Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help

From the Post
  • "Waiting for Bill": The pastime at each ball.
  • Inaugural fashion: Thank heaven there was no hat.
  • Everywhere he went, the president was remarkably thankful.

    On WashingtonPost.com

  • Follow the President's path around D.C. with a map of inaugural balls.
  • Look at what designers dreamed up for outfitting the first family fashionably.
  • The inauguration is now largely about partying, but it wasn't always that way.

    Go to Inauguration Events

    Go to Inauguration '97

    Go to National Section

    Go to Home Page

  • Inaugural Parties: The Ball Crawl

    By Retha Hill and Shayla Thiel
    WashingtonPost.com Staff
    Monday, January 20, 1997; Final Update: 11:00 p.m.

    Live from the Arkansas Inaugural Ball:

    7:30 p.m.: "Can We Say Tacky?"
    Retha Hill — I just arrived here at the Arkansas ball. I'm still in the lobby, watching people milling around. It's not crowded at this point. I guess people from Arkansas know Bill Clinton and know he won't be here for a long time. He's not due until 10 p.m., but on Bill Clinton time, that's at least 11 p.m.

    The most amazing part of the evening so far is the number of short dresses around. Whoa. There's even one woman in a glittery gold pantsuit, with four-inch gold pumps. Ugh. Can we say tacky?

    At least 40 percent of the women here are wearing short cocktail dresses — Oh! there's another gold pantsuit!

    At the souvenir stands, you can buy an "In Socks We Trust" button for $2, a silver picture frame for $50 and a souvenir dinner plate for $65. I think the one I like the most is the Parker blue insignia pens with Clinton's signature in gold. It's $45.

    Hall B of the D.C. Convention Center is not crowded at all. It's decorated with red, white and blue bunting and a lot of stars on the floor. There are rows of white folding chairs, like on the beach, facing an empty stage.

    People seem really bored and cold. They're probably upset because they checked their coats.

    It's a small crowd, and not many people are mingling right now. Not much to write home about yet — at least until Bill Clinton shows up.

    Live from the California Inaugural Ball:

    8:30 p.m.: "I'm a Little Underwhelmed."
    Shayla Thiel — So far, underwhelmed is the word of the night. There are a lot of people here at the California Ball who don't seem to know each other and don't care to.

    The most surprising thing here is that it's not particularly fabulous. I have not found the beautiful people — the producers and the actors and the beautiful friends of Kato Kaelin — are nowhere to be found.

    If I didn't know better, I'd think I was at my tenth-grade prom: a lot of people in ill-fitting cocktail dresses, fur dresses, and even some pantsuits.

    They're huddling together in the corners. No one is dancing. No one is talking.

    Right now, there's this great mariachi band — they're rockin', they're fabulous — and for some inexplicable reason, the "Andy Griffith Show" and the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" themes are being piped in over the music.

    It costs $2 for a glass of water, and you have to get into one line to purchase a ticket. Then five feet away, you have to get into another line to buy the drink. Makes no sense at all.

    There are roughly 200 people here. It's an enormous room at the D.C. Convention Center, tastefully decorated, with red, white and blue. There are pools of star-shaped light on the floor.

    The photo-taking is another part of the prom — all the couples standing in line, waiting to get their pictures taken. It's just an incredibly underwheming experience. I'm having high-school flashbacks.

    Live from the Arkansas Inaugural Ball:

    8:30 p.m.: "This is EMBARRASSING!"
    Retha Hill — The Arkansas ball — the home state of the President. We have a cash bar, toilets that don't flush, and food in little plastic containers.

    "I can't believe it. Everything is $5.50 including the snacks — although the potato chips are $1.50. I was expecting something not in a plastic container. It's airline food," says Tracy Grzelakowski of Ashburn in Loudoun County.

    Tracy's husband Edward paid $5.50 and got two ham and cheese sandwiches on biscuits with a pickle on the side. "The biscuit was so dry I had to wash it down with a beer." He didn't eat the second one.

    "If you have black tie on the menu, the food should reflect it," says Chris Mattson of San Diego. She could not finish her plastic container of pasta primavera.

    "This is one of the deals like you buy at Giant. It's a joke," said Janice Ebert-Dix, of Fairfax Station. "I expected trays of hors d'oeuvres — not expensive ones but something. When you pay $150 you expect something. And I wish I hadn't checked my coat either," she said, huddling against her husband.

    "I'll never go to another inaugural ball again," says Tracy Grzelakowski. "The hassle, the gown, the traffic. Big disappointment. I'll never go to another ball unless the President kisses my hand!" Tracy's mother is from Hot Springs, Ark., and was in school band with President Clinton from elementary through high school.

    Bruce Hornsby has just taken the stage. Maybe he can liven things up. . . .

    9:15 p.m.: "I'm Not Used to Getting Dressed Up"
    Retha Hill — "I saw a couple of women come in with street clothes, and they let them in. So what does that mean?" said Janice Ebert-Dix.

    But what do you expect when you feed people with little plastic dishes, when you force them to eat off five-foot tables while sitting in three-foot chairs? One lady from Bethesda, who wisely declined to give her name, didn't mind the way people were dressed. She thought it was all fine; it was her first ball.

    "I'm not used to getting dressed up," said the woman, who finished off her knee-length black velvet dress with a pair of gray Reebok running shoes.

    When Kenny G showed up, women abandoned any pretense at gentility and climbed on top of those rickety, white, three-foot chairs to get a closer look at the man who can hold a note for a sensuously long time.

    Music by Bruce Hornsby, a gospel singer and others, has simply taken over. Suddenly, the rotten food, the expensive drinks and the gaudy clothes don't matter.

    However the backed-up toilets probably will matter in another hour. But for right now, people are starting to have fun.

    9:26 p.m.: "I Just Had To Call Back"
    Retha Hill — Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, there was a big, vulgar scene in the lobby between a man in tails and a woman spilling out of her elegant floor-length blue dress. She screamed an obscenity at him and stormed off. He took off after her, reached the escalator but turned suddenly and went back into the ballroom. I hope he wasn't going to the bathroom.

    Right now they're treating someone for a medical emergency. Maybe someone fell off one of those flimsy chairs or was hurt reaching for a drink.

    This is just amazing.

    Live from the California Inaugural Ball:

    Rich Lipski,
    The Washington Post

    10:00 p.m.: "The Women Loved Al Gore"
    Shayla Thiel — It has picked up in here. Ironically, it was Al Gore that got the crowd revved up.

    Who would have thought that he could rouse a crowd? But he did. He did. People were chanting his name, going crazy for Al Gore.

    Tipper was looking good. She wore a velvet wrap over a red-and-gold sparkly topped dress with a long black skirt. A bit matronly, but very flattering to her figure.

    The women loved Al Gore. They were running up to the stage. It was a crazy mob scene. No joke.

    After that, the party really picked up. The Rad Dogs were playing, with Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead.

    Tipper and Al danced the first few minutes they were here. I guess they were PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center--Tipper's pet record label project)-approved.

    Shortly after that, all the women flocked to the end of the auditorium — Antonio Banderas. Oh my God. That's all I can say. He was amazing. Of course, he was with Melanie Griffith, and she looked good.

    Not too many other celebrities. Roger Clinton, who doesn't count as a celebrity in my mind. Jesse Jackson.

    The president and Hillary were only here — for about five minutes.

    The president spoke to the Californians mentioning the hardships they've gone through — the fires, the floods and the earthquakes — and recognizing their resilient spirit.

    Hillary looked quite elegant. She was wearing an Oscar de la Renta peach gown ... a little matronly, but flattering. Very elegant with her hair up.

    People are still dancing. The champagne is still flowing, the beer is flowing, the wine is flowing.

    There was a drunk woman behind me in a long sequined gown and a hairpiece. It was quite an ensemble. A scene from Absolutely Fabulous.

    Live from the Arkansas Inaugural Ball:

    10:00 p.m.: "Is There a Medic in the House?"
    Retha Hill — The vice president and Tipper Gore showed up.

    The women were back on top of their rickety chairs, screaming. Gore shook hands with the band; the crowd yelled. A cheer rose up when Tipper took off her coat and revealed her gown.

    They yelled loudly when Gore said, "Hello, Arkansas!" He thanked the crowd for their votes, thanked the musicians and told the crowd that they were at the "main event."

    Then, suddenly, the vice president paused.

    "Does somebody need a medic? Is there a medic in the house? Clear a space around. Medical help is on the way."

    It was that kind of ball.

    The band struck up Michael Mcdonald's "Taking It to the Streets." The vice president and Tipper Gore danced a short dance and began to leave. He waded into the crowd, shaking hands and giving high-fives to people.

    And, as if permission were granted, people started dancing.

    The music at the Arkansas Ball was simply bumping. Gospel singer Andre Crouch, jazzman Kenny G, pianist Bruce Hornsby, Michael Mcdonald, gospel singer Bebe Winans. . . . It was live, and the crowd was suddenly enjoying it.

    Bob Reeder,
    The Washington Post

    10:30 p.m.: "Bill Clinton can actually dance"
    Retha Hill — It's all over. The Arkansas part of it, anyway. Clinton came at 10:05 p.m., and said a few things.

    Then the band, led by Sheryl Crow, started playing "All I Want to Do (Is Have Some Fun)."

    Clinton danced with Chelsea; Hillary Clinton with Roger Clinton. He's such a ham.

    Bill Clinton can actually dance. He had some rhythm.

    He danced a little bit, and then he was gone. He only stayed on stage 10-12 minutes.

    After Bill left, Roger Clinton performed (with Michael Mcdonald) "Walking the Dog."

    The crowd was dancing and having a good time.

    I saw Evander Holyfield. He walked past me, shook a few hands. He wanted the heck out of here.

    It looks as if California and Arksansas are getting together, and everyone is getting the heck out of Dodge.

    Live from the California, er, Arkansas Inaugural Ball:

    11:00 p.m.: "... Throwing in Our Ball Shoes"
    Shayla Thiel — I joined Retha at the Arkansas Ball because they're were having such a great time. The music was much better, and the Arkansas people were having a great time. People seemed to be more excited about being there.

    As we were leaving, we spotted Tony Robbins, the infomercial motivational guy. He didn't seem as motivated as I would have guessed. Maybe it was the ball or the late hour.

    We're catching a cab now to go back home. It's time to throw in our ball shoes.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post

    Back to the top

    Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help