WASHINGTON – Thousands of well-wishers attending President George W. Bush's second inaugural will strut their tuxes and gowns at one of nine inaugural balls Thursday night.
The excitement,however,is generally limited to neophytes,for they certainly have yet to realize the challenge waiting ahead,party veterans said.
Take the advice of White House insider Sheila Tate,who said party-goers will have a view of a cavernous convention center with 5,000 to 10,000 people buzzing around,meandering lines to the lavatory and commotion at the coat check
“The truth about inaugural balls is that they are always packed and there's hardly any room to move,” said Tate,former press secretary to Nancy Reagan and a veteran of several inaugurals.
Chuck Conconi,editor-at-large for the Washingtonian Magazine,said first-timers should expect a different kind of party,one where “you don't have a place to eat or sit and will be lucky enough to get pretzels before they're gone.”
Another inaugural veteran,consultant Beau Philips attended his first ball in 2001
“The food is expectedly terrible. You stand in long lines just to get a drink or something to eat,” said Philips,a former chief of staff to former House member from California.
The draw,of course,is the president's drop-by. He is likely to dance for a few moments with the first lady on a distant stage and then depart to visit the other balls,Conconi said.
Debbie Dingell,who heads the General Motors Foundation and is married to Rep. John Dingell,D-Mich.,said inaugural balls are more fun to anticipate than to enjoy.
She anticipated her first inaugural ball when she was barely 18 in 1977 with “wide-eyed enthusiasm” but the event turned out to be a horrible experience. “Nothing really happened,” she said.
“Ball-goers should now be practical and be realistic with their expectations,” Dingell said.
Conconi said inaugural balls are “pretty much the same” – men wear black tie, and women parade in thousand-dollar gowns. After the party,there's an uproar at the cloakroom when ball-goers all try to get their coats back at once.
“To be part of history could be very expensive. People tend to spend a big pot of money to book hotels,buy expensive dresses,meals and limousines. The cheapest that you could get is maybe $5,000,” Conconi said.
Tate said that the big parties for people from the president and vice-president's home states are the hot tickets.
And,the hottest gala in town is not one of the official balls,but the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots bash Wednesday night at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel,said Lisa Stewart,the hotel public relations officer.
Partygoers – 12,000 of them – will feast on 21,000 quesadillas,20,000 enchiladas,35,000 pastries,3,000 pounds of jumbo shrimp,3,000 pounds barbecued beef and 1,500 pounds of chicken tenders,Stewart said.
More than 100 bars will overflow with special Texas beers,she said. A John Deere Gator tractor is to be raffled.
Although some have said the war in Iraq and South Asian tsunami should dictate a toned-down celebration,Tate said inaugural balls have been in place “for so long and I see no problem with that.”
“It's a wonderful tradition that I have been lucky enough to enjoy,something to remember for the rest of our lives,” Tate said.
“It's a great honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You get to meet interesting people you don't ordinarily meet,” Philips said.
Phillips,needless to say,won't be attending a ball this year. “It's a great excuse,actually. My wife is pregnant and not feeling well,” he said.
Tate said she is attending a private soiree with members of Congress and mayors while Dingell has no plans to join in Thursday's festivities.