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Dashing and Dancing

Party Central

From there, the Bushes boot-scootin' boogied to the Convention Center, where they ducked in to six more official balls.

At the Ohio-centric Patriot Ball, 12-year-old Caroline Shinkle from Dayton and her mom, Carolyn, came early and found a spot right up close to the stage. It was Caroline's birthday and she hoped to ask the president two things when he arrived: Do what he thinks is right for the country, and sing her "Happy Birthday.'

Basking in the glow of his inauguration, President Bush and Laura Bush waltz at the Commander-in-Chief Ball at the National Building Museum. (Rich Lipski - The Washington Post)

"We pulled through for him," she said. "Now he should pull through for us."

For 2 1/2 hours, she waited until the president showed up. She waited patiently through the short speech and then midway through his dance her moment came.

"He looked right at me," she said. "He waved right down at me," she added. "He made eye contact. It was big, it was huge," she said, twirling in her white tutu dress. "This is the best birthday ever, except," she added, "it would've been nice if he had sung to me, but that didn't happen."

As the president and the first lady danced, someone tossed a couple of red roses toward the stage. Bush noticed them and photographers in the pool handed them to the president, who gallantly offered them to his wife.

Trip the Night Fantastic

Inside a cavernous corner of the Convention Center, where 11,500 revelers were expected for the Texas-Wyoming Ball, long lines formed early for drink tickets, $1 per purple stub, like at an elementary school carnival. Cocktails were seven tickets, but the booze was top-drawer -- Maker's Mark bourbon and Dewar's scotch.

Wine, beer and champagne were also on sale, but from the smell of it, the liquor was selling quicker.

The first people on the dance floor, when the band started playing some Sister Sledge, were Thomas Graddy, 68, of western Kentucky, and Ro Bell, 67, of Austin, who was looking very fine in a fur shrug and a tight beaded cap on her head. "We're in love, and we're gonna fix living in different cities," said Graddy. "We've got a new lease on life."

Bell has been a Republican since she was 21; he's a moderate. Her son, Oliver J. Bell, is a Republican consultant who paid for their whole trip -- plane fare, hotel, and inaugural tickets.

Asked about the war in Iraq, Bell said, "I'm a Christian, and God says there will be wars, and rumors of war, so let's just leave it at that."

Graddy said, "Let's do the job necessary to find peace on Earth."

Still basking in the afterglow of political victory, Darryl Ingalsbe and his wife, Linda, of Blair, Neb., had volunteered for the campaign, and they were proud that not a single county in their state went for Sen. John Kerry. "There were only two precincts," said Darryl, "and we'll get them next time."

Added their friend, Nancy Hergert, of Scottsbluff: "Especially if Hillary runs. She'll be dead on arrival."

Vice President Cheney and his wife breezed into the ballroom and asked for a shout from those from Texas and his own state, Wyoming.

"We got all the rowdies in one room!" Cheney said, then asked the band to play a number "so I can dance with my bride," which brought rousing cheers from the crowd.

They danced to "The Way You Look Tonight," as they did everywhere else, and left.

No Cause for Celebration

As Republicans reveled in their victory at the various balls, thousands of dissenters found refuge in half a dozen counter-inaugural affairs being staged in clubs and ballrooms around town. There was endless mocking of the lavishness of the official soirees.

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