She swept into the lobby of the Capital Hilton for the 120th annual Gridiron Dinner last night, the television cameras and the tourists and the curious pressed on the other side of the rope, and as Tim Russert (who walked in a few minutes later) might have said: Condi! Condi! Condi!
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stepped into the lobby wearing a knockout red dress, and the applause-o-meter pegged out. Cameras flashed. People tiptoed for a glimpse. ("We love you, Condi!") Madam Secretary, glowing, smiled and turned for the stairs.
It was delightful, it was delicious, it was de-lovely -- and then in came Alan Greenspan.
We repaired to the bar right after that, mainly because so few of the politicians and power brokers who filled 16th Street with black SUVs and stretch limos were good enough sports to come through the public entrance.
But wait! There was Sam Donaldson, the veteran ABC correspondent, slipping into the lobby and making a U-turn past the Secret Service heavies to go upstairs!
"That's Sam Donaldson!" said Andrea Mucci, hairstylist at the hotel, who has cut the locks of many a media and government star. "I walked up to him once and said, 'Let me do your hair.' Then I thought about it."
These are the jokes, people, and the main reason we were sipping a ginger ale downstairs is because the proletariat and the working press (if that's not redundant) are officially barred from attending federal Washington's annual giggle-fest.
The Gridiron Club -- whose active membership of 65 comprises senior print journalists, bureau chiefs, columnists and the like -- puts on a show each spring that hosts the president, Cabinet secretaries, military brass and other elites (pronounced "E-lites") for an evening of satirical song and dance.
It's officially off the record, but of the wink-wink and nudge-nudge type -- we're not expecting a subpoena for leaking a punch line. Besides, the unofficial rule of the evening is that the 600 or so pundits and politicians in the room are supposed to at least act like they have a sense of humor.
"People really try hard to be funny," said Gridiron veteran and Reagan administration speechwriter Landon Parvin. "They take it seriously. Politicians didn't get where they are by being funny. Gridiron night they have to switch over -- it's not easy."
Now that we can hear the music beginning upstairs, let's cover the unwritten ground rules. They're important.
First, if skewered onstage or in song, you must laugh at least as loud as everyone at your table, no matter if they're all Democrats and you just want to throw up.