Wait, then party: It's worth it

Eight official balls offer fun for revelers from both parties

January 21, 2001|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Oh, the weather outside was frightful. But it was nothing compared to what was inside:

Nowhere to sit, pitiful food, long lines for drinks and an even longer ones to check or uncheck your coat.

Whining about inaugural balls is half the fun. The other half is realizing you wouldn't get to complain about them if your guy didn't win.

"I live in Kennedy country, so it's wonderful to be here," said Sandra Lamoureux, an antiques dealer from Cape Cod.

Lamoureux was among the estimated 35,000 revelers who descended on eight official balls last night, the one at the D.C. Armory in her case. It wasn't one of the glamour balls - rather than celebrate the roles of such states as Texas or, ahem, Florida, this ball was for seemingly dozens of random states, none particularly significant to the victory of President George W. Bush and several, such as Maryland and Massachusetts, basically flyover territory for the Republicans.

"South Carolina!" Bush chortled after he dropped in on the ball, checked out which states were represented and found one of "his."

"OK, Colorado! Thank you for Gail Norton," he said, noting his nominee for interior secretary. "Delaware! ... And the home of my little sister, Maryland!"

Yes, there are Republicans in Maryland, and not just Bush's sister, Dorothy "Doro" Koch, a Montgomery County resident.

"We could have our caucuses in a telephone booth," said Doug Trotter, a venture capitalist who lives in Baltimore's Guilford neighborhood.

He's more accustomed to being around Democrats. "This is like being at someone else's prom," he marveled.

Trotter actually considers himself an independent. It's his wife, Liz, who is the true-blue Republican. But even she was wearing another color last night - purple. Specifically, a purple-feathered hat topped with a big black raven.

"I was trying to do something funny about a bird in a bush," she said. Which is why she decided to wear the hat, made by a neighbor, that she was really saving for her Super Bowl party later this month.

For Liz Trotter, the end of the Clinton administration was something to celebrate.

"We disliked Bill's personal politics," she said. "I shouldn't say that. We're trying to bring everyone together. We have to be positive."

This ball was a start - there was no shortage of Democrats joining the fun. Or at least the networking.

"It's a good idea to mix and mingle," said Jonathan Preston, an AT&T network engineer who lives in Clinton, Md. "We're going to have Republicans around for four years, after all."

Most early birds to the balls, which started at 7 p.m., spent most of the time waiting - waiting in line to have their pictures taken, waiting for the food to be served, but mostly waiting for Bush to arrive.

Shuttling from ball to ball, Bush and his wife, Laura, arrived here shortly after 9 p.m.

"I want to see the dress," Ruthie Carliner of Owings Mills said, echoing the sentiment of many women.

The petite Carliner needed a boost from her husband, David, to actually see the stage once the Bushes arrived. The crowd of ballgoers pressed close to the stage, but only those in the front, or at least those with views of two giant television screens, got an eyeful.

"Laura and I are grateful for the fact you came from all around the country to share this wonderful inauguration," Bush told the cheering crowd, many giving him the Texas longhorn "hook 'em Horns" sign (index and pinky fingers) or the W salute (three fingers).

"Thank you all for coming," he said. "I cannot wait to ... go to the Oval Office and do my job."

Perhaps working is preferable to his task of the night. A reluctant dancer, Bush was obliged to do a couple of turns with Laura in front of each ball crowd.

"I must confess I'm not the world's greatest dancer," he said, utilizing what may be part of his style - getting people to have low expectations so that if he simply avoids falling flat on his face, everyone will deem him brilliant.

He gamely took Laura, bedecked in a sparkling red dress, across the stage as the band played "Waltz Across Texas." And didn't fall flat on his face.

He shouldn't have worried. This was one forgiving crowd, grateful to have something to celebrate after eight years of a Democratic White House and an election that seemed to go on just about as long.

"I'm a Bush fan," declared Sherri Godeaux of Calvert County

"I would have voted for him if I could," said her 14-year-old daughter, Lauren.

For the Godeaux women and their friend Pam Stalnaker, it was a girls' night out. Godeaux's husband is a Secret Service agent, and thus was busy last night. So they spent the day shopping - not knowing they were going to get tickets until the last minute, and somehow ended up all wearing some variant of royal blue.

"We should have gone red, white and blue," Stalnaker said.

This was a bipartisan party: Stalnaker is a Democrat, but wanted to support her friend the Republican. Still, she had reservations.

"I think Democrats do better parties," Stalnaker said loyally.

It was, however, the first day of the rest of the Bush II administration. And that, for most, was something to celebrate, pinched toes, long lines and frightful weather aside.

Donna deWildt of New Hampshire, who last attended an inauguration when Richard M. Nixon took office, was glad to have the Republicans back in power and in charge of the public purse.

"I like," the former Air Force captain said cheerily, "to keep the money I make.

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