"One thing at a function like this," Sean Finegan was saying. "Everybody can agree on cars."

The function was a tribute to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert at Tavern on the Green in Central Park Sunday, and General Motors, which hosted the event, had some heavy-tonnage metal functioning as centerpieces: outside, a 1941 fire truck and some hybrid-fuel buses, and a blue '58 Impala, "just like the speaker himself has," said Finegan, the corporate event vehicle guy for GM.

In the 500 goodie bags were a squeezable version of the hybrid buses, for relieving stress, a GM lanyard for those huge convention credentials, and a copy of Hastert's new book, "Speaker: Lessons from Forty Years in Coaching and Politics."

The Illinois congressman obligingly stood near the elephant topiary and signed and signed and signed.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman stood off in a corner with an aide, who held her 28-page schedule for the week, and contemplated what she would have to throw overboard.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton was there, as were Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Don Nickles (Okla.). Haley Barbour, the former party head and current Mississippi governor, seemed particularly happy.

Fragments of political chit-chat floated through the late summer air -- "You used to be mayor, right? My daddy used to be the city attorney" -- but when that kind of talk hit a lull, there were tires to kick. The custom Cadillac with the V16 engine can give, promised a GM official to a group of well-connected men peering under the snazzy split hood, "a good stiff ride."