For four years, Jim Bailey and the Bill Williams Mountain Men have hawked steak dinners and raffle tickets to finance what was to be their grand moment in the spotlight today -- a place in the 50th Presidential Inaugural Parade.
Last night, the mountain men from Phoenix and the estimated 12,000 other participants learned the disheartening news: They're paraders without a parade. For the first time in history, brutal weather forced the cancellation of the elaborate procession down Pennsylvania Avenue.
"It hurts," Bailey, 38, said last night, as a motel lounge crowd cheered the Super Bowl football game behind him. "It cost us $35,000 to get here and we came here to ride."
The Mountain Men may not get to ride today, but they and the other would-be paraders will be invited to an alternative ceremony this afternoon at the Capital Centre. Plans were not firm late last night, but inaugural committee spokesman Tucker Eskew said the president probably will make an appearance.
That's crucial to the King's Guard if they're going to go back home to Honolulu even partially satisfied.
"We were really counting on performing for the president himself," said Brian Punzal, 26. "Since the cancellation, we've been offering our services to any function he might attend. If he's there tomorrow, great. He's the man we came to perform for."
Although spectator and participant alike understood the practical reasons behind the cancellation, most were deeply disappointed by the decision.
"We can understand the elements aren't going our way," said Bob Haggett of the Norwood, N.Y., Volunteer Fire Department Brass Band. "We know this is the wisest thing from a health and safety standpoint.
"But when you pump yourself up to represent your state, when you get all fired up and suddenly everything changes, it's hard."
The possibility of cancellation was in the wind for most of the day yesterday, as the temperature hovered in single digits and inaugural committee spokesmen refused to completely discount the possibility of a cancellation. All along they had said logistics would prohibit the rescheduling of the parade.
But would-be parade marchers and watchers continued to get ready, practicing their routines and rushing out to get warmer clothing.
"We were still practicing right up until the time we got the word," said Punzal of the King's Guard, the official representatives of Hawaii. "This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us and we came 4,000 long miles to get here. It would have been the most important parade we ever marched in."
The 16 members had gone shopping yesterday to find gloves to match their royal blue outfits and thermal underwear to augment the thin uniforms.
Herbert and Marilyn Piken of Los Angeles went shopping, too, undaunted by reports that the wind-chill factor would bring the temperature on the reviewing stands at the White House down to minus 25 degrees.
"We were going to brave it, no matter what, and we had the best seats," said Marilyn Piken, as her husband pulled out tickets for Section F, Row 7. "We were right next to the First Family."
Some spectators' disappointment gave way to irritation and curiosity about how the inaugural committee will reimburse those who had bought tickets to watch the parade from bleachers.
"Oh, no," said Evelyn McCabee of Fair Haven, N.J., a member of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle. "We paid $100 apiece for these parade tickets. I think if they're not going to have the parade, we should get the refund."
But others remained determined to look on the cheerful side of the situation.
The 40 tribal leaders representing the American Indian Heritage Foundation prided themselves on their resilience in the face of changing plans.
"We had the long johns," said spokeswoman Aleathia Davis, "and we were ready to go, regardless. The native American is used to the weather. But we're glad they're going to have something for us. Anything will make us happy at this point. Some of our people came from so far off the beaten path out West that they had to drive three hours just to get to the nearest airport. All we want is some recognition."
Robert Santone, a reserved-seat ticket holder, had planned to take the day off from work to watch the parade. Instead, he'll be on duty today as usual as an anesthesiologist at Suburban Hospital.
"Now I can go to work and make money instead," he said, as he had a drink at the Old Ebbitt Grill. "At least I'll be warm."
Claude Andersen, the grill manager, predicted he would suffer no great business loss because of the parade cancellation. The out-of-towners, he reasoned, would keep him busy.
And Marlen Johnson of Salt Lake City was nothing short of happy about the decision.
"I think it's marvelous," he said. "It's so cold. Can you imagine the band members trying to play?"