Amid minks and beards, Arkansans' pride shows


January 20, 1993|By DAN RODRICKS

WASHINGTON -- These folks from Arkansas are just so excited, so breathless and happy and yappy about the inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton, they're bustin' out of their Razorback sweat shirts.

"We're all kinda like kinfolk," says Carl Hohn, big guy, senior electrician with Arkansas Power & Light, from North Little Rock. "You know what I mean?"

They've been following this boy Bill all through his career, and they all wanted to be here for the historic moment today. Just kinda-like-kinfolk looking on at a high school graduation. Know what I mean? Proud. Some admit they'll be a little drippy-eyed, too.

Twenty-two hours in a bus caravan got Mr. Hohn and his kin here for today's inaugural. "We made it fine," he says. He came with 100 members of his United Methodist Church, which did not officially support Bill Clinton for president because. . . .

"You know," whispers Wilma Hohn, Carl's wife. "Separation of church and state."

Excitement, thy name is Wilma!

"Diamond Bus took us here! Did you know that Arkansas is the only state with a diamond mine?" she says. Is it true? Does it matter? Wilma Hohn thinks it is and does.

"In fact, Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton is going to be wearing a ring from Arkansas" tonight, Wilma says.

"Kahn Jewelers over in Pine Bluff designed it," says another woman, also an Arkansan, outside the Razorback welcome suite at the Mayflower Hotel, where there was a minor mob scene as men and women with Arkansas driver's licenses lined up for unclaimed swearing-in tickets.

Outside, the streets of this city were crowded and full of hustle.

Near the hotel a guy named Stone E. "Excellent" Burke Johnson hawked $5 "Presidential Photographs" using a mannequin look-alike (actually, it looked more like John Kennedy with a bad face lift) of Bill Clinton. The dummy wore a blue suit from a discount house and shoes from a secondhand store.

Over near the Capitol, Michael Nolan, a young hustler with socks for gloves, sold T-shirts with three touchy-feely slogans: "The We Decade," "The torch is passed" and "I still believe in a place called Hope."

There were traffic jams from Capitol Hill to downtown, most of them involving limousines and cabs.

And mink -- there was a sudden buildup of mink.

Not out-of-control, everywhere-you look mink, but enough to send a message: The arrival of the Clinton administration won't necessarily mark the dawn of a New Modesty in American life. Cloth coats are fine, but not required. It's still OK to be blatantly nouveau-riche. This president might want to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but that doesn't seem to have kept the big-money players away.

Throughout the city there were women in groups of three, sometimes eight, all wearing the same dark fur, faux and for-real.

There was a dazzling moment in the sun when three women of identical height, young and blond and their hair cover-girl hip, strolled through the long shadows of the Capitol. Each more mink. Each wore designer sunglasses. They looked like backup singers for Robert Palmer.

An hour later, another kind of fur bristled out of the big cloth shoulders of the sidewalk crowd. Badger, coyote, bobcat and skunk -- all crowning glories on the heads of the 28 members of Bill Williams' Mountain Men, up from northern Arizona to march in today's parade.

One of them, Gary Muench, stopped near the Wiz record store near 12th and G and, as reggae throbbed through outdoor speakers, showed off his buckskin and boots and feathered fox hat. It was a beautifully bizarre moment in our nation's capital.

"For major functions like the inaugural, we're required to wear beards," says Muench, who keeps a grizzled gray one.

The Mountain Men look like old fur traders and deer hunters. They'll be riding horses in the parade. And carrying muskets.

"We've been here for a week," says Muench. "Most of us never seen the sights, the Washington Monument, the White House."

And where were the Mountain Men headed yesterday afternoon?

Off to pay their respects at the National Rifle Association.

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