On the road with the guests of honor:

8:17 -- The Reagan motorcade leaves the White House for the 12-minute trip to the D.C. Armory and the Inaugural Ball for Young Americans, their first stop of the 10-dance evening.

Unidentified voices on the walkie-talkies are discussing Joe Rodgers, chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Guaranty Fund, who will be at one of the balls. "What can we do for him with regard to the president?" asks one voice. The problem is obviously taken under advisement and the press is not privy to the answer.

At the Armory the Reagans go into a holding room, and the White House press is funneled into the big hall at the foot of the stage.

"They even let Sam Donaldson in here tonight," says the announcer. The hall erupts in boos. "I'm leaving," says Donaldson, whose TV crew was part of the traveling press pool covering the Reagans' big evening out. "I'm never again going to do anything like this," growls Donaldson.

"Everybody hates him," shouts one of the young Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Reagans arrive on stage. Nancy's glittering white Galanos gown shimmers in the reflective light, and young girls in the crowd look up admiringly at the first lady. "It's so great to be young and conservative," said Kirk Shelley, 21, of North Carolina.

8:24 -- The race is on.

The car sporting the inaugural license plate reading "2" is parked calmly outside the Washington Hilton, but inside a marathon is in progress: ball hopping.

Down a hall, through some doors, past what seems to be hundreds of men wearing gray suits, with watchful faces and radios in their ears, Vice President and Barbara Bush, inaugural committee chairman Ron Walker and his wife Anne and Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf and his wife Mary are moving toward the first stop of the evening. A gaggle of already frazzled reporters scrabbles in behind them.

"Well . . ." Bush begins his greeting to the crowd, his electric-blue satin brocade vest glinting beneath his tuxedo jacket.

"Well!" the audience roars back.

A few more words, a very, very brief dance, and then "So long."

It's 8:43 and they're out of there.

8:53 -- The Reagans arrive at the National Air and Space Museum. They're in a holding room behind stage. Nancy Reagan's clothes, and the diamond rings she's wearing on each hand, are attracting much of the attention.

"Look at her rings," gasps one woman.

"She's got rhinestones on just like you have, honey," says her companion.

8:54 -- The news is out.

"We danced last time," George Bush says from the stage of the Washington Hilton Ball Annex, "but as the world's worst dancer, I'm going to beg off."

The rumor spreads that his sudden reticence is the result of a warning that a belly dancer named Gladys, affiliated with the Xavier Cugat band, is planning to ask him to dance.

Gladys is wearing a blue-green iridescent wrapped skirt, with the emphasis on wrapped, as in tightly.

Her tawny hair towers above her head, and her chest is encased in a web of what looks like very few sequin-covered pipe cleaners.

"I heard Charo was here," Frank Fahrenkopf says, looking at Gladys. "That ain't Charo."

9:08 -- The Reagans go into the ubiquitous holding room, this time at the Pension Building.

"Did you see Sam Donaldson?" squeals an excited ballgoer as the press pool passes.

Someone in the crowd screams to reporters in the traveling pool who are blocking the view, "Would you kneel down? We waited two hours to see our president!"

"For a Republican?," yells back one of the reporters. "Never."

This time the Reagans are met by Maureen Reagan and her husband Dennis Revell, who, like the Reagans, are holding hands. They walk together on stage where the president has a little surprise for everybody. First he asks if they heard the good news about what happened on Wall Street today. Then he begins to tip his hand on economic news that the White House will release. "The Commerce Department will release two economic figures tomorrow. One is the best since 1951, the other is the best since 1967," says Reagan. "And you ain't seen nothing yet."

The crowd screams its delight.

The Reagans leave without dancing.

9:24 -- The speechwriters obviously took the night off. Bush gets his biggest response not from any moving message, but by reciting the names of the states represented at each ball.

"And where is Connecticut?" he asks at the Shoreham.

It's right there.

9:28 -- The Reagans slip backstage at the Convention Center, where two separate balls are being held. Waiting for them are Treasury Secretary Donald Regan and his wife Ann. The crowd is impatient out in the first hall, but the Reagans don't seem to notice. The first lady takes off her long white coat with big rhinestone buttons and hands it to an aide, and they begin their walk out to the stage. From there it's a quick turn around the Center to the other ball. On the way, they meet Coretta Scott King and have a brief chat.

At the second Convention Center ball, Reagan shakes hands with bandleader Peter Duchin. And he teases this crowd, too, with the promise of good economic news that won't be released till morning. Then they're off.

9:50 -- George Bush tells the fifth audience, as he told the first, second, third and fourth, that "we know how we got here."

One reporter mumbles, "Yeah, by limousine."

A little breathless by the time he reaches the Kennedy Center, Bush says, "The president's trailing us. I know my place, so I'm going to get moving on."

But no. An aide informs him the president is about to join him on stage. Time to shake a few hands.

9:53 -- The Reagans pull in to the Kennedy Center to find Roger Stevens and his wife Christine waiting in the cold loading dock area to greet them. A little farther on, in one of the warm inside rooms, are Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole.

When the Reagans catch up with the Bushes, the crowd surges in excitement and pushes over the railing behind the press. The Secret Service rushes up, puts it back and the crowd settles down to hear the by now routine economic bulletin from the president.

10:21 -- The vice president motions to the Air and Space Museum crowd, and suddenly, New Hampshire State Sen. Jean T. White is dashing through the security line and crawling onto the stage for a dance.

Momentary confusion, but then she's in Bush's arms.

Bush is just going out the door, and Jean White is back with her friends. She launches into an unusual little jig. "Wooo!" she yelps and jigs some more.

10:22 -- At the Sheraton Washington the president repeats his economic message. But he has said it so many times now, the words seem to have lost their meaning. "Embargoed" information comes out as "boycotted." He quickly corrects himself. Reagan presses a little flesh for the first time as he is leaving.

10:30 -- The Tommy Dorsey Band is playing at the Shoreham. Before the Reagans come from backstage, the crowd sees Sam Donaldson, by now practically the shadow president -- at least in terms of the crowd reaction he is getting.

"We want Sam," chants the crowd.

Demurs Sam: "I'm just the appetizer."

Here, too, a woman in the crowd asks the reporters to kneel down so she can see. She and her husband have been waiting for this moment since 8 p.m. And, says her husband, "she wants to dance with the president."

"I can't arrange that," says Sam.

Only moments later Sam's enchanted evening is damaged slightly when someone in the crowd asks if Dan Rather is here, too.

"Never heard of him," says Sam.


10:45 -- George Bush is getting his best reception at the Young Americans Ball at the Armory.

"George, George!" they scream. "You're beautiful, Barbara. George, I love you." Then someone gets things organized.

" '88! '88! '88!"

Girls in frothy lace dresses push against the ropes, screaming, stretching their hands out desperately, " '88!"

It is love.

10:51 -- Gladys the belly dancer is warming up the crowd in anticipation of the Reagans' arrival at the Washington Hilton. When they arrive they are not alone. It is a family foursome: Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Michael and Colleen Reagan. In the crowd, Bill Thompson of Dixon, Ill., is holding up a sign he has made to tell the president they used to know each other back in the good old days when they used to go swimming together as boys. The president acknowledges Thompson, accepts a brochure about Dixon and sticks it in his tuxedo pocket.

A new line in the Reagan repertoire is about to emerge:

"If the pilgrims had come by way of that other ocean, the capital would have been in California."

The crowd -- Californians, of course -- goes wild.

This time, the four Reagans and Olympic gold medal winner Steve Salmons and his date dance to a Latin beat. "I don't know what I'm doing," Nancy tells the president. She has a lipstick mark on her cheek where Gladys gave her a welcoming kiss.

11:29 -- Chaos breaks out at the Convention Center. Two mobs of satin- and tuxedo-swathed celebrants surge forward just as Bush is leaving. They head straight for the towering flower arrangements at both edges of the stage and grab furiously at the blue and white inaugural flags rising from the flowers. First one, then the other arrangement is stripped. Secret Service men watch in horror and rush out after Bush.

"Those people are sick," one of them mutters.

11:32 -- The Reagans are winding up at the Capital Hilton where 181 Congressional Medal of Honor winners are standing proud and tall. "This is an appropriate way to top off the evening. This one is special," Reagan says.

"The inauguration highlights some truths about our country," he says, describing the orderly change of government and the freedom to vote. "It's not what our government allows us to do, but what we allow the government to do. Because of you here, we still have that system.

"I say directly to you," the president continues, "your names are on an honor roll that is an honor roll of freedom itself."

The band strikes up "Nancy With a Laughing Face." Hers is as she and the president dance.


11:39 -- The night is winding down. In the course of the evening, George Bush has danced six times, four of them with his wife. He has thanked Ron Walker 10 times. Ron Walker has mouthed "Thank you," 10 times. George Bush departed from the "We know how we got here" line several times, once saying, "We know how we got that opportunity," and one time stumbling twice and ending up with "We know how we got . . . into . . . these exciting jobs."

But now, he is going home and he is, still, getting there by limousine.