And don't expect to be served any chocolate chip cookies Tour: Unless you've got a pocketful of cash, you won't be seeing much of Bill and Hillary at the White House.

February 28, 1997|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- No gum-chewing is allowed on the People's White House Tour.

Doesn't seem fair, does it? You know if you had laid out a hundred grand or so on Bill Clinton's re-election, you'd be chewing to your heart's content. And you'd be doing it in the Lincoln Bedroom to boot. All night long.

But not yesterday, not on this, the Great Unwashed Tour. No gum, no balloons, no firecrackers, no electronic stun guns.

A lot of fun this is going to be.

Apparently word's gotten out about this. The White House Visitor's Center said to report at 7: 30 a.m. for a crack at a tour ticket yesterday. Apparently, that's the procedure for suckers. Everyone else showed up whenever they pleased, because there wasn't a lot of interest in the White House tour.

The tours were due to end at noon, but by 11: 15 or so, there was no one -- no one in the whole wide world -- waiting to get into the White House. Seemingly, everyone had already heard this is the tour that produces a ticket stub as a memento. You don't get the sleepover. You don't get the White House bathrobe. You don't get the White House stationery or the White House breakfast.

In fact, there's no food or drink anywhere on this tour. No waffles, no White House M&M's, no Big Macs. Not even a water fountain.

What you do get on this tour is the East Wing and the first floor of the Mansion, four or five rooms cleverly named after garden variety colors. They are elegant, to be sure. But let's face it. They're all a bit on the dour side. They don't have the feeling of ever having actually been inhabited, though you may get a charge out of learning that Rutherford B. Hayes took the oath of office in the the Red Room. But did Lynda Bird ever have a pajama party down here? Did Tricky Dick ever have a Super Bowl party in the Vermeil Room?

Fat chance. On this tour, you don't get anywhere near life where it is lived. You want that, you got to fork over some hard cash, baby.

On the Riff-Raff Tour, they don't even let you take pictures. Upstairs, they encourage it. They tell you to send letters from the White House on their own stationery. They urge you to call your friends from their phones gratis, not counting the $50,000 to $100,000 they've already hit you up for. "Hi, Mary Lou, this is Louise. Close your eyes and picture me lying naked in the Lincoln Bed in the Lincoln Bedroom because that's exactly what I'm doing. Oops, gotta go. Here come Bill and Hillary."

That's right. Up there, according to press reports, Bill Clinton might be wandering by barefooted at midnight, ready to plop down on the end of your bed and give you his critique of the latest Schwarzenegger movie.

Down here, though, all you get are Secret Service agents cutting up. ("Where you from? Baltimore. Where's that?") The only face time with Bill is usually limited to a picture on the wall of him with First Cat Socks on his shoulder.

That's usually. Yesterday, though, some early tour-goers got an unexpected treat -- the presidential motorcade pulling out of the White House. "I thought it was a nice touch, he waved from the limousine," said George Caron of Groveton, N.H. The wave was rTC free, which may aggravate some of those forced to pay premium dollar for a night with the Clintons.

But those on the Hoi Polloi Tour did not seem to feel similarly churlish about the rich and the famous who have made their way upstairs. Some weren't all that eager to be overnight guests at all.

"How could you ever be comfortable sleeping [in the Lincoln bedroom]?" asked Cyndy Perry of Asheville, N.C. "What if you were the one who broke the bed?"

An unusual fear, to be sure. Still, many on yesterday's tour would have appreciated a chance to have their picture taken with Clinton, but with no cameras allowed and no sitting presidents available, they had to content themselves with a George Washington look-alike stationed out front promoting a nearby souvenir stand. Emerging empty-handed from the Rabble's White House Tour, many flocked to have their picture taken with George, especially tourists from overseas.

"I don't think there's a Japanese tourist that's been by here in two years that hasn't taken my picture," said Bob Pagani, who, in Colonial garb, makes a somewhat paunchy first president. "I must be real famous in Asia."

His price is right, too. The fee for having your photo taken with him is exactly the same as the cost of joining the Common People's Tour of the White House. Absolutely nothing. It's not a White House robe, but it's a keepsake that will last forever.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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