Capital bustling ahead of inaugural events

Most events sold out, weather uncertain as 4-day party set to begin

January 17, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The presidential inaugural celebration begins tomorrow when Army parachuters drop over the National Mall, Ricky Martin shakes his patriotic posterior, fireworks light up Washington and thousands strain for a glimpse of their next leader.

All the inaugural balls are sold out, traffic headaches seem all but certain and the weather might not cooperate. But the party atmosphere reigns as the capital gets ready for a four-day inauguration bash for George W. Bush, who is scheduled to arrive in Washington tonight.

The three-hour opening ceremony will feature a military flyover and a touch of Vegas -Wayne Newton - backed up by the Radio City Rockettes. Larry King will emcee the event, which will include light shows and speeches from Secretary of State-designate Colin L. Powell, actor Sylvester Stallone and others - not to mention remarks by Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, making their formal entrance on the Washington scene.

Amid the inaugural bustle, the government is considering whether to send federal workers home early tomorrow to avoid gridlock, and the district government is preparing to close streets around the Mall for security.

Meanwhile, all eyes remain on the other W - the Weather. Some forecasts call for the possibility of mixed snow and rain on Saturday, Inauguration Day, and organizers are making contingency plans in case the weather turns fierce before the swearing-in. But unlike at some past inaugurations, bitter cold is not expected.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee said yesterday that tickets to all eight Saturday night balls, for a total of 49,500 guests and celebrities, are sold out. The singer Meatloaf will lead festivities at the Ronald Reagan Building, while Marie Osmond, Drew Carey and other entertainers will hold court elsewhere. Maryland will join 14 other states at the D.C. Armory, with Rick Schroder of "NYPD Blue" as the roving celebrity.

Other famous faces are promised in inauguration week, among them: comedians David Spade and Norm MacDonald, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, singer Loretta Lynn, game-show host Pat Sajak, martial arts star Chuck Norris and Republican favorite Bo Derek.

Besides the inaugural balls, most other festivities also are booked. No tickets remain for any of Friday's three major events: Laura Bush's celebration of American authors, featuring mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark, historian Stephen E. Ambrose, social critic Stanley Crouch and others; Cheney's salute to veterans with Gerald McRaney, of "Major Dad" fame; and an MCI Center concert featuring Destiny's Child, 98 Degrees, Lee Ann Womack and several other pop acts.

There's always space for those who want to stand at tomorrow's opening ceremony and at the swearing-in, though tickets for 5,000 seats and 10,000 choice standing spots are no longer available. But farther back on the Mall, no tickets are required to witness either of these outdoor events.

More information can be found at: www.inauguration-2001.com.

The awards show-style program will be staged by veteran producer George Schlatter, creator of "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."

"Hopefully, we will capture some of the emotion, some of the hope, of a new administration," Schlatter said, adding that he has been so flustered by the inaugural time crunch that he put a tube of glue, instead of lip balm, to his chapped lips the other day.

"It's nerve-racking," he said.

For a bit of Baltimore at the inaugural, look for the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, senior pastor at the Bethel AME Church, delivering the invocation at the opening ceremonies. And on Saturday, Baltimore's Marching Ravens band will join the inaugural parade. Their spot: near the end of the procession, just after the Precision Lawn Chair Demonstration Team and before the U.S. Marshals Posse of North Texas.

Those seeking inaugural activities after Saturday's big events can attend a free White House tour. About 2,700 tickets will be available at 7:30 a.m. Sunday on a first-come, first-served basis at the White House Visitor Center, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.

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