Texans two-step into Washington

Celebration: Inauguration festivities spark a Lone Star invasion of the nation's capital.

January 20, 2001|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Texans are coming. And as they would say, that news is good enough to make a rabbit spit in a bulldog's face.

George W. Bush invited his fellow Texans to feel at home in the nation's capital for his inaugural, and yesterday they wasted no time making his casa their casa. Y'alling each other across town yesterday, they made it clear the next four years will resemble a Lone Star occupation.

Ground zero: The Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, where the Texas State Society staged its "Texas Fair." Scores of Texans spent yesterday showing off live armadillos and longhorn bulls, touting paintings of buffalo and buckaroos, eyeing hand-tooled cowboy boots, listening to the yodeled version of "When a Cowgirl is Happy" and otherwise celebrating with as deep a Texas twang they could muster.

Most of all, though, they reveled in their connection to the new president. Bush has long said Texas is the place he wants to be buried, the place that defines him. And even though he was born in Connecticut, the state of Texas is only too happy to call him a native son. Especially now.

"Texans are go-getters - and I figured there wasn't anybody gonna go and get better than George W. Bush," said Carlos Lerma, a visitor from Alice, Texas. "He has the drive, the desire, the ability to follow through that's just bred into the culture down there."

Forget that Texas has as much to do with high-tech companies and commercial banking these days as it does with rodeos and livestock. It's the cowboy image that the state took on the road at the fair, which featured stalls of Texas crafts, clothing, food and animals.

At Lerma's stall, folks were ponying up for a look at his wood art depicting Texas steers galloping on the range (one exception: a mural of the Last Supper hand-carved in mesquite, on sale for $5,000). Lerma said the cowboy spirit is the quality people respond to in Bush.

"It's about having a pride that runs through you a mile long," he said. "People see that in Bush - I honestly think that's why he won."

Many Texans were so intent on seeing the inauguration, they drove two days straight to get here. Lerma pushed onward after a fire destroyed his van - divine intervention stopped it from barbecuing all his mesquite carvings, he said - just to mark Bush's big moment.

Around town this week, anything Texan carries a high premium. A ticket to the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball, which raged at the Marriott alongside the Texas Fair last night, was going for $3,000 on eBay yesterday. Folks with tickets said word had it that even country queen Naomi Judd was having trouble getting one.

The ball featured a mix of black tie and Wyatt Earp fashions, promised performances by Clint Black, Tanya Tucker and groups such as Asleep at the Wheel, as well as a scheduled appearance by Bush and his wife, Laura. Before the hotel went through a security lockdown for the event, the public could wander the ballroom for a taste of Texas.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, a trick roper in tight Wranglers, showed off moves with names like the "butterfly" and the "Texas skip." While he has twirled at rodeos and cracked whips at fashion shows, he said this inaugural gig was far more gratifying.

"I'm keeping the stubs on my plane tickets," said the performer from Bandera, Texas. "You hear about something like this all your life." One of his heroes, celebrity cowboy Monty Montana, lassoed President Eisenhower at his inaugural parade, but Fitzpatrick wasn't about to try the same thing with Bush. "I'd probably get shot," he said. "I wouldn't even rope my wife without asking her."

Some Texans admitted to a little culture shock. Washington seems too dowdy for the Texas crowd, said vendor Cheryl Long, and she voiced dismay at the newscasters on local TV.

"They need to accessorize," she said, pulling out a $900 silver belt buckle from her cache of merchandise. "They just need a little personal statement."

Her assistant, Ken Ott, pointed to the buckle to make the point. "See," Ott said. "That's gaudy. But gaudy isn't a bad word in Texas."

Like several other vendors, Long said she would not have made the trek to sell her wares at the supposedly nonpartisan Texas State Society inaugural bash here had Gore won. But since Bush was victorious, she had a little more hope that Washington would get Texas fever.

Plenty of folks were snatching up "Put A Cowboy in the White House" bumper stickers. No one had bought the $1,450 "E Pluribus Unum" inaugural cowboy boots by mid-afternoon, but Long figured her luck would change. "We've had lots of lookers," she said. "By the time they open the bar, we'll have lots of takers, too."

Others hoping for a little business: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other defense contractors. They filled the display hall with models of airplanes partly manufactured in Texas. It never hurts to start making friends early, the vendors said, noting that their companies would be seeking contracts from the Bush administration.

Some Texans, while thrilled to be in Washington, said the party wasn't all stress-free. Jim Shirley, after all, doesn't usually worry about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals trying to protest the working hours of his Belgian draft horses, which stood on display in the hotel ballroom throughout the day yesterday.

"PETA's been on me," Shirley said, refusing to disclose the Maryland safe house where his four 2,400-pound Belgians have been sleeping this week.

Still, the rancher from Spearman, Texas, said he and his wife, Verna Lee, were savoring their moment in history.

"I'll tell you one thing," he said, before adding a touch of black shoe polish to one of his horse's hooves. "If the president-elect comes over, he can see these horses, sit on these horses. Anything he wants."

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