Americans brave tight security, cold weather for taste of history
Youngstown native Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth attended one of the balls.
WASHINGTON -- The security was so tight, parts of the U.S. capital felt more like a compound under siege than a city extolling democracy. Snow threatened the parade, and the splendor and frivolity of the balls stood in unmistakable contrast to the tumult overseas.
Tens of thousands of shivering yet determined Americans braved lines of police and streets barricaded by buses parked askew to catch a glimpse of inauguration festivities. Security for the first such event since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made it harder than ever before to get a glimpse of the presidential motorcade, let alone the floats and marching bands, but Americans went to great lengths trying.
Clark McGuire, 63, spent $2,000 to fly in from Dallas and take part in the celebration. He and his wife were roaming H Street in a biting wind Thursday afternoon, looking for an entrance where their coveted silver passes would be accepted.
"Because we love this president," he said in unnecessary explanation, given the sparkling "Bush 2004" pin attached to his wife's red hat.
The city was transformed into a maze of dead-ends by security that managed to give the appearance of a come-one-come-all celebration while actually being as tightly controlled as an airport.
The dancing president?
At the inaugural balls Thursday night, over and over, President Bush and the first lady danced to a medley of "Laura," and "I Could Have Danced All Night."
Could have, but didn't.
Bush's desire to move through his 10-ball dance card at warp speed was evident as he shuttled around town. Leaving Ball No. 1, one White House aide flashed an index finger at Secret Service agents and proclaimed, "One down."
Bush got a hearty "hoo-ah" from the crowd at his first stop, the Salute to Heroes Ball, but it was Miss USA 2004 Shandi Finnessey who attracted an even lustier cheer at another inaugural soiree.
"I'm never going to pass up an opportunity to see so many men in uniform," Finnessey cooed at the Commander in Chief Ball, which paid particular tribute to the military. "And I may take one of you home tonight."
Mimic Rich Little, warming up the crowd for Bush at another ball, promised: "If he doesn't show up for any reason, I will do him for you." (He didn't have to.)
The Bushes skipped dancing altogether at their first stop, and twirled all of 1 minute, 6 seconds at Stop 2. By Stop No. 5, they had it down to 52 seconds.
"It may be the first time in four years," Bush quipped before taking his first turn on the dance floor.
Laura Bush took her twirls in a silver-and-blue V-neck gown by Oscar de la Renta. Presidential twin daughters Jenna and Barbara were clad in Badgley Mischkas.
Some of the highest-decibel celebrities in Washington were popping up at the many unofficial parties and receptions around town.
Actors Joe Pantoliano and Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire," were among those lined up for a sold-out event hosted by the Creative Coalition, a nonpartisan advocacy group for actors, writers, singers and other members of the entertainment industry.
"We're celebrating everybody's win -- Democrats and Republicans," said Joe Pantoliano, co-president of the coalition. Scratched from the coalition lineup: miffed actor Dennis Hopper, who had planned to co-chair the gala but decided to boycott Washington altogether after being mysteriously scrapped from participating in an official inaugural event.
Around town, 50,000 people gussied up for official balls draped in red-white-and-blue names like Freedom, Liberty, Democracy, Independence, Stars and Stripes.
At the Veterans Ball, none other than "Apprentice" villain Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, a Youngstown native, held court in a self-described "beautiful, amazing gown."
"I'm wearing my political hat as opposed to my celebrity hat," explained Manigault-Stallworth, who's now managing partner for a political consulting firm.
Pantoliano's take on the inaugural ball scene: "From what I understand, they're mostly about checking your coat and waiting to get it back."