Dark Lincolns and Zils, shiny as beluga caviar, squeezed through the barricades. One by one they unloaded the VIPs -- presidents, Soviet ministers, White House officials, Hill leaders, corporate heavies -- at the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street for a dinner last night honoring President and Mrs. Bush.
A band of Lithuanians held flags and chanted "Freedom now!" Street corners were crowded with people -- just ordinary citizens trying to get through the traffic detours and police lines on a Friday after work. Traffic inched past. Sweat was building up. Car windows rolled down.
"No money," shouted one cabdriver to another.
"Just traffic," said the other.
"I hate Gorbachev," said the first.
President and Mrs. Bush arrived with sirens and flags, of course. They were ushered upstairs -- past an imposing portrait of Lenin over the staircase -- to the second floor, where they were met by President and Raisa Gorbachev.
Theytoasted freedom. They toasted peace. For a long time.
There were many sentences such as this:
"Today our society is going through a complex and sometimes dramatic but promising process of perestroika on a democratic and humane basis, with full respect for human rights and freedoms," Gorbachev said.
Bush got in one small joke:
"Yesterday we welcomed the Gorbachevs back to Washington," he said before the dinner, "still filled with the memories of the days we shared in Malta -- friendship, cooperation, seasick pills ..."
Cooperation? It'd have taken KGB contacts to figure out anything about this dinner ahead of time. There was a particularly un-glasnostian quality to the Soviet press relations.
No guest list or menu was released beforehand. No indication of entertainment plans. In fact, there seemed to be no information about anything. All phones at the Soviet Embassy were busy. Or sometimes an answering machine came on, with that Boris Badenov cartoon Russian voice: You have reeeched the press offeece of the Soviet Embassy. Ahf-ter the beup, please leave a message ...
A few guests weren't sure what to wear. Men, it turned out, were supposed to wear dark business suits -- not elitist black tie. Women were asked to wear "normal-length" dresses. Some interpreted this to mean "no miniskirts"; others believed it meant "not floor length." In either case, they split the difference and wore knee-length.
Fresh from treaty signing with Gorbachev, Bush also spoke of Memorial Day. "But this week stands as a living memorial," he said, "marked by historic agreements on nuclear and chemical arms... .
"These stand as a memorial -- not to the past -- but to the future. A memorial to wars that need never be fought, to the hardship and suffering that need never be endured."
In his remarks Gorbachev proposed "a toast to a future of peace for the Soviet and the American people and for all nations on earth, to idealism and the idealists ... to the health and well-being of all present here, to the happiness of our children and grandchildren."
Dinner was served at six round tables set up in the Golden Room at the embassy. (Yes, communists can decorate with precious metals.) The mix of 71 guests was approximately half Soviets and half Americans.
A head table -- set up in front of a fireplace -- faced the room. The presidents and first ladies -- both Gorbachevs and Bushes -- were joined at their table by Secretary of State James Baker and his wife, Susan, Vice President Dan Quayle and wife Marilyn, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov and Supreme Soviet Deputy Yevgeny Primakov.
Tables before them were filled -- as at Thursday night's state dinner at the White House -- with political and corporate heavyweights, including national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, Ambassador Jack Matlock and protocol chief Joseph Reed.
Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) was there. He missed the Soviet Embassy dinner during the 1987 summit here because he chose to campaign for president (remember, he ran?) at a Holiday Inn in New Hampshire. ("Gorbachev," Dole explained then, "doesn't get to vote in the primary.")
Dole, it should be mentioned, arrived alone. But on time. His wife, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, the secretary of labor, on the other hand, was still cooling her heels in the entrance hall during Gorbachev's toast.
Guests from the corporate world on the guest list were PepsiCo Chairman Donald Kendall, Washington Post Co. Chairman Katharine Graham, industrialist Armand Hammer and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. Chairman Dwayne Andreas.
The menu said: Russian fish hors d'oeuvres, roast duck stuffed with smoked meat, consomme with dumplings, mushrooms, baked sevruga fish, roast suckling pig, strawberry parfait, apple puff pastry. There were three wines, including Zolotoye -- golden Soviet champagne.
After coffee, the party was entertained by opera singer Zurab Sotkilava and pianist Mikhail Pletnev for 20 minutes until the Lincolns and Zils lined up again. The D.C. motorcycle cops buzzed up 16th Street. All traffic stopped again.
But a straggling band of Lithuanians started up again -- perhaps the most spirited group of the night. There is a Lithuanian Hot Line in Illinois, demonstrator Linda Swiercinsky said, which helped them all organize: "Freedom Now!"