock to D.C. for big day Now it's 'cool' to be from Clinton's state

January 18, 1993|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- They were calling this city "Little Rock East" yesterday as thousands of Arkansans flooded in for the presidential inauguration of favorite son Gov. Bill Clinton.

"There hasn't been this many Arkansans moving since the Civil War," joked Steve Davison, a Little Rock travel agent who said his firm alone had handled over 900 reservations from across the state, including his own.

By plane, train, car and bus they streamed in: 10,000, maybe more, were expected by Inauguration Day. It was the biggest mass pilgrimage out of the self-styled "Land of Opportunity" that anyone can remember -- bigger even than when the beloved Razorbacks football team made it to the Cotton Bowl in 1989.

"It's party time," said 35-year-old Suzie Scott, a North Little Rock veterans hospital nurse, as she left a cab in downtown Washington. "This must be the first time ever it's been cool to be from Arkansas."

She was meeting up with best friend Susan Parks, a head nurse at the same hospital, who'd taken an earlier flight. They were going to the Blue Jeans Bash last night -- one of several parties and balls with an Arkansas flavor this week.

Ms. Parks, 35, said she'd brought along three gowns and six cocktail dresses that she hadn't worn in years.

But she expected to wear every one over the next few days.

Her friend, Ms. Scott, will be staying until Saturday, to do some sightseeing and take pictures for all her friends. "There's so much power here. That's what makes this place special," she said. "Heck, look at the size of those buildings and the width of the streets."

More than 7,000 people are expected at the Blue Jeans Bash, the Arkansas State Society's gala tonight at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, said society secretary-treasurer Henry Wood. Anyone who can show an Arkansas driver's license can attend the party.

There won't be any Arkansas cuisine -- no catfish, no barbecue. But the band will be authentic: Bill Clinton's brother, Roger, and his rhythm and blues band,Politics.

The first thing Bill and Judy Trice did after flying in from Little Rock on Saturday was take their 13-year-old son, Will, to dinner at Clyde's in Georgetown.

It's a special time for Will: He is one of a handful of Arkansan youngsters -- all close friends of the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, -- who have been invited to keep her company at the White House Wednesday night, while everyone else is whooping it up at the Arkansas Inaugural Ball, or any of the other 10 official events that night.

Will has attended school with Chelsea since first grade. He was chosen to read the school's valedictory poem to her last Friday, as she left Horace Mann Junior High to go to the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington.

"We'll be writing to each other. We'll stay in touch," he said.

"We'll have to come back. Definitely," added his mother, a literature and history teacher at a Little Rock High School. "We'll feel a lot more at home here over the next four years -- and hopefully the next eight."

"We're going to have 100,000 of our closest friends in Washington," said Mr. Trice, only half-joking.

He's a lawyer and friend of Mr. Clinton's from student days -- one of about 400 staunch supporters known as the "Arkansas Travelers" who campaigned coast-to-coast for the Clinton election; at their own cost and often taking off from work to do so.

Just how D.C. denizens were taking to the sudden Southern invasion was too early to tell yesterday, although a bellman at the swank Sheraton Carlton Hotel confided: "They seem real nice, pleasant. And they tip well, too."

A hospitality center opened yesterday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, to assist visitors from the state with ticket questions and information about the city.

But 43-year-old Barbara Hartwick, an elementary school teacher, made her own arrangements. She and a friend, Bob Blevins, spent 18 hours driving up, stopping overnight in Knoxville, Tenn., before arriving at McLean, Va., to spend the night with friends of a friend.

"It's an opportunity that none of us could really pass up," she said.

It is also a chance for Arkansans to live down some of the bad images of the past, particularly the time in 1957 when President Eisenhower had to call out the U.S. Army to help a handful of black children make it in the front door of all-white Central High School, against the wishes of then-governor Orval Faubus.

"That and all the barefoot jokes," Ms. Hartwick said.

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