WASHINGTON — You know it’s going to be a long week when you arrive at D.C.’s bustling Union Station and find out most of the place has been rented out for a private party.
Instead of red caps hauling luggage off trains, caterers, laborers and guys in tuxedos were winding their way through a maze of metal detectors. The station’s taxi stand was a snarled mess of gridlocked cabs and angry passengers performing a bizarre symphony of blaring horns and fierce profanity. Then it started to snow.
Welcome to the 55th presidential inauguration: “A Vision of America!”
For one week, the nation’s capital became a buzzing beehive of partiers, pissed-off locals, protestors and pumped-up security. Hotels were decked out in red, white and blue bunting, their lobbies filled with old men in tuxes and wide-eyed Young Republicans in navy-blue suits and sharp red ties. Nearly every lapel served first as a billboard for one’s political beliefs: Lots of “W ’04” and “W: The President” to be sure, but also a fair amount of pins promoting “MOB (Mothers Opposing Bush)” or shouting, “No War!”
But primarily, it was a victory celebration, a party for the victorious Republicans and their leader, George W. Bush. It was an expensive bash — the estimated price tag of $40 million drew the ire of many D.C. citizens, who footed a good part of the bill — and one marked with the omnipresent buzzing of police sirens and security helicopters. But for Bush supporters, none of that seemed to matter.
They got things started off with a host of musical celebrations. Tuesday saw revelers young and old getting down to Hilary Duff and JoJo at the Bush-twins-approved America Rocks concert. What started out as a wholesome scene was sullied a bit later, though, when Fuel singer Brett Scallions showed off his potty mouth (see “Fuel Singer Shouts Obscenity At President’s Bash — But Hilary Duff And JoJo Behave” ).
Wednesday night saw a fireworks-laden celebration of inoffensive country and R&B featuring Ruben Studdard, Kenny Chesney, the Temptations and the ever-present Gatlin Brothers, who have seemingly made it their mission to play every pro-Bush event from here to West Texas.
That night also saw perhaps the inauguration’s premier event: the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Gala. The hot-ticket event featured sets from reformed loincloth enthusiast Ted Nugent and bearded Tejas rockeros ZZ Top. Partiers danced the night away in ties, tails and, of course, cowboy boots, and snacked on fajitas and quesadillas. Later, in a true triumph of alliteration, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson auctioned off a Toyota Tacoma truck.
Those partying late into the night were forced to drag themselves out of bed good and early on Thursday, because it was time for the main event: the swearing-in ceremony. In the early morning sun, D.C. was a bizarre mixture of rock-salt-encrusted streets, security barriers, old men in cowboy hats and fatigue-clad soldiers clutching cups of Starbucks coffee. A seemingly inexhaustible army of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts passed out maps of the parade route and warily eyed the protestors who had begun to muster their forces on street corners.
Security for the inauguration was understandably tight, with attendees being searched, poked, prodded and wanded under the watchful eyes of FBI agents and military personnel. Once through the gates, spectators stood on the snow-coated grounds of the Capitol building, blowing on their hands and striking up conversations with their brethren. Kids ran around everywhere, choosing to spin around in wild and mindless circles rather than watch the pre-show entertainment provided by the Naval Academy Glee Club.
As for the ceremony, it was a grand spectacle, with the kind of old-time pomp and circumstance that our country rarely witnesses anymore. Elegant symphonies and grand choirs and prayers (God got a lot of props on this day) were the highlights, and “freedom” was the key word of the day and the focus of Bush’s speech (see “President Bush Stresses Power Of Freedom At Inauguration” ).
And then there was the parade from the Capitol to the White House — with protestors and Bush supporters exchanging pleasantries (some rather zesty “love it or leave it” back-and-forths), a motorcade of black limousines and marching bands and reviewing stands and people snapping photos. After three hours, it was over, and much of Washington retired to their hotels to grab a quick nap before hitting up the night’s many, many inaugural balls.
There were countless parties, sponsored by almost every state in the union, and Bush and Vice President Cheney breezed through many of them, giving perfunctory speeches and whirling the wives around for a quick moment on the dance floor. Then they were gone, and the revelers were left to celebrate long into the night … or at least until the free booze ran out.
But just to the north of the Washington Convention Center, which served as home to six inauguration parties, a different kind of gathering was happening. In the basement of the Calvary Methodist Church, local grass-roots organization Positive Force D.C. was holding a Not My President anti-inauguration. Kids paid $5 to stand in the cramped basement and catch sweaty sets by local art-rockers Q and Not U and agit-punks Anti-Flag. They played the roles of the anti-Nugent and the bizarro ZZ Top, and there were no tuxes and cowboy hats in sight … just sweaty kids and tattoos and a shared sense that maybe not all hope was lost. At least for one night, anyway.
Nearby, in the Adams Morgan section of D.C., police in full riot gear chased down black-clad protestors, helicopters shone spotlights on the ground below, and unmarked police cars wheeled around corners at breakneck speed. A few bank windows were broken, a couple of newspaper racks overturned, and the protestors scattered into the shadows at the first sound of a police siren. And while all this was going on, parties at the convention center began to break up, limousines waiting curbside, tuxedoes and cocktail dresses waltzing through the night, full and happy.
And you couldn’t help but think that maybe this really was “A Vision of America” after all.