The stereo throbbed, the bartenders poured. Dancers who only minutes before had been sober-faced legislators bobbed through the hallways. Ties were loosened, and so, eventually, were tongues.
"Montgomery County rooooads!" crooned one dancing woman, referring delightedly and a little obliquely to a hot issue of the General Assembly session that had just ended.
It is tradition that lawmakers, their staffs, their associates, and their lobbyists get together to unwind after the midnight adjournment of the 90-day Maryland legislature.
Usually, these final-day, dance-until-dawn parties take place in the ballroom of an Annapolis hotel. But yesterday morning, for the first time, the revelers gathered in the normally businesslike corridors and committee rooms of the legislative office buildings.
"Best use this place has been put to this year," said Del. Robert R. Neall (R-Anne Arundel).
The merrymaking was left to the individual committees, with each legislator contributing $50 to the spread. Despite such a democratic approach, however, not all refreshment tables were created equal.
The House Appropriations Committee had cold cuts. The House Environmental Matters Committee had cold cuts and fresh fruits. But the long table prepared by the House Economic Matters Committee offered huge silver warming dishes piled with meatballs and chicken wings.
And their bartender, unlike the others who were casually dressed, wore a dark uniform with gold braiding. Forty-five minutes after the party began, the bartender was still busy but the red tablecloth was littered with gnawed chicken bones and the serving trays were stripped clean except for the lettuce garnish.
"We get the most controversial bills, we get the most criticism, but when you come right down to it, we do things right," said Del. Louis Morsberger, (D-Baltimore County), who was taking a quick breather after a vigorous dance with Montgomery County Del. Diane Kirchenbauer.
"It's like this," added Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat. "We've got the most lobbyists."
The Senate office building, in contrast to the House's jostling crowds, was serene and quiet. Only the finance committee held court in its conference room with a small group of about a dozen. "It's intimate," said committee Vice Chairman Thomas P. O'Reilly (D-Prince George's). "We like it that way."
But sooner or later, almost everyone wandered over to the House building, where a disc jockey spun tunes and lawmakers shimmied to Michael Jackson's "Billy Jean" and Madonna's "Like a Virgin."
The occasion aspired to be nothing more than a chance to relax after a grueling session.
"From a metabolic standpoint, you start the session fast and then you go faster, faster, faster, and then, all of a sudden, at midnight on the 90th day, you come to a screeching halt," said Neall. "You're probably tireder than you know, it's midnight, but your eyes are wide open and you're pumped with adrenaline. This is probably the most socially acceptable thing you can do right now. It's too dark to jog."
The party also provided legislators with ample opportunity to congratulate themselves on their three months of work.
"We did a good job, didn't we?" said one delegate, patting another on the back as they waited in the bar line. "Yeah," said the other, his arm around his colleague's shoulder. "We had a real good one. Reeeaal good."
House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, usually the most serious of legislators, stood in the middle of a group of congratulators, his tie gone, his collar open, his mood expansive. In one hand he held a drink, a rare indulgence; in the other, a cigar. "This year, there's less hard feelings than in other years," Cardin said. "Very few bills were killed at the last minute by devious means."
"I'm tired," he said with a smile, "and I'm glad it's over for another year, but I'm satisfied."