A steady murmur filled the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown at 2 a.m. yesterday. Secret Service agents, State Department types, the hotel's managers, security guards and bellhops were chatting it up and milling around, saying things like "Do you usually work the midnight shift?"
Moments later, the buzz was interrupted by the muffled static of a very loud walkie-talkie. He was coming. He was very close.
Everyone stopped talking and stared at the shiny brass front doors. It was as if someone had turned down the volume -- just for one minute.
Outside, Harley-Davidson motorcycles quietly approached, leading a caravan of long black Cadillac limos. Red and blue lights were flashing. At least 20 Secret Service agents jumped out, looked left, looked right, and then gave the sign.
The king had come.
He walked in so elegantly, His Majesty King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan, as though the swarm of people around him did not exist. He stopped briefly to kiss his daughter Princess Aisha, who happened to be in town with her husband, Zeid Juma, on their honeymoon. Then the diminutive king, dressed in a gray suit, blue shirt and turquoise tie, moved on a few more steps before he was stopped again, to be greeted by the hotel's general manager, Stan Bromley.
"It's not right for me to offer my hand, right?" Bromley had asked about five minutes before the arrival. "I have to wait until he offers his, right?"
And so he waited. And they shook hands. Quietly.
The king continued on, giving the Royal Nod to the remaining hotel staff, the security guards and three journalists. He turned right, to the elevators, and he was gone. It all took one minute. At most.
Then someone turned the volume back up.
A pack of ministers all in blue suits came scurrying in, one carrying a leather briefcase. The security forces and the hotel folks started chattering again. Bellmen rolled in carts loaded with black attache cases. It was hotel business as usual -- except it was 2:15 a.m., not 2:15 p.m. But the staff was wide awake and ready.
It began with a call Tuesday morning at 10. Bromley thought it was going to be another quiet August day. But His Majesty was coming to Washington, reportedly to bring a letter to President Bush from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
So, upon notice that the entourage would need 50 of the hotel's 200 rooms by midnight, Bromley said, "we went into high gear." Usually the hotel learns of a visit weeks in advance and accounting is set up accordingly. Single rooms at the Four Seasons are $240 a night and suites run from $425 to $1,300. The Hussein party was given corporate rates for the single rooms, said Marketing Director Judy Sullivan, but they will be handed a full-price bill for the suites -- including the king's.
No one has said who's picking up the tab.
"How do you talk to these people about money?" asked Bromley. "They're worrying about more important things right now.
"The first thing I did," he said, "was give thanks to God that it was August. If it had been next month, it would have been a big problem."
He dispatched the top-level management to take charge of the overhaul: move 12 guests from their rooms, order more grains and fruit ("King Hussein is very health-conscious," said food and beverage manager Lynn Orlewski), beef up the nightside staff ("instead of one room service waiter, there are seven," said Bromley; "instead of one bellman, there are five") and bring in the Secret Service to make sure the hotel was "secure."
Next was preregistering the guests. "I spent an hour on the phone getting all the names right," Bromley said. Once they all were booked in rooms, Bromley drew a map "to make sure protocol was right, and the ministers were where they were supposed to be," he said. He faxed the map to the Embassy of Jordan, where it was faxed to His Majesty, who was flying his jet across Europe.
"They want to make decisions," said Bromley, "so they are bringing everyone." The embassy would not say who was in the entourage, but Queen Noor did not accompany the king.
Once that was done, the Secret Service came in and set up shop, including an airport-style metal detector next to the elevators. Security was tight, tight, tight. Around 11 o'clock they brought in the dogs, for one last sniff-around.
Orlewski was in charge of little touches like having milk and chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies on the nightstand for Hussein's bedtime snack. The milk bottles have little cows painted on them. "You have to have a sense of whimsy," said Orlewski. "Hopefully we don't offend anyone by doing something different."
She also had Gummi Bears to put out during their stay, which is to conclude this morning. Yesterday the king lunched at the Garden Terrace and spent the afternoon receiving visitors at the hotel. He is to meet with Bush today in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Executive Assistant Manager Chris Hart made sure the rooms were tidy and perfectly appointed.
"There isn't a new robe in His Majesty's bathroom, is there?" Bromley asked.
"Oh, no!" answered Hart.
"New bathrobes shed," Bromley explained. "Can you imagine the king covered in lint?"
One hour before the entourage arrived, the rooms were "turned down": beds opened, lights turned on, shoe and dry cleaning bags on the bed, room service menus on the table, ice buckets "re-iced."
"Since it is 8 o'clock in the morning for them when they arrive, we don't know what to expect, with meetings and so on," said Orlewski. "We're ready, from eggs to filet to cheeseburgers."
Yes, King Hussein likes cheeseburgers.
"He isn't always health-conscious," she said.
And sure enough, they went for the cheeseburgers, at 4 a.m. Plus a few slices of warm apple pie.