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Warming Up

On a Dark and Snowy Night, Toasting the President in Wild and Temperate Ways

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2005; Page C01

The sane thing to do last night was stay home, slip on the jammies and curl up in front of a cozy fire. The foolhardy (but much more fun) thing was to venture out, slip on the ice, and risk life and limb to be part of the Inauguration Eve action. Neither snow nor sleet nor gloom of night could stay these revelers from their appointed rounds.

Last night was all about celebrating in divided but united fashion: Texans kicking up their heels at the Black Tie and Boots bash, cowboys chic to chic at Wyoming's party, a "wholesome" gathering of Christians and the ineffable pleasures of crab cakes with Washington's A-list.

The Lake Highlands Wildcat Wranglers perform at the Black Tie and Boots Ball. (Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post)

It's not done till it's overdone.

That's not the official state motto of Texas, but it fits the Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball. That's both its greatness and, as it turned out, its downfall.

"This is where they play-act that they're stereotypical Texans," said Houston-based Nancy Ames, who produced the event with husband Danny Ward. "If you want to be a Texas peacock, you can strut your stuff at Black Tie and Boots, then go back to your Brooks Brothers on Monday. It's like bringing the rodeo to town."

At the Marriott Wardman Park last night that meant: 12,000 Texans with boots, hats, flags, sequins, Lone Star boxer shorts, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, Rep. Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, Bevo the longhorn steer, Van Cliburn playing the national anthem, Gov. Rick Perry, and armadillos, live and stuffed. Also, boasted ball chairman Bill Shute: seven ballrooms with 500 entertainers, including the Kilgore Rangerettes; 20,000 yellow roses; and as centerpieces on the sponsors' tables earlier in the evening, real cowboy boots dipped in real silver.

The party is hosted by the Texas State Society, which also celebrated 100 years of hell-raising in the nation's capital. Texans back then got lonely for barbecue and Texas twangs, explains Rep. Kay Granger, president of the society.

This year was extra-sentimental, given that it's the second inauguration of the second President Bush and may be the last hurrah for a homegrown boy for a whole generation of folks from Dallas and Houston and parts between.

So, indeed, it was the hottest ticket in town. "This is the ball," said Brian Raduenz, who works at the White House but is a resident of Texas via Minnesota. He scored two $300 tickets; his wife, Theresa, bought her one-shoulder navy and cream ball gown on the Internet two days ago -- it arrived yesterday morning. "I always want to party," she said.

But too much of a good thing turned out to be too much of a good thing. By 8:15 p.m., the fire marshal had closed the main ballroom, shutting out thousands of partygoers. "The lesson learned is when you show up you've got to go right into the ballroom," said Nancy Reyes of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attending the ball for the first time. "Maybe I'll get a glimpse of the big screen and see him there."

The president made the Texas do his last and longest stop of the evening, after dropping by the three big-donor dinners. (Unlike his predecessor, Bush keeps early hours, and arrived back at the White House at 10:05 -- 35 minutes ahead of schedule.) When the Bushes and Vice President and Mrs. Cheney arrived at the Wardman Park, the packed ballroom exploded with applause, piercing whistles and cowboy hats waved aloft.

Bush told the lucky members of the way-overflow crowd: "It's nice to be home. As close to home as you can get in Washington."

His wisest decision, the president went on, was to marry Laura. And the crowd went wild. Mrs. Bush stood onstage behind him in a raspberry Carolina Herrera ball gown with a dramatic iridescent sheen matched only by the diamonds at her neck and dangling from her ears.

Daughters Barbara and Jenna smiled next to their mother. Barbara's seafoam green Badgley Mischka gown didn't look as sexy as the designer's sketches suggested. Jenna wore a form-fitting Lela Rose dress with high black bodice and parchment-colored skirt.

The president, in his traditional black tuxedo, praised Cheney, saying he gives "great" advice and his "demeanor is sound." And the audience cheered "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" Then he gave a teaser for his inaugural address: "We love freedom and everybody deserves to be free."

The ballroom erupted in song, at first unclear and muffled. What was that tune? " 'The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You,' baby," explained Michelle Cohen, a Texas A&M alum.

Cowboy Precedent

At the Wyoming celebration honoring the Cheneys at DAR Constitution Hall, folks seemed fit to burst. They enjoyed talking about what makes the state its own special, albeit unpopulated self. In the VIP room, they spoke of the image of the Wyoming cowboy.

"The true Wyoming cowboy is quiet, unassuming, almost never seeks a credit for things," said former governor Jim Geringer, who wore a silver bolo tie in the shape of a bison, and also spoke of sugar beets and "independent-minded people."

We were curious about another state's cowboys.

"In Texas, you find a lot more of the rhinestone cowboys," said Geringer's wife, Sherri.

"We're the least populated state, and for us to have someone like Dick Cheney be in such a public office, we're just very proud of that," said Kim Sears, president of the Wyoming State Society, which put on the event, with up to 2,500 people set to attend.

(Later in the VIP room, a woman in a denim dress with shoulder fringe; red, white and blue socks; and an American-flag handbag ducked in to check out the food. Is that the vaunted independent Wyoming spirit?)

We begged Wyomingites to tell us more about Wyoming. "We're gentle, but tough," said Susan Thomas, wife of Sen. Craig Thomas. Later, as if to prove her point, she went over and ribbed Dave Freudenthal, the Democratic governor.

"If you're from Wyoming," Susan Thomas added, "you better be a beef-eater."

To underscore that, organizers had flown in 1,200 pounds of Wyoming beef. But as Rep. Barbara Cubin said diplomatically, Wyomingites eat chicken, too. "We're pretty health-conscious," she said.

And "highly opinionated," said former senator Alan Simpson, fondly recalling a greeting he used to get on the street: "Hey Al, what you doing, you big jerk?"

Before the Cheneys took the stage in the main hall, John Popper of Blues Traveler played "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his harmonica and a video montage showed Wyoming images: beer, a bunny, barbecue and bucking broncos. Dick appeared in a tux and Lynne in a black dress with sparkles on one shoulder. She introduced her husband as a "small-town boy." He said, "I owe a lot to the people of Wyoming." Al Simpson said, "What a wonderful couple to represent our state.

"Don't forget the booze and food are free."

Cider Rules

John Ashcroft doesn't dance, smoke or drink. The outgoing attorney general's guiding principle, drawn from his father's sermons, was to delay gratification.

This is not necessarily the life of the party. Unless it's the Christian Inaugural Eve gala.

Here at the Ritz-Carlton you could find all the trappings of an inaugural ball: sparkly gowns, minks covering bare shoulders, cowboy hats with leather trim, lobster bisque and filet mignon. It's "fun, fabulous -- people will have a great time," said Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, a lobbyist for the Traditional Values Coalition who organized the event. But it is also "more wholesome than other things."

That bubbly liquid in the champagne flutes? "Non-alcoholic cider," explained the waiter. The pink stuff in the martini glasses? Fruit punch, unspiked. That couple cheek to cheek in the corner? Praying for the success of their new church.

The guests danced to Christian crooners, but most of the night was dominated by a sort of verbal dance. The administration officials were there to show their gratitude to Christian conservatives for supporting them without their having to make specific promises. But the Christian leaders think they won the election and feel entitled to ask for results: a constitutional amendment on marriage, a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade. These desires were conveyed within the confines of the usual cocktail party conversation.

At the front of the VIP room, Karl Rove told the crowd that the president will stay focused on the "big things," without saying what those "big things" might be. We're here to celebrate the election of a president who "shares our convictions," he said. "Be patient," he advised. "We can't do everything overnight."

"Bush's new team is less ideological," said Richard Viguerie, author of "America's Right Turn." "There aren't any John Ashcrofts in the new Cabinet," he added, pointing out that Bush has already backed down from the constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage.

If Christians here were of one mind, they were not of one culture. In the back of the room, a group of women ran over to someone they thought was Tammy Faye Messner. It turned out to be Jan Crouch, a TV evangelist who looks like Tammy Faye, with even thicker mascara.

On the opposite side, Sen. John Thune gave a speech. The South Dakota Republican is the current David of the Christian movement, the man who beat former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle. He is also the movement's future: young, tall and chiseled with a beauty-queen wife and two daughters who are Barbara and Jenna lookalikes. "This is an opportunity to move our agenda forward," he said.

Dinner With Buffy

For most folks, inauguration parties are the thrill of the new. For the crowd at Buffy Cafritz's late-night supper at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, it's the comfort of the known.

Every four years since 1981, Cafritz has hosted a bipartisan inaugural party. The Mandarin's Cafe Mozu has replaced the late lamented Jockey Club, but the supper menu has remained the same. In an uncertain world, it's nice to know there will be crab cakes, chicken hash and chocolate mousse.

"For some people, this is the only party they come to," said Cafritz, the Republican fundraiser who hosted the party with her husband, Bill; former Miss America Phyllis George; longtime Bush friends Robert and Kelly Day (wearing an ohmygawd drop-dead yellow sapphire and diamond necklace); and Washington power couple Ann and Vernon Jordan.

The original idea was to host an event that was nonpartisan and fun. The party evolved into an A-list gathering of Washington and New York social swells who have known and liked each other for years. This year's turnout of 300 included Secretary of State Colin Powell, Barbara Walters, James Baker, John Breaux, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, White House social secretary Lea Berman, BET's Bob Johnson, inaugural co-chairman Brad Freeman, assorted ambassadors and plenty of others sure of their place in life.

"Baker!" said Powell.

"Powell!" said Baker.

That's the kind of crowd it was. "It's the party to come to," said Jim Lehrer.

"They know Buffy, Ann, Kelly and Phyllis are great hostesses and they give great parties," said Vernon Jordan, demonstrating once again why he's the most charming man in Washington. "Friends tend to respond to friends. It's also part of a great tradition."

Staff writers Robin Givhan, Libby Copeland and Hanna Rosin contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company