WASHINGTON - Want to stand eyewitness to the first inauguration of the new millennium? It won't take much: Just a ride to the nation's capital and a heavy winter coat.
The four-day celebration surrounding the inauguration of George W. Bush as president is slightly scaled back from years past - blame it on the time crunch after the post-election madness - but several free events are in the works.
Not just the swearing-in and the parade that follows, but opening ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial and a come-as-you-are White House party on Inauguration Weekend are open to the public.
No tickets are required for those who want to view the opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial on Jan. 18, the 11:30 a.m. swearing-in at the Capitol on Jan. 20, or the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue later that afternoon.
The other public events, including the free ones, require tickets. They include a tribute to American authors at Constitution Hall held by Laura Bush, the soon-to-be first lady, as well as a salute to America's veterans by Dick Cheney, Bush's soon-to-be vice president, at the Washington Convention Center. Both those events, on Jan. 19, are free. A concert at the MCI Center later that day celebrating America's youth costs $5 a ticket.
The Bush team is also sponsoring a White House open house the day after the swearing-in. It, along with a service at the National Cathedral earlier that morning, will be free.
But tickets to those events are limited. The Presidential Inaugural Committee urges anyone interested in tickets to call its hot line: 202-484-1771. On Friday, the committee unveiled its new Web site providing more information: www.inauguration-2001.com.
The festivities will include eight inaugural balls the night of the inauguration, at $125 a pop, but space is tight.
Visitors can buy no more than two tickets for any one inaugural event, available on a first-come, first-served basis. The committee urges those interested in attending to send a fax as soon as possible, listing their name, phone number, home address, e-mail address and fax number. Faxes can be sent to the committee at 202-772-0410 or 202-772-0405.
Inaugural staff members say they cannot guarantee tickets to those who request them.
One bash, the Black Tie and Boots affair, is held every inauguration but is now doubling as an official ball for Bush on Jan. 19, inauguration eve. The event, thrown by the Texas State Society, has been sold out for weeks. Another jam-packed bash: The Wyoming State Society, which is throwing a shindig that same night to honor Cheney, who hails from that state.
Most of the tickets have been snatched up by Republican Party stalwarts and major donors. The committee wants to raise $30 million for its inauguration festivities with private donations of up to $100,000.
Four years ago, donations to President Clinton's inauguration were limited to $100 each. In their defense, the Bush team says that unlike Clinton, they will identify on their Web site all their contributors and the amount they gave.
The inauguration, the theme of which is "Celebrating America's Future Together," will not exactly be all-togetherness all-the-time. Several events are off-limits to the public, including three candlelight dinners for Bush supporters. On the morning of the inauguration, the Bush family will attend a closed service at St. John's Church and a private White House reception.
At Clinton's inauguration in 1996, organizers set up tents for a free celebration of American heritage on the National Mall, with zydeco music and steaming plates of buffalo stew - not to mention a stage act by Barney and a physical replica of Clinton's metaphorical "bridge to the 21st century."
Bush's organizers said they were too overwhelmed by their late start (they are organizing their activities in roughly half the time they normally would have had) and are skipping any officially sanctioned festivities on the Mall.
The most public event remains the parade, which, not surprisingly, will feature a smattering of bands from the Texas governor's home state. One Maryland entry made the cut, too: the Marching Ravens, the official band of the Baltimore Ravens football team and the former Colts' band. That's the band that kept practicing every Wednesday, playing "Let's Go You Baltimore Colts" for 12 years after the team left town.
The inaugural parade will begin at 1:30 p.m., after the swearing-in, on Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 15th Streets N.W. Organizers recommend that parade-watchers arrive on the route at least an hour early. Limited bleacher seating along the route is available, too, at $100, $50 or $15, depending on the seat.
Those taking public transportation can find information about Metro schedules at www.wmata.com.
As for the swearing-in on the West Front of the Capitol, those hoping for a prime view can contact their senator or House representative.
Each senator receives 393 tickets (most are standing room), and each House member gets 198. Lawmakers can be reached through the Senate or House switchboards, at 202-224-3121 and 202-225-3121, respectively.