Not long after they sent in their entry form to Weekend's Millennium Quiz, Jane O'Connor and Daniel Gallagher had dinner in the Occidental Grill in the Willard Hotel complex.
They strolled through the ornate "Peacock Alley" lobby -- which O'Connor, a former Hill aide, was telling Gallagher had been such a political hangout in its heyday that it had given Washington the term "lobbyist" -- admiring the holiday decorations and New Year's Eve menu. Struck by the hotel's grandeur, and feeling a sudden burst of romantic confidence, O'Connor told Gallagher she was sure they had the answers to Weekend's quiz right and that they'd be spending New Year's Eve at the Willard as grand prize winners. "No way," said Gallagher.
Bite your tongue and pull out that black tie. O'Connor and Gallagher have plenty to celebrate this month, starting with their engagement; and thanks to that romantic streak -- and to their having driven around Washington with a copy of the quiz in the glove compartment of their Volvo station wagon -- they'll be celebrating in champion style at the Willard Hotel.
"It's really kind of a fluke," Gallagher says. "We're not contest-entering types. In fact, I'm from Boston, so I was guessing at a lot of them. But we're both history buffs, and Janie's always trying to educate me about Washington," so the contest quickly became the excuse for a mini-seminar in local history. They carried the quiz around with them everywhere; in fact, they were just driving by the Warner Theatre when a sign announcing the venue's 75th anniversary celebration gave them the answer to one of the 12 questions.
"It's a good thing that it was an open book quiz," O'Connor says. "We had to do a little research on a couple of questions." They thought the trickiest questions were the one about where the Beatles played their first American concert (not RFK, not Griffith Stadium, not the D.C. Armory, but the old Washington Coliseum); and the one about what Mr. Smith, Billy Jack and the Happy Hooker all had in common (they all "came to Washington" in movies). "I remembered seeing Billy Jack testifying [in the movie], but I wasn't sure the Happy Hooker ever made it to Congress," laughs Gallagher.
Both are originally New Englanders: O'Connor, who owns Monumental Tours, is from Maine, though she's lived here for 20 years, 13 of them working as a staffer for Sen. George Mitchell. Gallagher, who still refers to himself as a "hardcore Bostonian," moved here three years ago, shortly after he and O'Connor met at a trade conference, and is director of network services at AAA Networks, a Falls Church telecommunications systems integration company. But they call themselves "real Washingtonians" now, living on Capitol Hill and only slipping back into northern habits once a year when they go sailing around Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Their prize package covers deluxe accommodations at the Willard on both New Year's Eve and New Year's nights, a five-course dinner, champagne, music and dancing, a "Presidential Ball" and easy access to Mall festivities.
Incidentally, if you're also planning to celebrate at the Willard for New Year's Eve, keep your eyes on Gallagher; he's planning to reenact his proposal to O'Connor, only this time in millennial style.